Last year, Oxfam Ireland posted on their website a copy of a thank-you letter they received from a donor. It is both inspiring and terrifying, and is worth reproducing in full here.
Please find enclosed a cheque… to pay for raffle tickets… Oxfam is my primary charity. Castlebar, the place where I work, has an Oxfam shop and I can go in and make an extra donation for a specific purpose either because disaster has struck somewhere or for a special occasion in my own life… I would like to let you know that I give money to Oxfam in good faith. There are many people in the world who live in dire circumstances and I trust Oxfam and its employees/volunteers to do the best for them that they are able to do within the given circumstances. I like it that Oxfam is a large organisation so that they have expertise in various fields and a large body of personnel to draw upon.
You are unable as an individual to deliver aid to whoever needs it. That would be impossible and very wasteful. The money you received from me is real money – with that I mean, if I didn’t give the money to you, I wouldn’t have difficulty finding another use for it. What I am really trying to say is this: I trust you to spend money wisely and carefully and give aid appropriately with consideration to people’s background. I don’t expect Oxfam employees to work for nothing, they need to be properly paid.
I am proud to support Oxfam and I know that puts a responsibility on all Oxfam personnel.
The first thing to say is that this is a genuinely committed donor we’re hearing from. While she or he is clearly responsive to emergencies, there is also the intriguing line ‘I can go in and make an extra donation... for a special occasion in my own life’. This is not someone who sees giving as a chore or a burden. There is no suggestion of guilt rather there is the hint that giving is a joyous thing, something for a special occasion. We don’t know if the donations are made in celebration, in thanksgiving, in memoriam, or for some other reason but they are clearly very meaningful and deeply important.
It’s also clear that not only does this donor trust Oxfam to put his or her money to good use, she or he also understands that it costs money to run effective charities and that the staff need to be paid. Hurray! An enlightened donor. There can be a view in our sector that donors think fundraising is free and staff should work for nothing. Sure, there are people who believe that, but I think this donor is more typical of the public view.
It’s fantastic to hear a donor express her trust in your organisation and its work in this way. And she’s not even expecting miracles. She or he doesn’t want Oxfam to end hunger or defeat poverty, merely for their staff and volunteers to ‘do the best for [people that live in dire circumstances] that they are able to do within the given circumstances’. There is genuine understanding here, along with a genuine desire to change the world for the better. And a recognition that the best way to do so is through large, professional organisations like Oxfam.
In many ways, this person is a dream donor.
But in amongst the praise for Oxfam’s work and expressions of support is the faintest of threats. And also the deadliest. While this trust is freely given, it is conditional.
The line ‘I would like to let you know, that I give money to Oxfam in good faith’ is not a compliment. It’s a warning, one that Oxfam and all other charities neglect at their peril. If we don’t live up to the trust placed in us by donors, that trust – and the support that goes with it – will be withdrawn.
So what must we do to maintain that trust?
Well, I’m assuming that you have the basics covered – you use the money given to you for the stated purpose, you’re honest and reputable and there are no skeletons about to pop out of your cupboard. If that’s not the case, then you really have more important things to be doing than reading this blog.
It turns out that one of the simplest things you can do to build trust is to just remind donors that they can trust you. Researchers have found, for instance, that adding the line ‘you can trust us to do the job for you’ at the end of an ad for an auto service company, caused people to rate the ad higher in every category tested:
Fair price – up seven per cent.
Caring – up 11 percent.
Fair treatment – up 20 per cent.
Quality – up 30 per cent.
Competency – up 33 per cent.
It appears that trust is contagious. This is a crucial point for a charity’s relationship with donors; if they trust you to handle their donations properly – thank them for their gifts, process them promptly and correctly – then they’ll trust you in the rest of your work. They’ll trust that you handle your finances properly and that you deliver on your mission.
Conversely, if they don’t trust you to handle their donations properly, then that lack of trust will leak into other areas. They may start wondering about your financial probity. They may question whether you’re delivering on your promise to change the world.
The other key way to build trust with donors is to tell them how their money has made a difference. Giving donors feedback on their gifts not only reinforces trust, it reminds donors of why they gave in the first place, helping to build loyalty and motivate further giving. In fact, we know that for major donors, demonstrating the difference a gift has or can make is one of the strongest motivators for giving.
And to finish, here’s a great, simple example from Amnesty International Ireland on how to provide real, emotional, tangible feedback to donors.
Click here to view letter.