You get a gift. Therefore you say "thank you."
We're taught that at our earliest birthdays.
And it's Fundraising 101 as well. First the gift. Then the thank you. In that order. And that's the end of it: transaction done.
"Wrong end of the telescope" thinking
Like children ... charities tend to think the "thank you" is the end game, the final thing that needs to be said.
"[Marketers] have known for over 30 years that the single biggest driver of customer loyalty is ... satisfaction with the quality of service provided," Adrian Sargeant wrote in his aptly named 2010 book, Tiny Essentials of Donor Loyalty.
So, given the shocking defection rates of first-time donors, can we reasonably call them "satisfied"? Obviously not. And why? Because at the very start of the customer experience, we get it wrong: our attempts to thank are unconvincing.
Many amount to nothing more than: "Thank you for engaging in this transaction. Here's an acknowledgement for your tax records."
No wonder so many first-time donors conclude, "Well, that wasn't very interesting. No point in doing that again."
I admire and adore what executive director Angel Aloma at Food for the Poor does. Here's a note from him describing his charity's thank you program, posted on The Agitator blog in response to a Tom Belford commentary:
Thank you letters have been very effective fundraisers for our organization. On average, we get more than one fifth of our net income from direct mail from our thank you letters. We pay a lot of attention to the quality and strength of the letters and we make sure that they are tremendously donor centric. We do not include any ask in the letter, but we do include an envelope and a reply piece.
Amongst our highest donors, 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.
Turning the telescope around
For donors, the 'thank you' should be the beginning of the relationship, not the end.
Your 'thank you,' in fact, is where your brand is born in the donor's mind ... for good, bad, or indifferent.
I want to share with you the thanks I got from the Wikimedia Foundation, funding arm of Wikipedia, when I made my first gift in December 2012.
This Wiki-thanks is a wonderful role model: (1) it tells me I'm a good person (You are wonderful!); (2) it tells me what my support helps make possible, using anecdotes (...keeps Wikipedia available for a...10-year-old in San Salvador who's just discovered Carl Sagan); (3) it sounds honest (...they trust it because even though it's not perfect....); (4) it's friendly and conversational; and (5) it offers a strong case for support (The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent....).
The one detail they didn't get exactly right was the salutation: "Dear Thomas...."
Thomas is my credit-card name. The name I go by, though, is Tom. That's what on all my books. That's what people call me. It's a minor problem, that's easy to fix. On your online gift acceptance form, ask just one more question, "How would you prefer to be addressed, James or Jim, Sue or Susan...?"
I invite you to read and adapt....
Thank you for donating to the Wikimedia Foundation. You are wonderful!
It's easy to ignore our fundraising banners, and I'm really glad you didn't. This is how Wikipedia pays its bills --- people like you giving us money, so we can keep the site freely available for everyone around the world.
People tell me they donate to Wikipedia because they find it useful, and they trust it because even though it's not perfect, they know it's written for them. Wikipedia isn't meant to advance somebody's PR agenda or push a particular ideology, or to persuade you to believe something that's not true. We aim to tell the truth, and we can do that because of you. The fact that you fund the site keeps us independent and able to deliver what you need and want from Wikipedia. Exactly as it should be.
You should know: your donation isn't just covering your own costs. The average donor is paying for his or her own use of Wikipedia, plus the costs of hundreds of other people. Your donation keeps Wikipedia available for an ambitious kid in Bangalore who's teaching herself computer programming. A middle-aged homemaker in Vienna who's just been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. A novelist researching 1850s Britain. A 10-year-old in San Salvador who's just discovered Carl Sagan.
On behalf of those people, and the half-billion other readers of Wikipedia and its sister sites and projects, I thank you for joining us in our effort to make the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Your donation makes the world a better place. Thank you.
Most people don't know Wikipedia's run by a non-profit. Please consider sharing this e-mail with a few of your friends to encourage them to donate too. And if you're interested, you should try adding some new information to Wikipedia. If you see a typo or other small mistake, please fix it, and if you find something missing, please add it. There are resources here that can help you get started. Don't worry about making a mistake: that's normal when people first start editing and if it happens, other Wikipedians will be happy to fix it for you.
I appreciate your trust in us, and I promise you we'll use your money well.