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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Common sense and effective fundraising

At Christmas and birthdays my mum used to make me write ‘thank you’ letters to everyone who had bought me a gift. I suspect that you may have gone though a similar exercise as a small child.
This means that ingrained into most of us is the belief that we should always thank someone for a gift. It’s common sense. It’s polite. It’s expected. And it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.
So I’ve been really interested in reading the recent blogs on the subject of thanking donors that challenges this conventional thinking.
If you have missed them then let me fill you in. It started with the findings of an Ipsos Reid study conducted for AFP Canada called, “What Canadian Donors Want”
One of the things the study told us was that 52% of respondents said that not receiving a thank you would not decrease the likelihood of giving in the future. 
This prompted Chuck English on his Marketing that works blog to ask, 
‘Does saying thank you really make a difference? Do you know of a research study that proves that thanking donors will lead to further or increased donations?
It turns out that there is no empirical evidence that directly confirms that thanking donors will lead to improved results.This was picked up by The Agitator in their “No- thank you” blog.
The only evidence that thanking donors increases gift levels came from Penelope Burke. Penelope’s experience shows that there are fundamentally two types of thank you; average and exceptional.
Receiving an average thank you letter makes no impact on future fundraising performance, however, when exceptional thank you correspondence is tested against the average, and the rate of renewal and average gift value is measured, exceptional letters far out-perform the average.
You can read more here in The Agitator OK thank you blog.
The very suggestion of not thanking donors has been too much for some fundraisers to bear. It goes against what most of us feel is ‘right’, or is common sense or even best practice. But that’s the point; it’s not about you. You are not your donor.  
Tom at The Agitator points out; ‘common sense’ might establish that donors are busy and will respond better to shorter letters. Or that $35 a year donors won’t make bequests. Common sense can often be, as in these two examples; wrong.
So when there is evidence that thanking some donors makes no difference at all should we not trust the data and bravely decide not to thank some donor segments? If we look objectively at the data we would conclude that its simply not good business sense to thank every donor.
Sean Triner, Director of Pareto Fundraising in Australia, and self confessed data junkie, concludes that, “If there is evidence that not thanking will increase the total charity net income, then the moral obligation is not to thank. You are not employed to be nice, you are employed to maximise your charity net income in the long term.”
Sean adds, “non transactional, anecdotal evidence is probably important for high value donors, so consider thanking top donors with a separate letter”
You can read more on this topic from Sean on the LinkedIn SOFII debate about thanking.
The challenge for fundraisers is to be open minded to the possibility that doing what we always do, because that is what we have always done, or simply because it is common sense, may not be the most effective fundraising strategy.
If you knew that not thanking certain donors was what they wanted, or that putting maximum effort into fewer targeted exceptional thank yous would improve your results, what would you do differently? Would you continue to keep doing what you have always done? Or would you be a bit braver and find a low risk way to test the evidence with your donors with the ambition of achieving better results?
Whatever you decide, there is one principle that applies to all your fundraising. There is no advantage in being average. If you are only going to be average, it’s probably not worth the effort.
What are your thoughts?