Updated: May 26
SOFII’s Joanna Culling shows how spontaneity, personality and being prepared helps craft a special thank you to supporters.
As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I had a few ideas for this blog. But I didn’t write them down. ‘I’ll remember these tomorrow’, I thought.
Now I’m up. I’m caffeinated. The house is quiet. My deadline is rapidly approaching. And I’m writing with a touch of regret and some sparse notes I did write down over the past few weeks.
However, this predicament helps illustrate the point I want to make today. Because when it comes to writing good thank you letters, I believe busy fundraisers should be both ‘well prepared’ and ready to ‘write in the moment’.
I’m certainly no expert but when writing my own thank you notes, I try to include:
a bit of spontaneity,
a bit of preparation,
a bit of information,
with a lot of personality and enthusiasm.
We all know thanking is a big responsibility for fundraisers. It’s one of the most important parts of our role. Yet too often we rush and send something generic.
And when we deliver a thank you that we know isn’t great – our donor knows it too.
In theory it should be easy for me to get thank you letters right, not least as I have so much inspiration at my fingertips on SOFII. But if, like me, your role encompasses more than fundraising, then you’ll understand that it takes effort to make each donor feel special – at speed, every time.
Luckily research says that this effort will pay off. In 2018, a two-year study authored by Professor Jen Shang, Professor Adrian Sargeant, Kathryn Carpenter and Harriet Day identified that making subtle changes to your communications will influence how good your donors feel when they read those words you’ve carefully penned.
So, on the days when I struggle to write a good thank you, I refer back to my basics:
1. Start with a little bit of spontaneity.
A gift always seems to come in when I’m busy, but I try to thank all our donors as quickly as possible. That usually means I start the thank you with an honest glimpse into how the donor’s gift makes me feel in that moment. ‘You’ve made me smile, you’ve made my day, you’ve surprised me’ often feature in my openings because the first part of my plan is always to thank swiftly and genuinely.
2. Don’t let speed = dull.
Sometimes when we work quickly, we default to our standard messaging or mission to describe the impact a gift will have. I keep my own swipe file of achievements, user feedback and plans that help me show what SOFII’s currently working on and the difference the donor is making.
This means I can talk to donors about the projects that interest them and not just repeat our charity’s more-generic sounding mission.
I also save quotes that will help me set up the feelings or impact I’m about to illustrate. Sometimes these are testimonials from SOFII users, but I’ve also quoted famous people or lines from books that I’ve read and loved. Keeping a few of these to hand helps me be quick with replies, even on days when I’m not feeling creative.
3. Show the donor you know them.
I don’t know all my regular donors and SOFII partners that well. Some I know better than others. But as we are a small charity, it isn’t hard for me to ask how they are getting on or how that new project they’ve launched is going.
If this isn’t appropriate or possible for you, at least include standard fundraising personalisation based on the data you hold. Mention how long it’s been since they started giving or something that refers directly to their relationship with you.
Sometimes this doesn’t work for individual, out of the blue, one-off donors but I find there is usually a way to connect – even if you just note choose to talk about what’s going on in the world. You don’t have to get into huge detail or share your personal political views but acknowledging this moment in time helps your email or letter feel unique to them.
4. Be enthusiastic. Be genuine.
I suppose this brings me back to the first point, because I try to inject my personality into each thank you I write. In real life I’m shy but once I know a person better, I could talk for days.
As a result, my letters are probably on the long side, and I probably use more exclamation points than most would find acceptable. But hey, it’s me.
And when a donor replies with an equally enthusiastic message about what I’ve shared with them, it gives me a boost and an opportunity to get to know them better too.
Recently I’ve started including a special supporter care signature on my emails when I send a thank you (rather reluctantly, as it has my photo on it). In the true spirit of SOFII this is an idea we pinched from Australian charity, The Harry Perkins Institute, who really excel when it comes to supporter care. Doing this helps put a face to the name and shows the person behind your organisational shop-front, so to speak.
5. Get creative and have fun!
If you are a SOFII donor or partner, you’ll know I love to set up mini photoshoots to demonstrate my thanks. As you’ll see in a couple examples above, this often means using my daughters’ toys to spell out words or finding treehouse ornaments that illustrate ‘it takes a village’.
The little polaroid camera my mum bought for my eldest has really come in handy for my supporter care! It gets me away from my desk and I’ve had some really lovely feedback on the photo thank you notes I’ve sent in the post.
So, be creative. Draw a picture. Leave a voice note. Make a video. Snap a photo. Handpick a beautiful card. Press a flower. There are lots of ways to be out of the ordinary and show your donor that they matter.
In my time working as a sole fundraiser at a small charity, I’ve learned that when time and resources are not on your side, it pays to be prepared. At the same time, you can use your small size to be personal, spontaneous and authentic too.
If you work at a bigger organisation, you might be thinking ‘we can’t do any of this’. But don’t be too hasty and just stick with your standard, mass thanking approach.
Updating your letters more often, taking a creative approach, or adding a fab supporter care signature from a named person (like Amelia at The Harry Perkins Institute), won’t take much time and your donors will certainly appreciate the effort.
I hope sharing my own process will help you jazz up own thank you letters. If you’re looking for more help with your thank you letters, I recommend reading what we have on SOFII from a true legend of thanking – the incomparable Lisa Sargent.
Now go forth and thank. (Not least because when you give thanks, it makes YOU happier too!)
We talked more about the power of thanking in a recent masterclass that you can watch on YouTube.
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