Friends, we have a hot button.
Previously this e-newsletter cited Tom Belford's skepticism re: thanking donors. "Do we really know that thank you's matter?" he asked on The Agitator blog.
"Of course," as reader Frank Dickerson, Ph.D. observed, "[Tom Belford] was not so much suggesting that thanking donors doesn't matter as much as complaining that we don't have data. He makes a good point...."
Frank also directed me to some fascinating behavioral research noted by Leonard Mlodinow, "a theoretical physicist at California Tech" and author of 7 books (as well as scripts for MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation).
Dr. Mlodinow relates in his latest volume how a light touch on a diner's arm "increased a server's tips from 14.5% to 17.5%" and "increased the number of diners who took the server's suggestion to order the special from 40% to 60%."
And we care about that why?
Because, as Frank pointed out in his email, "...humanizing communication makes a measurable difference in response."
And that's what a lovely, personal thank-you does: it humanizescommunication. Hence, it improves response.
Then Brenda Dushko, manager, fund development at Oakville & Milton Humane Society in Ontario wrote:
"I ... am a huge believer in saying 'thank you'...however not in giving trinkets, self adhesive address labels, etc.
"The charity I currently work for used to give a 'thank you' gift along with the consolidated tax receipt for monthly donors at the end of each year. They were your typical 'save my pet' window clings, key chain, etc.
"After much push back from management I decided to simply thank the donor with a letter detailing how their monthly gift had changed the lives of animals in great need and encouraged them to consider increasing their monthly gift this year. The P.S. explained that we did not include a gift this year as we knew our monthly donors would much rather we spent the money on helping the animals.
"The response was incredible!
"We had a record number of increases and almost to a person they thanked us for NOT sending a gift.
"They wanted 100% of their monthly gift to go to helping the animals and were happy to give more knowing that we would use the money wisely.
"In this case these were people we already have a relationship with, our monthly donors, but I do believe it would carry over to new donors too.
"Saying thank you is never a bad idea. I add a handwritten note to each and every thank you letter that goes out of our office (and I have the carpal tunnel to prove it).
"I check the donation information and reference the reason, if there is one, for their donation, i.e. spay/neuter rebate, in honor or memory of a much loved pet, etc....
"My belief is if they can take the time to write us a check or send us their credit card info, I can take the time to say 'thank you' personally...I know it's made a big difference in donor retention here."
Mary Durlak, speaking as a donor, distinguished between any old thank you and "an effective thank you. What I really want is assurance that my $$ is going where I want it to go." And any old thank you won't do.
Mary gives a generous $25/month to her local food bank. That's $300 each year; a major gift by most estimations.
What "irritates" her is that the charity spends money each month on a first-class stamp to thank her. "I'd actually like to up that monthly gift but haven't because their online giving system is such a nuisance."
Mary would "like an annual thank-you acknowledging the sustaining monthly gift. I think I'm looking ... for some confirmation that they're getting what I intend to give."
Bottom line: just because she gives monthly doesn't mean you have to thank her monthly. That's your computer mindlessly doing its programmed job. And it does not "humanize" communication, the proper goal in Frank Dickerson's view.
Angel Aloma at Food for the Poor was among several respondents to The Agitator who rose in defense of thank you notes.
And Angel had scientific evidence!
"Amongst our highest donors," she wrote, "we tested two groups of 25,000 each.
"At the beginning of the year we sent a very sincere, simple thank you card to 25,000 for their past generosity - no ask, no reply piece, no envelope.
"The other group did not receive this.
"Both groups gave almost identical numbers of gifts that year, but the group that received the thank you gave almost $450,000 more for that year."
Tom Ahern is at www.ahernc omm.com