Innovative thinking, practical tips and some crazy ideas

What brand is your thank you?

In a fit of fundraising heresy I posted this question on Linked In last week:

Does saying thank you really make a difference? Do you know of a research study that proves that thanking donors will lead to further or increased donations?

There was some method to my madness. I had just read the findings of a study conducted for AFP Canada by Ipsos Reid, entitled, “What Canadian Donors Want.” One of the conclusions reported was:

“Less than half agreed with the statement that not receiving a thank-­you message would decrease their likelihood of giving in the future (14% strongly agree, 31% somewhat). Fifty-­two percent disagreed with the statement (30% somewhat disagree, 22% strongly disagree).”

Stripping away the confusing double negatives, it tells us that 52% said that not receiving a thank you would not decrease the likelihood of giving in the future.  That seemed to fly in the face of fundraising fundamentals.

Being a proponent of data based decision-making, I decided to see if in fact there was research that could confirm the efficacy of thanking donors.

So, I contacted some industry experts and I posted my question. I received a number of interesting responses although none of them could point to studies that directly confirm that thanking donors will lead to improved results.

I was directed to research conducted by Penelope Burk that indicates donors say they will give again if they receive:

1. prompt, meaningful acknowledgment of their gifts
2. reassurance that their gifts will be directed as donors intend
3. meaningful results on their gifts at work, before they are asked for another contribution

But that speaks to intent and not actual results and in addition, the “prompt, meaningful response” was only one of three requirements.

There is interesting research at Donor Voice that shows that a significant number of donors feel that a gift should be acknowledged within two weeks. But that speaks to timeliness. Interestingly, 54% of donors said it didn’t matter how long a charity should take to say thank you. It occurs to me that’s pretty close to saying it doesn’t matter whether they say thank you at all.

Some seemed to feel that the answer to my question was immaterial. For example:

“Why would it matter? You are going to thank them because it’s the right thing to do, anyway, so what difference does it make?”

Others responded more rhetorically and one of those responses unwittingly addressed what I believe is the core of the issue. Here’s what he said:

“Is there really a reason to consider not thanking a donor? If we found out it doesn’t make a difference, how do we change our behavior?”

Well, maybe the AFP study has told us that it isn’t making a difference and that yes, we need to change our behaviour. I believe the research may indicate that donors have become cynical about “canned” thank you letters and emails. Perhaps they are saying that no thank you is better than a clearly automated thank you.

In commenting on the research that he presents at Donor Voice, Kevin Schulman says, “there are in fact a lot of donors who don’t care about the acknowledgment.” He also speculates that there may be a segment of donors who are “annoyed by the constant stream of thank you’s” And then he addresses what I believe is the crux of the issue. He says, “… I’d further guess this is about … the way the acknowledgement is done.”

In the same way that organizations have to break away from the clutter to compete for donated dollars, they have to make sure that their acknowledgments also stand out. Thanking a donor just because it’s the right thing to do may be a wasted opportunity. If branding helps get the gift in the first place than the thank you ought to reflect that branding. The thank you is part of the brand experience and organizations should give a lot of thought to expressing gratitude in a way that is brand-consistent. This may include considerations like:

  • the voice in which the thank you is written
  • the design of the thank you
  • content that accompanies the thank you
  • the medium that is used for thank you
  • who says thank you

I’d bet that organizations that give serious thought to the experience of being thanked see a great lift in gift frequency and amounts.

The last thing that organizations want is donors who say “no thanks” to being thanked.

I’d love to hear what others have to say on this and in particular would like to see some great examples of well branded thank you’s.


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