Every year, my favourite charity saves 1,835 cats in Vancouver.
But they don’t talk to me about that. They tell me about one cat at a time. Why? Because they understand what makes a great thank you letter…
The thank you letter is an often neglected piece of donor communication. It sits, stale and unattended getting sent to hundreds or thousands of donors.
Maybe this is because there is a huge disconnect between how fundraisers are measured and evaluated (money in the door by fiscal year end) and how donors evaluate us (the communications they receive and how they feel when they get them).
It’s not shocking that items like thank you letters are viewed as an afterthought – they don’t bring in money and move the bottom line, so why spend time making them amazing?
To test where we are at with thank you letters, I created a quiz to put our generic thank you letters to the test. The premise was simple: get out your organization’s generic thank you letter and answer a few questions about it.
I meant it to be a fun and interactive way to get fundraisers thinking about how they could improve their thank you letters – NOT an academic survey for data, but as of today over 900 fundraisers have taken it and I find the results quite interesting. The results can be found below – but I want to point out one area where we are failing: Only 47% of charities mention specifically how the gift will be used.
Overwhelmingly fundraisers reported that their thank you letters did not contain any specifics about how the gift will be used.
That’s a big problem.
Why? Because “one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic” (Stalin) – and “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” (Mother Theresa). The one thing Stalin and Mother Theresa can agree on: getting specific is better than general and broad.
To put it in a fundraising context, here’s a little wisdom from Jeff Brook’s book: How to Turn Your Words Into Money:
“Make your message about people, not statistics and facts. Numbers numb. Stories and pictures of people stir donors to action… Your donors likely feel powerless to put an end to poverty or injustice. But they can easily imagine reaching out to one person and making a difference.. The other crucial thing about the problem in your story is you must show it to be solvable. By the donor.”
A powerful story about one person heled by your charity (and your DONOR) can do more than your mission statement or values.
Here are two charities doing this so well.
NSPCC: Fiona’s Story: “When I was 9, my mum met a new man. At first I really liked him and looked up to him but things started to change shortly after he moved in with us. My mum and I were really close and I think he was jealous. He was drinking a lot and started being mentally and sometimes physically abusive towards me…”
VOKRA Update From Mr Bungo: “My name is Mr. Bungo and since the last time you read about me I’ve changed. I was extremely malnourished after living on the streets of East Vancouver by myself, covered in fleas, freezing cold and sitting in puddles. Thanks to VOKRA and my foster home, I’ve been able to get back on my feet. Little by little I gained weight and slowly regained my energy.”
I give to VOKRA, and frankly the story of Mr Bungo has more of an impact on me than knowing they save 1,835 cats every year. I can’t conceptualize 1,835 cats. I’ve never been in a room with 1,835 cats. But the story of one cat, warm and happy and having a cuddle? The sound of him purring? That I can wrap my mind – and heart – around. THAT makes me want to keep giving.
A great thank you letter should connect the donor directly with the people (or cats) that their donation has helped. And if you want you thank you letter to be memorable you need to get specific about what the donor is making possible with their gift.
Do you have a great example of a specific thank you message? Share it below.
Thank You Letter Quiz Results
Q: How is it addressed?
- 96% Dear (their ACTUAL name, spelled correctly)
- 4% – other (ie Dear Friend, Dear Donor, To Whom it May Concern)
Q: What word is used more: “we” or “you”?
- 65% The word “you” is used MORE than the word “we”
- 24% It’s about the same
- 11% The word “we” is used more than the word “you”
Q: Do you mention specifically how the gift will be used?
- 47% Yes. It speaks to what the gift was for. “We are grateful for your donation to our XYZ project.”
- 32% It speaks to the broad work or organization does (our mission, vision, values etc) 15% Multiple projects and initiatives are mentioned.
- 5% No.
Q: Do you give the donor a way to get in touch with you?
- 71% Yes. It has the contact information of a real person (phone or e-mail)
- 21% A generic contact method is listed (a website, a general organization phone number)
- 8% No.
Q: Is the thank you honest and heart-felt?
- 57% Yes! Right from my heart to the donor.
- 37% It could be better…
- 5% The thanks is very corporate and stiff
- 1% No
Q: Who is the hero of the letter?
- 78% The donor
- 13% The beneficiaries of our charity
- 5% The charity
- 3% No one
Q: How is the letter ended?
- 56% It’s pretty generic
- 45% It signs off with something memorable, like, “Yours for a world without poverty,”
Q: Is it hand signed?
- 84% Yes
- 16% No