Benefit auctioneer Sherry Truhlar’s entertaining stories and advice is often picked up by publications (e.g. Town & Country, The Washington Post Magazine, AUCTIONEER, The Eleusis, The Virginia Auctioneer) and television (e.g. E! Style, TLC) where she inspires and teaches volunteers how to hit new fundraising records in their auction galas. Enjoy her FREE Auction Item Guide (listing the 100 best-selling items to sell in your benefit auction) here .

Benefit auction ideas: The “correct” way to thank donors

Recently, I received an email from one of my clients. She wrote, “What is the “correct” way to thank donors? Should I send thank you notes now (when I receive the item) and after the charity auction? Or just one or the other? I don’t want to be redundant, but I also don’t want to be rude.”

I thought her question was insightful on several counts.

First, I was impressed! She is a young, hip Development Director. The younger generation has manners!

Second, etiquette never goes out of style. Good manners can build your auction’s reputation for the long haul so it’s important to pay attention to these areas.

Third, this question brings us back to the human aspects of running an event. Auctions have so many “moving parts” to oversee (food & beverage, decorations, invitations, set-up, item collection, security, seating charts … ), that we can quickly forget that auctions all start with individual donors.

Think about it — fundraising auctions wouldn’t exist without donors.

The donors — not the buyers — are the people who stepped forward first to support the organization. Before the invitations were sent out … before any guest decided on what dress to wear to the gala … before anyone set up the decorations for the night .. before any of that happened, a donor stepped forward to help.

Donors start the auction process by giving a gift. That gift is given with the expectation that the non-profit will sell it to the best of their ability, thereby raising money to further the cause. What a generous gift! Hurrah for donors!

I believe you can’t thank donors enough. In another blog report, I’ll list the ways I’ve seen donors thanked. But for the down-and-dirty “correct” way (if there is such a thing), here’s what I typically see.

Usually the donor is first thanked with a quick thank you when the item is received. They are thanked again with a letter (mailed … on letterhead) after the auction is over.

Let’s dive a bit deeper.

Part 1:

The first thank you is commonly sent via email.

Now the reality is that even though you send a thank you via email, you’ll usually also have some additional contact with the donor because often the donor forms are not completed to the degree you need.

For instance, how often have you had to contact a donor to get more information on the vacation home they offered? (I.E. “Hi Jim! Thanks for the donation of your beach house. Question for you … On the form, you said that home has 4 bedrooms. But are 2 of the bedrooms filled with bunk beds, or are there actually 4 master bedrooms in this house?”) Even small donations often require follow-up.

Part 2:

When the auction is over, a more formal thank you (mailed .. on letterhead) is sent.

If the item sold well, I would include the sale price in the letter.

Write something like, “Your $2000 case of wine sold for $2500!” Oooooo … wouldn’t that make a donor feel good! When you have shown that you are taking care of your donor’s merchandise and selling it so well, that encourages the donor to trust you with bigger donations the following year. Woo whee!

If the donation sold for an average price, I suggest writing something more generic, such as, “Your donation helped NON PROFIT XYZ surpass our goal / meet our fundraising goal / was an increase over last year / etc.” It’s important to share your success with the donors.

I would also encourage you to hand-write a brief comment or sentence on the letter.

It might be: “The necklace was stunning!” or “Glad you were able to attend the event.” or “Your donation was especially nice this year.” Something personal, but sincere.

Posted on 28 March 2011

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