image of woman making a heart with her hands and caption "The Art of the thank you?

I wrote in another post about the end of the year fundraising appeal I got from Bedlam—the terrific NYC based theater company. And this is the follow up. Because when it comes to fundraising (just as in networking and booking concerts), follow-up is EVERYTHING. Here are Fundraising Secrets for Musicians: the art of the thank you

You need to follow up with people who make donations of any kind. And that follow up needs to be timely and as personal as possible.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with two good friends. They each reported that they hadn’t received thank you acknowledgments for their recent donations to a prominent music school. Their experience reminded me that once, years ago, I’d made what was for me a fairly substantial donation to an arts organization and didn’t get an acknowledgment. A couple weeks went by and I finally ended up emailing the organization to check because it was tax season and I wanted to confirm that I could claim the deduction.

What’s the reaction when your donors don’t get a timely, enthusiastic, and personal thank you?

You can probably imagine.

Think how you feel when a gift you send to a friend isn’t acknowledged. You feel hurt, ignored, snubbed, maybe even resentful. You may even regret sending the gift and vow that you’ll never do that again!

What starts off as an expression of generosity towards an institution—one that you appreciate and identify with—and that feeling of good will and bond of trust is eroded or even erased. The donor starts to question whether her generosity has been misplaced just as her gift itself may have been.

The donor starts to wonder, if this organization can’t get it together to send a quick thank you, then how well are they taking care of their finances and how likely are they actually fulfilling their mission?

How to do it right

With my very small first time donation to Bedlam here’s the email acknowledgment I received almost IMMEDIATELY. Yes, it’s an email auto-response but it doesn’t read like the usual canned acknowledgments I’ve received from other donations.

“Dear Angela,

Thank you so much for your generous contribution of $25.00 to Bedlam, Inc. We are so encouraged by your support as we continue to grow our company and create new work.

Your donation will significantly aid in maintaining daily administrative operations, developing new work as well as growing our Veterans Outreach programming. What a gift! We truly can’t thank you enough!

Bedlam is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. All donations are tax deductible. Committed to the immediacy of the relationship between the actor and the audience, Bedlam creates works of theatre that reinvigorate traditional forms in a flexible, raw space, collapsing aesthetic distance and bringing its viewers into direct contact with the dangers and delicacies of life. In this new, fresh, active environment storytelling becomes paramount and the result is a kinetic experience of shared empathy.

Bedlam is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. All donations are tax deductible.

Donation Receipt:
Organization: Bedlam, Inc.
EIN: 80-0784887 
No goods or services were provided in exchange for your contribution.

Warmest wishes,
Susannah Millonzi, Director of Development

BEDLAM | 603 West 115th Street, Mailbox 130, New York, NY 10025 |

That’s all I needed. A Thank you. An acknowledgment.

This of course, is helpful for tax purposes, but it’s also personal in its tone: “What a gift! We truly can’t thank you enough!”

The message also reminds me of the inspiring community work they do with veterans and it recaps their mission.

Why include this? Because it reminds me of how I feel about giving to this organization.

Which brings me to the fundraising secret most musicians never find out.

Donors don’t give for the tax deduction or for the ‘prestige’ of being a donors—although those may be nice side benefits.

Donors give their time and money SO THEY CAN FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES.

And guess what? It turns out that is REALLY REALLY valuable benefit to get in return.

I guarantee that whatever a donor gives, small or large, the reason they’re doing so is that how the contribution makes them feel is worth more to them than the cost of their donation.

That’s why they do it.

It’s a good deal for the donor—when they are truly invested in and identify with the organization—and that organization treats them well in return.

So fundraising is NOT about begging for money. It’s not a one-way transaction between a receiver and a recipient, a ‘have’ and a ‘have not.’

Fundraising is an EXCHANGE OF VALUE.

For the money given, the donor gets to feel good about herself. She feels like she’s making an impact in the world. And she’s deepening her connection with an organization she values and feels a personal connection to.

Back to Bedlam: I will see them perform Pygmalion in Feb. in Boston and I can’t wait. I’m a small donor who feels more connected because I gave and because I’ve had these thoughtful emails in return. And I’m a real fan who is primed and will be happy to give again to Bedlam.

So imagine my surprise when I got a second, more personalized email from Bedlam after the first. This came several days afterwards as their Development Director was clearly digging out after the holidays.

Now of course, this may also an automated email, with the merge tags set so it will address each recent donor recipient by name.

That doesn’t matter to me because the writing here is so personal and human—it demonstrates the shared empathy that’s part of Bedlam’s mission. And I was delighted to get this. See what you think . . .

“Dear Angela,

At the end of year, each of our inboxes is typically inundated with “End of Year Asks” from non profits and I know how overwhelming it can be. We might have supported a few of those organizations in the past and I, for one, always feel compelled to support them all again as best I can, especially as I know how much these organizations rely on that funding. Oh it’s crucial! It most certainly is for Bedlam. Yet I know that it can be prohibitive at times to give to all and so we typically then choose which ones to give to each year.

I wanted to thank you so much for including our small non profit in your giving at the end of 2018. Your donation, your attendance, your choice tells us how much you believe in us and we do not ever take it for granted. We make theatre, and we hope you enjoy it, simple. You have helped to give us the opportunity to make more theatre in 2019. Please, please join us once again this year. We so look forward to having you with us.

All our best and most humble thanks,

Each of these “touch points” from Bedlam is about cultivating a connection with their fans and followers. It underscores and is consistent with their artistic mission. They are clearly getting it right!

What if you don’t have fundraising help or the time for all this?

Yep, I know that lots of tiny arts organizations don’t have a development staff let alone a database and an email program to help them automate their responses.

It’s understandable to cry, “I can’t do all this!”


This doesn’t mean kissing up to people. It simply means saying Thank you in timely and meaningful ways. Remind them of why they can feel good about themselves and the difference they are helping make in the world.

I’m sure Bedlam didn’t start out with a fundraising staff. The thing is, in order to get that staff and grow, they had to be doing more than putting on great shows.

All of our all moms taught us to say please and thank you—and to play nice with others.

So let’s do it.

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