This is a story which spans several years. It gets to the heart of fundraising and the importance of spending time on giving back to your supporters.
It begins 5 years ago when SolarAid decided to run a major campaign. We were about to reach a milestone – a million solar lights shining in Africa in just a few years.
So, it was a campaign to say thank you. We called it “Thanks a Million”. A special video was made for supporters to see.
Then in March 2014 after several months of planning the campaign began. SolarAid staff including volunteers who supported SolarAid, and some trustees too, got on the phone to say thank you in person to as many supporters who had given in recent years. In effect because of their support SolarAid had reached this milestone – every donation meant more solar lights could be distributed to remote rural communities in Africa.
There was no asking in the campaign. Just a thank you for donating. The calls were an opportunity to have a heart-felt conversation. We kept it up non-stop for over a week. All the staff were involved – not just those in fundraising.
A thank you postcard was sent to those we didn’t manage to get through to.
There are two calls I personally made that stood out for me, and I will never forget.
The first was when I got through to a supporter explain the reason for my call and she seemed quite taken a back. “So you’re not calling to ask me for money?“, she quizzed after I had updated her on our news – perhaps more accustomed to the classic scripted ‘upgrade’ calls from charities. “Not this time” I replied in jest, “we just wanted to call and say thank you for helping us reach this milestone”. To which she said,”Can you please repeat word for word what you just said” – but without explaining why. So I did a bit bemused. Only to find she had placed the call on their speaker phone for the entire family to hear!
Has that ever happen to you when you have made a call? Or have you ever done that to an inbound call you received at home? It was a first for me!
The second call I had forgotten about, until recently.
During the campaign I rang to speak to a supporter who had given regularly to the work of SolarAid for some years. He wasn’t available, but I spoke to his wife who asked me the reason for my call – so I told her why I was calling. She then told me her husband was in hospital and asked me if I would call him and gave me the direct phone number to his hospital bed (something you can do these days).
I got through and was able to thank her husband for his support and answer any questions he had about SolarAid’s work. I remember the call because it was a bit unusual to be calling someone in hospital and we had a lovely chat. I made a note on the system and then forgot about it.
Whilst we had no idea of the ROI of the Thanks A Million campaign – that was not the point. We did it because we knew it was the right thing to do to make our supporters feel good. Years later people would remember the calls – “you’re the guys who called to say thanks a million“, was said to me on numerous occasions.
In 2016 I finished as Chief Fundraiser at SolarAid. Since then I often mention the Thanks A Million campaign in talks at fundraising forums as something I was proud to be involved with.
Then at the end of 2017 I caught up with a colleague still working at SolarAid. As an aside he said “By the way we’ve just had a large bequest“. As the charity is quite young a legacy is quite unusual. Then he added something else, “It turns out its the second bequest from the same family – did you make a phone call to someone in hospital back in 2014?” he asked.
The first legacy was from the donor I had called in hospital those years before. “We’ll never forget the time you took the trouble to phone our dad in hospital – shortly before he passed away” the son had informed SolarAid. The second legacy to SolarAid was from his mother, the wife of the donor I called. She passed away last year and a further gift was left to SolarAid in her will. I recall feeling quite overwhelmed with emotion when I heard this for the first time last year.
I got in touch with the family. The son said the legacy from his mother was the largest gift left of all the charities his parents supported. He believed this would have been agreed by both his parents before his father passed away – “so you were clearly their favourite charity”, he added. He went on to tell me: “Personally I have found Solar Aid to be friendly and responsive, taking nothing for granted, and eager to show appreciation to their supporters for their generosity. The relationships you form with your supporters are very important and go a long way to engendering support”.
Both the right thing to do and is now totally strategic
Of course it wasn’t the Thanks A Million campaign in isolation that led to their support over many years and the generosity to leave a gift in their respective wills – it was also the ongoing ethos adopted by SolarAid to give supporters the best possible experience, that remains there to this day. But the campaign was a key part of creating that ethos. Those two gifts alone were worth more than an supporter appeal with an ask would have raised at that time.
It shows that taking time to thank supporters for their donation is always time well spent and will be appreciated.
Do it well and people will remember you.
Do it too because you are giving something back. Think of your donor as a beneficiary for a moment.
Don’t be fooled this is not a tactic to attract legacies. Do it because it is the right thing to do.
And of course it is totally strategic too beyond the person you thank – because done well people will talk about you, recommend you. It is not just the right thing to do! This is important as it will help you persuade others in your organisation about the value of investing in such initiatives.
SolarAid are approaching their two millionth solar light in Africa. I wonder what we will do (oh by the way I’m now back working alongside the wonderful SolarAid crew). Watch this space.
Written with thanks to the family for having permission to share this story.
This is the video we produced for the Thanks a Million campaign back in 2014. I still love watching it. See how many solar lights you can spot (excluding the ones the headteacher carries on the back of his bicycle).