New research report: Learning to say thank you

The role of donor acknowledgements.

At Pareto Fundraising we spend a lot of time, on behalf of our charity partners, testing fundraising materials. But very little time is spent on testing what is likely the most important donor communication of all – the acknowledgement or thank you program.

Yet research shows that in a time of declining donors and increased competition, the top reasons donors stop giving is that they weren’t thanked properly.

In this latest two-year study from Dr Adrian Sargeant and his colleagues at The Philanthropy Centre (you can download it here) the authors show just how massively important saying thank you really is – and that:

– The thank you process is currently under thought by too many charities

– Donors respond differently to thank you programs depending on how long they have been involved with the charity, and

– That even subtle changes to communications can have the ability to profoundly influence how donors feel as a result of reading that communication

In fact, across the board the authors found that if thank you’s are done in a consistent and lively manner, they have the potential to:

– Increase good-feeling in a donor database by a minimum of 20% over five years

– Increase average donation amount and response rate.

Over the last couple of years, Pareto Talk has featured many articles on the importance of saying thank you and investing in retention to build donor loyalty and increase lifetime value.

And with Pareto Benchmarking showing that the average second gift rates within 12 months for offline donors is 24.7% – and for online donors, it’s 14% – it’s clear that we have some way to go in truly understanding the importance of investment in retention.

As the researchers in this study identify, the two biggest barriers to this investment are:

– The difficulty fundraisers have in convincing their organisation to invest in thank-you’s

– Lack of immediate measurable behavioural outcomes that a fundraiser can use to show the immediate return for such an investmen

This is where this study can add some reinforcement, as the researchers conducted a set of six tests to gather evidence that will help fundraisers document what benefits can be delivered by thank you communications (if any).

The first set of tests show how fundraisers can best thank donors at a different stage of their relationship with an organisation.

And, the second set of tests were designed to show how fundraisers can best balance the need to tell stories of individual beneficiaries while still conveying the organisation’s work on the wider impact of society.

You can review the test material here.

There’s also an extensive section on the qualitative findings – which is series of interviews with experienced fundraisers about what they believe is the true role of a thank you program. And they review specific examples of techniques used.

As the title of the study suggests, this report is about ‘learning’ to say thank you. And it will vary for every organisation. But what it does do is highlight the importance of a thank you program as part of every effective fundraising strategy.

There’s a lot to review in this report. So download the report, share it with your colleagues and work through together how  the thank you program works in your organisation.

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