Thanks, but no thanks

So this morning I received a note from a charity I donate to regularly. It acknowledged “with thanks” my donation and said that the charity was “most grateful for your support and generosity”. It was a pre-printed form which had my name written in by hand and was hand signed. I’m pretty sure that if I asked the person who sent the note they’d say that they’ve thanked me for my donation and, technically, they have but from a donor management point of view what I have received is a receipt not a thank you. 

Don’t get me wrong I think proper record keeping and issuing receipts is an essential element of running any not-for-profit. I also think it’s ideal if these receipts are polite and show gratitude but they’re not thank you letters. Receipts are a way of acknowledging an exchange, thank you letters are a way of consolidating the donor relationship.

So how should the charity say thank you?

  • It should be timely. Try to make it a habit to respond to donations promptly. Ideally within the week they arrive but certainly no later than four weeks.
  • It should be on paper. I will admit that, as a printer, I would be expected to say this but some things are just better on paper. Also mailing a thank you card or letter gives you an opportunity to include a brochure or a bookmark or any other promotional material you may want to include.
  • It should be personal. We all have egos, even altruism has an element of egotism. I may say I don’t want gratitude but of course I do. And I want to be thanked personally; so personalise letters. Check and double check your database – misspelled names or letters addressed to people and their dead partners are very damaging and sometimes hurtful to donors. Ideally include a hand-written note or card.
  • It should be informative. Your thank you letter should explain the good the donation will do. It’s vital that donors get to see the difference their donation makes. Maybe include a brief case study if you can.
  • It should be challenging. Acknowledge the good the donation will do but explain the work is ongoing or outline the next project that’s planned. Perhaps suggest other ways a donor might help – regular contributions instead of once-off, volunteering at the parish centre, help manning an office or maybe running a fundraising event? It’s important to offer people many ways of supporting your work, not everyone has spare cash some may have spare time or enthusiasm; as someone who’s worked in charities I know these things are often the most difficult resources to gather.
  • It should contain an invitation. You should invite your donors to get to know you better – to visit your offices, to phone to arrange a meeting, to sign up for a newsletter or an e-zine. Your goal as a fund raiser should be to develop a relationship with your donors to do that you need to get to know them and they need to get to know you. There must be two way communication, ideally regular two way communication. Your thank you letter is a great way to start that.
  • It should be trackable. If your letter includes a call to action or a sign up form make sure you have some way of tracking the results. Simple methods can be using different response email addresses for different letters or campaigns or different coloured reply forms. Using a Quick Response (QR) code or Augmented Reality (AR) on your printed piece can be a great way of connecting your offline and online campaigns.

Too many charities are inclined to think of issuing receipts and thanks you's as a cost associated with proper governance but really they should be viewed as an investment in the donor relationship. A donor who feels truly valued is not only more likely to give again but also to give more, and in more ways - remember committed donors are much more likely to become volunteers than once-off or occasional donors.

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