May 18, 2016 Doug Shaw

There’s a great Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) line from the classic movie, The Princess Bride, that comes to mind when I hear the annual poll results of donors’ top two giving complaints: not being thanked for a gift and not being told what their gift has accomplished.

It’s actually a single word, more than a line, but I can hear the lispy word pouring out of Vizzini’s mouth over and over again, “Incontheivable!”

I can’t, even for a moment, conceive of receiving a gift, of any amount, without saying “thank you.” Especially to the person who just made the decision to take the heart action of giving a gift to my cause.

I can’t fathom it. I don’t understand it.

To me, it’s simply “incontheivable!”

But, the fact is, it’s too-often true. Most organizations expend their energies trying to come up with strategies, tactics, messaging and channels that will move a person to the point of clicking the GIVE NOW button or pulling out their checkbook to write out a check, put it in an envelope, find a stamp, affix it to the envelope and then they have to post it in a mailbox.

That’s a lot of work in today’s electronic world.

Here in North America, that is what most donors do…they still write a check!   And you know what they hear in return? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

It’s absolutely incontheivable!

The other frustrating part of the exchange is that the donor is never told what their giving has accomplished. To this old fundraiser, this adds insult to injury. They’ve injured a relationship with their donor by not saying “thank you,” but now they insult the donor by not informing them of how their generosity has changed or saved someone’s life.

In essence, this kind of insensitivity deprives generous people of the joy of giving.

I know ministries and organizations don’t purposefully set out to do this. They just haven’t taken the time to put themselves into the place of the donor.

With all the pressure we feel as fundraisers to raise the maximum amount of money while spending the least amount possible, it’s pretty understandable how some organizations would let this opportunity to thank and inform donors slip past them (can you hear my tongue being firmly embedded into my cheek?).

But, here’s the part I find hard to understand: by sending the donor a well-crafted thank-you letter, receipt and a reply envelope, at least 20-30% of the receipt envelopes will come back to you with yet another gift!

Now, I must admit that sometimes I exaggerate in order to make my point, but no, not this time…I promise! Some organizations receive up to 1/3 of their total donated income from receipt or “bounce-back” income.  That’s a lot of money!

Here’s a true story. A beloved ministry and client decided to invest heavily in donor acquisition. They needed to grow their donor base in order to support the growth of their ministry. So every autumn they would mail several million pieces of direct mail, place inserts in newspapers and stuffers into utility bills — all seeking to move the people of their city to give to help feed homeless people.

It worked exceptionally well and the mail and the money poured in. So much so that temporary employees were hired to assist with data entry and processing thank-you/receipt letters.

But something went terribly awry; the Chief Development Officer became ill and was ordered by her doctor to be on bed rest. An unsupervised employee made an uniformed decision. In order to save time, he decided that he would either have to expend his energy entering gift data OR processing and mailing thank-you/receipt letters.

He decided to enter gift data.

No letters or receipts were sent to newly acquired donors for over six weeks. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were lost! But even worse, many of the newly acquired donors were insulted and did not give again.

Now, this could happen to anybody who doesn’t know the rules of fundraising. In this case, the employee was being continually asked, “How many days of mail still need to be entered?” Wanting to please his employer he put his focus on the thing he thought was most important: gift data entry. He was mortified to later learn just how much his decision cost the ministry.

And that’s why one of the Rules of Fundraising still stands: saying ‘Thank You’ to donors is necessary and profitable.