Keeping donors. Part 3: The power of thank you

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If you listen to charities talk about their donors, you’d be convinced we all love our supporters to bits. We use all the right words, we talk about how our charities wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our lovely supporters and we have lots of people with titles like “supporter care” or “donor services” in our teams.  So you’d expect the typical donor experience of a charity to be a warm and wonderful one.

But talking and action aren’t the same thing.  And there’s lots of charities where the rhetoric of supporter love doesn’t seem to translate into a particularly inspiring actual experience.

A very good example of this is the simple thank you. Now, you’d I think reasonably imagine that saying thank you when some give a donation is such a basic activity that it doesn’t warrant any further consideration. All charities must do this already, right?

Um..well not necessarily. At least not always or not terribly well. Charity mystery shopping exercises are renowned for regularly finding charities who don’t respond to donations at all or do so very slowly and badly. Even the biggest charities can fail horribly in this area, I can think of a recent example where fairly large donations were made to a JustGiving campaign in favour of a household name charity and none of the donors were thanked except by the automated donation response*.

There are various reasons for these failures. But they all come down to lack of organisational priority. We don’t thank donors well because we’ve got better thing to do, basically.

Well, I don’t think there’s any activity a charity does that’s more important than properly thanking its donors. Remember, the whole charity not existing without its supporters thing?

So here’s some simple things every charity, everywhere can do to significantly improve their thanking of supporters. Easily.

  • Review your thank you processes. What are your rules? Does everyone get thanked? If not, why not? How long does it take?
  • Cut your response times. Make sure that every donation is thanked on the day it is received. If you can’t do that, outsource donation processing to a company who can.
  • Get every piece of thank you communication printed out and spread them on a desk. Look at what they say and think about how they would make you feel if you got nay of them. A good thank you is simple, warm, personal & relevant to the recipient (SWPR for short). Are yours?
  • Rewrite all the standard thank you letters/emails/call scripts which don’t meet the SWPR test.Then, once you’ve got good basic processes in place, look at how you can start to exceed donor expectations.

How about, for example

  • The donor thank you day. As Charity:water famously and beautifully did in 2011. Everyone in the charity from the CEO to the cleaner spends the whole day thanking donors.
  • The 15 minute thank you.  Every member of staff, again starting with the CEO personally thanks by phone ten people who have given that day.  Selected from the top donors that day.
  • The hand written thank you card. Send to as many donors as you can.
  • The Xmas card. You send your donors a Xmas card right?
  • Personal thanks yous should target not only donors who give the most but also people who give at levels that are high for them, are first or second gifts, or a gift after a long gap.

There’s loads more you can do. The point is that there’s a lot that can be done to improve the thanking experience significantly that doesn’t cost much in money or time. It just takes some thought. (And if you do some help with any of this, you can always ask for support)

After all, thank you is such an easy thing to say.


*to be clear an automated message is not a thank you




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