Once a gift is received, start the acknowledgement and stewardship process with a thank-you letter. Consider the following steps to help streamline the thank-you letter writing process:

  • Compose a simple template for your acknowledgement letter. Contents should include: the donor’s name, amount given, date received and, if applicable, language showing how their contribution is designated. The overriding message of your letter should be that this gift is greatly appreciated!  See the sample acknowledgement letter. (If you are tracking donations in a spreadsheet, this letter can be automatically populated using Word’s mail merge function.)
  • The letter should also state 501(c)(3) status(if applicable)/ tax deductibility status of your library. It should also state that no goods or services were provided in exchange for the gift.
  • Acknowledgement letters should be hand-signed by the manager of the fundraising campaign, if possible, although electronic copies of signatures are acceptable.  Depending on the gift amount, and especially for major gifts or significant planned gifts, a high-level staff member (the leader of your Friends group or Foundation, for example) should sign the letter. If a donation was directly solicited by an individual, his or her signature (and/or a one-sentence personal note) is preferable.
  • Acknowledgement should be sent within 1-3 days of receiving the contribution.  The sooner an acknowledgement is sent out, the more appreciated your donor will feel.

Contributions to the library typically arrive in connection with an annual membership drive or annual fund campaign.  For most donors, these may represent his or her first gift to your library. First gifts create a connection between the donor and the library, and it is possible for small but regular annual gifts to develop into larger and more significant major gifts as the donor’s relationship with the library deepens. As a rule, any large contributions your library receives will come from a donor whose initial gift came through an annual giving drive.

Above all, let the donor know that you appreciate their support.  Let them know what the library is doing for the community on a regular basis, and tell them how their contribution plays a role in making the library better for everyone. In time, you will see small annual donors become more engaged library advocates and eventually more invested supporters.

Acknowledging your annual fund donors

One strategy to highlight your annual fund donors is to recognize their giving based on their level of contribution.  For example, if donors give over a specified amount, their names could be listed in a certain spot on your website. This can also be done in print on the library premises and should include either the campaign year, or a date range i.e. “We are grateful to the following supporters for their Annual Fund contributions made between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010.”

A sample of donor levels is as follows:

Friend: $25
Supporter: $50
Advocate: $100
Champion: $250
Patron: $500
Benefactor: $1,000 and up

When using donor levels, it is important to recognize contributors at their appropriate level in your thank-you letter.

Consider using donor levels to highlight to your supporters how their gift at this specific amount is impacting your library. Describing how certain gifts help in the day-to-day operation of the library will bring the impact of gifts to life:

  • “A gift of $25 can be used to help us repair five broken books.” 
  • “A gift of $100 can help us cover the cost for one reading group of kindergarteners.”

Acknowledging your major donors

How you define a “major donor” is up to you. For some libraries or library organizations, a major donor may be someone who gives $500 annually or as a one-time gift. For others, it may be $1,000, or $10,000. In some organizations, a major donor is someone who ranks in the top 10% of gifts received. A major gift is recognizable because it is so much larger than the donor’s standard gift, sometimes 10 or 20 times larger.

Whatever the amount, major donors are your library’s most generous and most connected supporters. They may not be the most vocal supporters, but they are the most invested in your success. Just like annual donors, major gift donors want to know how their gift is being used and how it is helping you provide more and better library services in your community.  Major gift donors are especially worth including in all communications about what goes on at your library (unless they specifically indicate that they do not wish to receive these materials). 

Think of major donors not as your richest friends – but as your best friends. Your best friends are there when you need them the most, and they want to celebrate your successes as well.  Your best friends are there for you again and again; and often, major donors give major gifts repeatedly to their favorite organizations. They trust that you are a good steward of their money by using it in the best way possible to enhance the mission of the library.

Special acknowledgement for major donors is an important step to ensure that their elevated level of support is duly recognized.

  • Acknowledgement letters should be signed by a high-ranking official within your library, its board, Friends group or Foundation. These letters should be personalized versions of your generic acknowledgement letter, and they should include how the contribution will impact the library. If the contribution is designated for a specific project, include information and updates on the project.
  • Tokens of appreciation such as lapel pins or ribbons that denote their status help both to show special recognition, and give major donors immediate recognition at events. It is important to note that the value of the appreciation gift should truly be minimal. Anything above token value may impact the total amount the donor is able to claim as a tax deductible contribution. However, inexpensive gifts of significant emotional or sentimental value may be cherished more than an engraved crystal or plaque of appreciation that is presented to the donor.
  • A special thank-you event for major donors, such as a luncheon, can be an easy and effective way of both expressing thanks and deepening the relationship between major donors and the library. Plan a simple luncheon with a speaker, such as a local author, and invite your major donors to be your guest. The message of the event should be simple: We appreciate you.
  • Naming opportunities are another way to acknowledge donors who have contributed either an undesignated major gift, or a major gift in connection with a specific project.  This includes new additions such as reading rooms, renovations, special collections or wings. This is a permanent form of recognition. For any naming opportunity, it is important to spell out under what circumstances the naming opportunity may be taken away. (For example, 50 years ago, construction of a new wing was underwritten by one generous donor.  Now the wing requires extensive remodeling, and new donor has stepped up to cover the cost.  It needs to be clearly spelled out in advance if it is permissible for the new donor to now assume naming rights.)

Acknowledging your planned givers

Donors who leave a bequest to your library fall under the category of “planned givers” or “legacy givers.”  These members are leaving a legacy of support for your library and should be acknowledged in a similar manner as major donors, even if the gift could potentially be a revocable gift.  Planned giving donors are a very special group of donors.  They quite literally want to make sure that you have their support even when they aren’t around any more.  The emotional connection and belief in their library is very deep with individuals who leave their library in their will.  Thanking them and recognizing them is usually most effective when your appreciation of their support happens on a truly personal level.  In many ways, finding out that a donor has put your library in their will is not the last step of the process – but rather the first.

The following are some suggested activities for these legacy donors, but the more you can personalize it to them and their personal situation and lifestyle, the better.

  • Create a special “circle” or “society” for your planned givers. Call it the Legacy Circle, or something else that conveys long-term giving.
  • A plaque listing planned giving members can be placed in the library and also on your website.  This is a permanent acknowledgement since their donation is a lasting legacy.
  • Recognize planned giving donors in your annual report to continually show their high level of commitment to supporting your library.
  • Supply tokens of appreciation as outlined above for major donors. For example, the Friends group of one library that was undergoing an extensive renovation saved the building’s marble that would otherwise end up being discarded. The marble was fashioned into bookends that were given to those leaving legacy gifts.

Next: Stewardship

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