Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What is the true value of saying 'thank you'?

Saying 'thank you' to donors who give their hard earned to the causes we work for, isn't that hard. Yet it amazes me how often we get it wrong, or just dont do it.

This is top of mind for me at the moment as I am re-reading Penelope Burke's "Donor Centred Fundraising", which is a great read for anyone committed to the practice of putting donors at the forefront of their fundraising efforts.

I have spent a lot of time over the past six years analyzing how charities respond to unsolicited requests from members of the public, mystery shopping organizations in the UK, Australia, NZ, Hong Kong and now in Canada. And one element of donor care that universally lags behind, is the art of saying 'thank you'.

But rather than rant about why, how and when we should say 'thank you', I am particularly interested in some more formal measurements undertaken of the value of thanking, and combined with that, the value of feeding back and telling donors about the impact their gift has made.

Burke's research is really sound, and the study (this one in the US) consisted of hundreds of conversations with both non profits and of course, individual donors. But I would love to take this a step further.

Rather than asking donors how they feel about being thanked, how they like to be thanked, do they remember how long it took for their thank you letter to arrive, why dont we measure the true impact that varying levels of thanking and feedback actually have?

Let me explain..

I have tried in the past with clients of mine to implement a series of (long term) cohorts looking to uncover the optimum levels of thanking, donor care, feeding back and updating donors, who are as we know, the lifeblood of most charitable organizations. So rather than ask donors, actually implement a number of different communications streams, each with varying levels of thanking, feedback, information, regularity. Then sit back, and see what happens. And when I say 'see what happens', I mean analyze the real data and measure the impact.

I'll be honest though, I can understand why no-one has taken me up on this. You see, a project of this nature is expensive, bloody hard work, complex and it takes more than a year to conclude anything at all. The flip side is if we can say for sure what constitutes the most effective way to say thank you and the exact frequency and level of detail with which we should feedback - the impact it could have on our work (as fundraisers) and more importantly, our beneficiaries, is frightening.

Burke talks in her book about the revenue gap, which is essentially the income lost from failing to practice donor centred fundraising and communicating appropriately. In other words, the lost income as a result of donors attriting, which in many instances is linked to a lack of thanking/feedback.

I want to bridge the revenue gap for the many causes I work for.

And I pose this question: who's up for testing the level and nature of thanking and feeding back we provide to donors? Let's even think a little laterally, what's stopping a collaborative of charities putting their heads (and resources together) to find the answers together?


1 comment:

John Lepp said...

Good point Jonathon. As a lot of Canadian fundraisers and charities have heard from donors how much they hate labels and label packages - but the proof they say is in the pudding (or data) - time and time again - labels work. Like most things - the only want to find the real answer is - test it.

John Lepp