A bit of bother

This morning I got a wonderful thank you from a charity I recently fundraised for. The event I took part in was last weekend and before this coming weekend had arrived they had sent a handwritten card along with some information about the impact of my support, along with others who took part. It felt great. I can’t wait to show my daughter who took part too.

Yet someone told me recently that the response they got from asking for advice on how to deliver better thankyous was “why bother?” on the basis that there is no hard evidence to suggest it leads to more retention. I think the feedback missed the point. Maybe thankyous do lead to better retention – maybe they don’t. But that’s not the reason why you should thank people and do it really well.

In the relentless pressure as a fundraiser to raise money you just never quite find the time to do stuff that’s doesn’t directly raise money. Especially when the money is already in the bag as when someone has given.

So why bother with a thank you? And ones that wow too.

Seven reasons WHY to WOW when you thank 

1. It will almost certainly be read. You have their attention – which is quite something in the current world where attention is scarce. It’s an excuse to engage at a time when the donor is probably expecting something from you.
2. It’s an opportunity to share your story. An obvious place to talk about your mission and how their gift is helping get closer to achieving it.
3. Many charities don’t do ‘wow’. I wished they did. So, sadly, it’s a way to stand out!
4. You don’t know who your donors know. Alan Clayton’s mum got a wow thank you from Orbis. And his mum spoke wholeheartedly about it when the family got together at Christmas. So Alan recently included Orbis in a talk he did (which is how I heard). This is what happens when you wow. People share it. And sharing is the new currency you really must value. And you just don’t know who people know. Your donor (or the friends or family members they talk too) might be able to help you engage a corporate they work for or speak to someone who could help your mission directly.
5. They may share it publicly as Alan did, or, for example, it’s so easy to do so on social media. And that will help build your reputation. When we sent Harry a handwritten card to thank him for his donation at SolarAid his dad, Gareth, was so blown away he did a blog about it!
6. They are more likely to remember you in the future. When SolarAid reached a million solar lights we did a thank you campaign. We contacted, and even called, past donors to say thankyou in helping us reach that milestone. Years later people would reference that campaign – “you’re the guys who called me up to say ‘thanks a million’ “, came up again and again.
7. First impressions count. The CEO of Child Rescue Nepal told me how she had a phone call from a donor she had taken the trouble to thank with a handwritten note. It turns out it was a test. The donor had set up £5 a month to a range of children’s charities to see how they responded as part of their research to find a charity their company would support. They had passed with flying colours – a prompt thank you that was heartfelt. On the phone she inspired them about their mission and now they are a corporate partner and are helping raising significantly more.


A wow thankyou is a way for people to talk about you and build your reputation. Whilst a thank you might not be critical to retention, a wow thankyou will spread your story. And that’s the new currency – sharing.

This escalates thankyous. They should now be a key part of an engagement strategy. A well delivered thankyou keeps people’s attention (which is scarce remember) and could get you talked about. And, as I outlined in my last post, now it’s about building an audience, not about the art of interruption. So a wow thankyou is totally strategic.

A thankyou says, as performer Amanda Palmer so beautifully captured in her TED talk, “I see you”. I have a handwritten thank you that I received 30 years ago from Farleigh Hospice – pictured right – that I have kept (this is before I became a fundraiser). I’m not even sure exactly why I have kept it – I just feel it matters to me.

So that’s WHY you should bother. So here is how…


If you are going to do them you might as well do them really well. For that little bit of extra effort you will make a huge difference in how people feel.

So are you sold? Here are seven simple how’s to get you started. Plus there are some amazing practitioners preaching how to do them really well so there is no point me reinventing their great guidance. I’ve picked three of my favourites afterwards.

  1. Look at your thank you – would you be inspired ?
  2. Make it easy for you to thank (print blank cards with an inspiring image, write a copy framework you can refresh). Get prepared.
  3. Keep it fresh. Update your thankyou letter at very least once a quarter – better still monthly.
  4. Rather than say thankyou for giving to us, convey ‘we did this together’.
  5. Think of other times to thank – the anniversary of a regular gift – or simply because someone has given over a long period (or straight after someone has taken part in a fundraiser).
  6. Try a phone call if the gift is a bit special – you have the perfect excuse. It also gives you a reason to ask the donor why they chose to support you. Often you will gain an insight in exchange.
  7. Hand sign it – don’t make it look like something that is automated. Consider doing a hand written card.

Check out the following gems by the amazing Lisa Sargent, Adrian Salmon and Pamela Grow – all from the same school of thought (or if there was a school of thanking they would be teaching it):

Before and after by Lisa Sargent Sample-thank-you-letters-for-you-to-swipe

THE Harry Potter Letter by Adrian Salmon harry-potter-thank-you-letter

A template for saying thank you by Pamela Grow does-your-organizations-thank-you-letter-suck

How not to 

And finally some don’ts:

  • Don’t take too long to respond. A thank you that arrives two months later after an appeal just says you are disorganised and you don’t value their gift. You’ll be remembered for the wrong reasons.
  • Don’t just send a letter written a year ago. That’s just a piece of paper. Or an email that reads like an automated receipt.
  • Don’t think of your thankyou as an afterthought. If you started working on it after the appeal has been sent out – that’s an afterthought.
  • Don’t start the letter with thank you (that’s a bit predictable). Check back on Lisa’s, Adrian’s and Pamela’s examples above for inspiration.
  • Don’t decide not to thank someone because their gift is below say £5, or even offer donors not to be thanked, or worse still say unless they opt in you won’t thank them (make it your default for the reasons above – its a way to share your story). Of course if they say ‘please don’t thank me‘ then honour their wish.


As for the impact on retention? Personally I think it depends on how good the thankyou is. An ok thankyou isn’t remembered. A wow one is. So it’s not a tick box exercise. Hence if your thankyou is plain and uninspiring, then yes it isn’t going to impact on retention. But if it wow’s then it I believe it will.

The best evidence I can offer that it could help attract further giving from the same donor is from an experiment we did at SolarAid. We were running an online fundraising campaign at the weekend. As people were giving online we thought it best to thank them online. And as online is so instant – we thought it would be best if we responded as quickly as we could. So myself and a colleague logged in from home and thanked a selection of donors as their gifts came in. We took the trouble to personalise the email and say who we were. Some replied to the thank you (thanking us for thanking them!).  And to our surprise some gave again within 24 hours (and we didn’t include an ask)!

Retention is a measure if the same person gives again and of course it’s influenced by many factors such as their capacity to give and their passion for your cause. I suspect thankyous sadly don’t make a difference to retention because they are what I would call ok thankyous – not wow thankyous.

Finally, remember this is no longer a nice thing to do. It’s now strategic. And it just needs a little bit of effort on your part. Which is why its worth understanding WHY – otherwise you just won’t bother.

Other blogs I’ve done on thank yous:

Look out for the project coming out from the Commission on the Donor Experience on this topic in April compiled by John Grain.

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