I’d like to say “Thank you” to all the readers who commented on my controversial No “Thank You” post of last week.

I do so noting there’s no empirical evidence that thanking you will make you more likely to comment again!

For suggesting that maybe “Thank you’s” to donors don’t matter, some of you concluded I’m the rudest of cads, brought up in a home that instilled no values of reciprocity, gratitude or mere good manners. Others think I’m several doses short of common sense.

But actually I was just writing out of idle curiosity … the fellow who first raised the question on his blog, Chuck English had simply observed innocently that he had been unable to find any empirical evidence that thanking donors did matter.

My curiosity stems from the fact that here’s a direct marketing practice we all engage in as a ‘best practice’ … on instinct, on a hunch. If all of fundraising were done on a hunch, we’d have lots of failed campaigns out there, wouldn’t we?!

Thankfully, much good discussion was triggered by the post. I urge you to read the Comments. Several readers pointed to the valuable research of Penelope Burk (author of Donor-Centered Fundraising), who clearly ranks as the leading guru on acknowledgments.

Here’s a reply she wrote to Chuck:

“What I have found over years of research and testing (since 1998) is that it is the quality of the thank you letter content, appearance, timing, and many other issues that are collectively influential. In other words, just any thank you letter won’t get the job done of improving future fundraising performance. When it comes to dealing with qualitative issues in research, it is insufficient to ask a simple question and leave it at that because, while respondents may have all received thank you letters at some time, one cannot assume that they have all received great ones. Therefore, research questions must be followed by testing in order to provide reliable information to the industry.

“From our ongoing review of thousands of thank you letters, we find they fall into two main camps — typical correspondence (over 80% of all thank you letters we have studied) where content is very similar, impersonal, and vague, and exceptional content which communicates much more effectively on many levels. Most donors have never received anything but the typical, predictable and impersonal type of gift acknowledgement, so if they are asked in a survey whether a thank you letter is effective in driving future giving decisions, their answer can only reflect what they have experienced. However, if you approach the subject from a different perspective, such as “Have you ever received a thank you letter that was exceptionally good?” or something like that, while most respondents answer “no”, the ones who answer “yes” can then clearly identify how that correspondence influenced their behavior going forward.

“When we test exceptional thank you correspondence against the typical and measure rate of renewal and average gift value, exceptional letters far out-perform the typical. Because the results were (and continue to be) so significant, I dedicated an entire chapter in my book, Donor-Centered Fundraising to describing what makes a thank you letter superior and how to craft great correspondence.

“Superior gift acknowledgements not only work in terms of furthering donor retention and elevating gift values more quickly, but they say a lot about fundraisers who write them. They take pride in the quality of their work and donors pick up on that message, too.”

So, well-done thank you’s generate better results than pedestrian boilerplate ones. I can buy that; indeed, as Penelope notes, it’s been tested by her and others.

But I’d make two additional points.

First, my experience — yes, I confess to having acknowledged donors — is that those (let’s call them) ‘follow-up’ mailings that really produce results are much more than ‘Thank you’s’. They actually are introductions to the next step we want the donor to take. And it’s how well we communicate the ‘what next’ that really produces the result.

Second, many tests show — and some Comments made the point —  that merely adding a reply envelope to an acknowledgment (with no ask) will often yield sufficient ‘unsolicited’ gifts to pay for the acknowledgment communication. In other words, the nonprofit has gotten a ‘free’ shot at communicating more about its program and needs … at least potentially building the donor relationship. Why wouldn’t you want to do  that?

My advice … treat the ‘Thank you’ as more than a ‘Thank you’.

Anyway, thanks again … not that I think it will do much good!


P.S. Since most nonprofits these days are not getting a second gift from half or more of their 1st time donors, who apparently are being universally thanked for their 1st gift throughout the nonprofit universe, doesn’t that suggest ‘Thank you’s’ aren’t quite getting the job done? Hmmm … see my two closing points above.

This article was posted in: Communications, Copywriting / creative, Direct mail, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Nonprofit management, Research.
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