The moment of giving – are you running on empty?

IMG_0146I had the fortune to attend Alan Clayton’s Revolutionise Annual Lecture recently. What I love about Alan is he is a speaker that makes you think. I don’t always agree what he says but he always challenges my thinking, always inspires me into action.

Alan shared a moment when he was a donor and had given a big gift – at least from his perspective. And his reflection? Well he was left a bit cold. He’d given online because that was the most helpful way to give. Sure he got a personal thank you email a few days later. But that moment just after he gave he felt a bit empty – a bit like buying something and then regretting it straight afterwards.

So that got me thinking.

That weekend we had an appeal with a run of donations online so I decided to try something out. As people gave donations online I began to respond to them personally by email. They would have received an automated thank you – but that didn’t feel personal enough. Before I started I sat and wrote down the key points I should get across and this was my check list :

  • Acknowledge what they have done 
  • Say what it will have achieved
  • Tell them a story or feedback from someone who has benefited
  • Leave an opportunity to engage back e.g. ask me a question
  • Ask them to tell their friends what they have done

What I realised is I needed to give far more than a thank you. We have to tell people exactly what their gift will achieved. I also wanted to make sure it felt authentic – not an automated thank you. So I made a point of using their name several times in the email.

I’m fortunate at SolarAid because we’ve done some really good groundwork on impact. So much so we can equate income to outputs, in our case solar lights, and then outputs to impact – which we can do in study hours, tonnes of CO2 averted and money saved (more information on how we developed this via Making an Impact). So I could say 100 lights will be shining in Africa (as a result of a £300 gift) – I used this in the subject line. Then in the body of the text I told the donor what their gift will achieve. So in this case a donation of £300 = 100 solar lights = 100,000 hours of extra study, 100 tonnes of CO2 averted and $20,000 money saved from no longer using kerosene. Impressive eh? The impact data has a solid basis too – SolarAid recently won the Social Impact Prove It category at the UK Social Enterprise Awards. But numbers alone aren’t enough so I added some feedback from a mother in Malawi the difference light made to her family’s life : “We live a happy life now when darkness comes because we are able to light our home for a long time”. Again we are fortunate to have plenty of content to choose from.

It felt good to be thinking that at the other end of my email someone wasn’t left with an empty feeling. Job done. A few replied – which was a good indication it was well received. Then something interesting happened which I didn’t expect. Several of those donors gave again within 24 hours – pretty much the same level of gift, for some that was several hundred pounds. I hadn’t expected that. A few emails had generated over a thousand pounds more as well as some fulfilled donors.

Over the same weekend we had the following tweet from a donor (unrelated to the appeal online). He had sent in a donation from the company he worked for and a colleague, Tessa, had responded accordingly with a handwritten note – he took a photo of it which he shared in his tweet.



So I engaged him – using a direct message on Twitter to say thanks for sharing. This is what he said: “Been involved w charities 4 25+ yrs and this was SPECIAL! V happy to advocacy if can help in any way” Adrian.

All we had done was taken the trouble to thank him and tell him what his gift will achieve. And as result he has shared this with his social network (using words like LOVE) – perhaps telling his friends too. And what’s more Adrian also gives to us on a regular basis through his payroll (Adrian gave me permission to blog about him too – thanks Adrian!).

Now don’t get me wrong I know this is an effort for us. We have a small team with limited resources and so much to do. Yet it’s something we consciously try to prioritise. I suspect most charities are geared to send out some acknowledgment in the most efficient way – a thank you – which is really just a receipt and doesn’t mitigate that empty feeling (you know: scanned signature, mail merge fields and a sense that hardly a human has touched it). And then the next step is to work on that upgrade or next ask (which will have less chance if you have left people on empty after they have given). Just think what you could do if you really focused on giving a great giving experience for your donors. They will share that moment, and as I have learnt, some will even give again right away. And of course the next time they are prompted to donate, or feel the urge to, or the opportunity to put a charity forward as Adrian did, they may think of that great feeling they had.

I love the fact that after 25 years of being a fundraiser I am still learning!

In summary here are 5 steps I recommend:

  1. invest time and thought into what would give people a great experience after giving? Think how can I get across what their donation will achieve not just a thank you
  2. do the homework on impact and use it in your feedback to donors on the impact of their support
  3. always tell a story or quote a beneficiary to provide some emotional context
  4. reciprocate like for like based on the way they engage you. So ideally an online donor would get fairly quick a online response – a tweet @ a tweet back – a donation a response by post with a letter or card
  5. invite people to respond – you want to encourage engagement

So this week as we respond to our Christmas appeal mailing we will strive to apply the above. I think you can do all this and still be efficient.

Not rocket science is it? But it needs a conscious bit of extra effort and a mindset to do it well in a way that is meaningful and creates fulfilled donors not empty ones.


Click here for other ifundraiser blogs on thanking 


One thought on “The moment of giving – are you running on empty?

  1. Pingback: Confessions of a fundraiser | ifundraiser

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