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Study reveals vital role of the donor Thank You

The Philanthropy Centre
Study reveals vital role of the donor Thank You

More thought needs to be given to the purpose of a communication and what is said to different groups of donors, according to a study by The Centre and a team of philanthropic psychologists at Plymouth University.

The study, released today (5 November) shows that whether donors should be thanked for their gift, the difference their gift has made, or the kind of person they are depends on how established the giving relationship is.

Early in the relationship, The Philanthropy Centre’s study shows that the focus should be on sharing with the donor the difference their gift has made. When a donor has made an above average number of gifts, a more nuanced approach can be adopted, thanking the donor for being the special kind of person that they are and talking about how much the donor means to the charity. Getting this right increases the wellbeing that the individual experiences and their subsequent giving, the study says.

The study also found that a thank you can be used strategically in a communications cycle to boost a donor’s personal sense of wellbeing, with a thank you in advance of a campaign (for past giving) able to significantly increase both this and the value of giving during the campaign by 60% without reducing the response rate.

The two-year study, authored by Professor Jen Shang, Professor Adrian Sargeant, Kathryn Carpenter and Harriet Day, includes interviews with leading fundraising practitioners, a review of psychological literature on thanking and gratitude, and a series of six experiments with four non-profit partners on their fundraising and acknowledgement communications. 

The experiments showed that even subtle changes to communications have the ability to influence how good donors feel as a result of reading that communication.

Based on the experiments, The Philanthropy Centre advises the following:

  • After supporters take an initial action for an organisation, sending a prompt, short, but interactive email where people can affirm the contribution the action has made to their wellbeing.
  • After people make their first donation and before they have given as often as the average of the database, sending out communications to primarily thank people for the differences their donations have made.
  • After people give more often than the average number of times of supporters on the database, sending out a letter to primarily thank donors for the long-term relationship that they have with key stakeholders or personalities, or for being who they are.

These practices, the study evidenced, have the potential to increase average donation amount and response rate, as well as how competent donors feel in making a difference, how well they feel their donations allow them to express their beliefs and how connected they feel they are to the cause they support and to others that they care about.

The second suite of tests explored the nature of the feedback that should be provided in a thank you letter.

These showed that:

  • When the individual story is mildly emotional, thank you communications are most effective in generating behavioural benefits and make donors feel better when they thank without mentioning wider benefits.
  • When the individual story is highly emotional, additional information on vastness can serve to enhance donor wellbeing. So, for example, donors can also be thanked for the difference they will make over an extended period of time.
  • When highly emotional individual stories cannot be used in fundraising communications, the vastness of the organisation’s mission accomplishment can still translate to additional wellbeing if it can be linked to donor connection with the organisation and their passion for the cause.

Professor Shang said:

“We hope that this report will provide significant food for thought about how best to use the “thank you” in fundraising communications and at the very least prompt more testing across the sector. Nonprofits and their communications agencies routinely test campaigns or solicitations, but few test what is arguably the most important communication of all, the thank you.”

The report can be downloaded from The Philanthropy Centre’s site.

Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via www.thepurplepim.com.

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