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Thank You Letters to Benefactors

February 2, 2012

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

One of the most important but tedious jobs of any journalism chair, director or dean is writing thank-you letters and cards to benefactors, alumni and friends.

Few other tasks are as vital as building relationships with constituents. After all, they help fund scholarships, professional development and endowments. However, writing 100+ letters every month or so is time-consuming, and time is what most administrators lack.

As with many institutions, our Foundation forwards to me a list of donors who made contributions in the past month, including the amount, the particular fund, and donor addresses. Sometimes a report can total 30 or more single spaced pages.

In the past, I used to send cards with a short greeting written in long-hand: “Thank you for your recent gift to our scholarship fund. We truly appreciate your support.”

After a while, though, I wanted to convey more and more in each card—news about faculty, awards or new staff members. Again, though, time was a factor. So I decided to go with a one-page letter sharing internal good news and developments that do not typically make it to our Web site.

I personalize the letter for each donor with perhaps the name of a particular fund and how it helps the School. If I know the person—for example, a member of our Advisory Council—I write a more conversational letter about issues of particular interest.

All the letters are saved in one file for future use, containing everyone’s address and history of giving.

The tedium of the task—including printing and addressing envelopes—often tempts new administrators to assign the clerical duties to a staff member or take shortcuts processing the letters.

Don’t do it, especially with journalism benefactors. There are just too many possibilities for error.

A cardinal sin is to misspell a person’s name or commit grammatical or syntactical errors in the text. You also never want to breach confidentiality by putting the wrong letter in an envelope addressed to someone else.

After you have fact-checked each letter, paperclip your business card and, if available, enclose a small memento. For instance, we had a 3-by-3-inch sticker printed with “The Greenlee Promise,” which you can read about by clicking here. Small tokens such as these spark school spirit.

Finally, you want to tend to this task in a timely manner—within a month of the arrival of the gift.

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