Claire Newton: Not thanking properly is an opportunity missed

Charities need to stop paying lip service to supporter care and start thanking supporters in a meaningful way, says the director of John Grain Associates, which runs a fundraising mystery shopper scheme, the Secret Giver programme

Claire Newton
Claire Newton

The art of thanking is an age-old tradition. And to be thanked properly is an art. It’s such a shame that for so many charities it remains an opportunity missed, and often appears to the donor to be little more than an after-thought.

We have recently completed the inaugural 12 months of our Secret Giver scheme and the quality of thanking has varied wildly. For our team of givers, the feedback was that thanking really could have a huge influence on the relationship. So, in terms of securing long-term support and reducing attrition rates, make your thanking count.

Resist the urge to mail a photocopied, non-personalised piece of letterhead. Donors deserve better than the stale, formulaic offerings that our givers received all too often. What they really want to get is something authentic that shows the impact that their gifts are making.

Perhaps you should revise your decision to re-send the exact same thank-you letter text more than once. One giver reported that they had received a fantastic letter that made them feel inspired and connected. Unfortunately, they then received that self-same letter again in response to their next gift. You see, it was memorable because it was so good – and that was its undoing.

So what impressed our Secret Givers? Charities that didn’t start their letters with "Dear X, thank you for your donation of £xx…". What scored highly – in the same way as a compelling ask makes that first connection – was the ability to tell a story, paint a picture and inspire supporters. The overwhelming feedback was: let me know that I’ve made a difference, however small that might be.

For example, there was the field worker from a smaller overseas charity who wrote about her work responding to severe flooding in Bangladesh, which led to her assessing the unfolding Rohingya crisis. She wrote about what it was like to be there – not just what she saw, but the smells and the sounds of life in the hastily constructed refugee camps and the reality of life in the labyrinth of shelters.

But she also wrote about how remarkable the human spirit is and how, when people pull together, they can effect change – our Secret Giver in this case felt remarkable too. They felt they had made a difference. The field worker described one thing that would really transform these people’s lives – solar lights – and painted a picture of why light mattered so much to people who had fled for their lives with only the clothes they stood up in. She humanised the story and made that human connection. And then, right at the end of the letter, she thanked our giver.

This was, put simply, a proper letter: a glorious piece of writing that someone, somewhere had thought about and taken the time to construct in a suitable, timely and inspiring fashion.

Loyal donors are a hard-won prize, particularly at the moment, so isn’t it about time charities stopped paying lip service to stewardship and supporter care, and put the same effort into thanking as they do into securing the gift in the first place? People respond to people, not an automated thank you. Great thanking will make a big difference to your donor relationships. The time has come for charities large and small to invest more time and effort in improving their supporter care standards – because that’s what your donors deserve.

Claire Newton is director of John Grain Associates

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