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Three Guiding Principles to Tax Receipts that Help Fundraise

Tax receipts may not be the most fun, sexy, or fulfilling portion of our jobs, but they are certainly critical to our success. For many organizations, these touches represent lost opportunities. A crucial moment in our relationship with the donor that can be easily overlooked, mechanical in nature, and generally counter-productive. You may be thinking, “it’s just a tax document, it doesn’t mean that much”, but let’s take a moment to think bigger about what that interaction actually represents.

The tax receipt is the very first touch point the donor has with your organization after making a gift. You want this communication, whether via email or snail mail, to be prompt and meaningful while reinforcing their positive giving behavior. If that first touch point doesn’t come for two weeks, or looks like something you would receive after purchasing a pair of shoes, and doesn’t demonstrate significant gratitude, you may be undermining your entire fundraising effort. Instead of immediately responding and acknowledging the donor’s gift, we (inadvertently) make them feel unappreciated and simply one of many.

So how do we tackle this, while still maintaining efficiency? As donor relations professionals, how do we insert the donor and their needs squarely into this process?

I dive deep into these issues in this webinar on tax receipts and pledge reminders, but if you're just looking for a few tips to get you started, here are the first three guiding principles of tax receipts:

1. Timeliness: 72 hours. Yes, 72 hours. Three business days. This is the industry standard and best practice for all organizations, regardless of size and complexity. This may seem impossible to some, and yes it can be very challenging, but it is critical. If your organization goes MIA for two weeks after someone voluntarily gives you a charitable gift, it undermines their need for recognition and gratitude. They aren’t thinking of you two weeks after they made a gift. They have moved on and if you don’t make an impression in a short time, chances are they will not continue to give.

2. Method: Meet your donors on their ground. If they give to you on-line, don’t snail mail them a receipt. If they mail you a check, don’t try to email them important tax information. While this increases the complexity of the process, it’s critical to match our donors’ communication styles and methods. Have you ever purchased something online and then received a hard copy receipt in the mail? No. You haven’t. So make sure your organization is on par with the rest of the online transaction world.

3. Impact: While the tax receipt is a technical tax document, that doesn’t mean they have to be devoid of human voice, warmth, and gratitude. Make sure the design of the document is attractive (after all, it is likely the only document your donor will keep very long) and represents the mission of your organization. Don’t be afraid to include impact stories, quotes from students/patients/beneficiaries, images of people, etc. And most importantly, don’t forget to put a genuine THANK YOU in your tax receipt. (And not for their transaction, but for their generosity.)

This helps get us started on tackling the complex issues around the tax receipting process and the role that donor relations professionals can have in making sure they are enhancing the donor experience…and ultimately affecting the fundraising bottom line.

This post was written by DRG Group member, Sarah Sims. Sarah is a consultant, speaker, and the Executive Director of Donor Relations at the University of Florida. 


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