Ikhlaq Hussain: Saying thank you to donors is an opportunity

Research suggests that it can open the door to a smart and savvy fundraising strategy

Ikhlaq Hussain
Ikhlaq Hussain

As fundraisers, it can be tempting for us to view thanking donors as an obligation, something we are morally bound to do because it is polite or the "right thing".

But I believe we need to aim beyond that and view thanking donors, particularly major donors, as an opportunity. If it is done properly, thanking donors is not the end of the interaction but the start of a long-lasting, holistic relationship.

Many charities treat the thank you as a transaction receipt that speaks to the donor’s inner bookkeeper more than their heart and emotions. But treating it as an opportunity to show the appropriate appreciation, at the right time and in a right way, opens the door to a more creative, thoughtful, timely and careful approach.

From here, your thank you can become a key tool for a smart and savvy fundraising strategy, if it has enough substance to grab the donor by the heart and compel them to think again about the charity’s work.

For a start, a happy major donor might share their experience with family and friends, colleagues and peers, which could mean more exposure for your organisation and donations in future.

But it also increases your chances of receiving another, potentially bigger gift from your donor in future. It’s not unheard of for a major donor to give their first gift as a "toe-tipping" exercise, testing the response of the charity before unlocking the full potential of their giving capacity.

Thanking major donors properly is just as important as asking for money. A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected of them, and the act of saying thank you reassures the helper that their help is valued and motivates them to provide more.

In fact, evidence from a study at Pennsylvania University in 2010 suggested that offering a heartfelt expression of gratitude could double the positive response from the person giving their help.

The study asked 69 participants to provide feedback to a fictitious student called Eric on his covering letter for a job application. After they gave him the feedback on his letter, Eric thanked half of them personally, whereas the other half received a neutral reply.

After sending their feedback by email, the participants got a reply from Eric asking for more help with another covering letter. Those who were thanked by Eric were more willing to provide him with further assistance. Only 32 per cent of participants who received the neutral email offered their help with the second letter, but with those to whom Eric expressed his gratitude this went up to 66 per cent.

The researchers concluded that people weren’t providing more help because the help itself made them feel better or boosted their self-esteem, but because they appreciated being needed and felt more socially valued when they’d been thanked.

If we apply this to a fundraising scenario, it suggests that a thoughtful, engaging thank you could have the potential to double your donations.

When we take thanking our donors as an opportunity and not just as an obligation we are better able to make people feel great about what they have done, and in turn ensure they are as motivated as they possibly can be to do it again, or even to do something better in future.

Ikhlaq Hussain is head of major gifts at Orphans In Need

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