Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When is Enough Enough?

At a conference in Seattle, I recently had someone approach me, inferring that the leadership at his organization felt his donors were "thanked enough" and had reached a saturation point of gratitude. I immediately congratulated this individual but was left with the nagging feeling that his leadership might have missed something along the way.  
Not thirty minutes later I was sitting with a friend musing over possible sessions for next year's conference when she told me of one of her teammates who writes such amazing thank you letters from leadership, so personal, so touching and sincere, that she often receives thank you letters in return. 

So where is the balance? For me, I find it in the simplicity of sincerity. I have read far too many spirited and false emails and letters saying THANK YOU with multiple explanation points and generic text to follow, something that for me falls on deaf ears. 

I really believe we live gratitude and this comes through in our communications and our tone. I guess for me it's like a great John Coltrane performance, indulgent and filled with stories, saturated with emotion and intensity. 

So when someone asks me if we can ever thank donors enough, I sit, sometimes melancholy and think of all of the times that I am asked more than I receive and wonder if this can possibly be the case. We all have humble donors, we all have those who aren't. But at the core of the human experience is the need to feel valued and appreciated, whether it take one expression of gratitude or 56. 

What we may fall victim to in our sincere attempt at appreciation is forcing fundraising constructs like namings and giving societies and other manufactured gratitude and recognition on a donor in a systematic approach to demonstrate gratitude. Sometimes the simpler the better, no need for a fancy label when a sincere touch will do...

Some donors desire nothing more than a sincere expression of intent, responsibility for the funds they entrust us with and the fulfilling role of attempting to make a difference. What nags at my soul is that if we are so successful at expressing gratitude, then why do only 27% of our donors stick around to experience it again. Data tells us its for a multitude of reasons, the most important is that we are constantly asking for more or asking period. Our ask to thank ratio is all out of whack. 

Imagine if you had a friendship like that- some of us do. Most of us have weeded out those "takers" by our thirties, because friends like that exhaust us, our resources and our patience in short order. Why would this be different from our donors?

It's one of those things that keeps me up at night, but as I travel and continue to meet more and more amazing fundraising professionals, I have the strong belief that while many of us are doing amazing things, gratitude can be more at the center, or core of our behaviors. Those that hold this ethos close are better fundraisers for it. I can't wait for the day when we can write a blog about the over-saturation of donor relations in fundraising. Until then, I think we have a ways to go and lots of us to help carry the gratitude forward.

What are your thoughts? Can we overthank our donors? Is there such a thing that's too much? I look forward to hearing from you...


  1. I have also been thinking about this lately. As annual fund specialist, a big part of my job is thanking our donors. We at my organization have been working so hard lately on donor retention and our attitude of gratitude. I have recently been sending donors a postcard either for a first time donation or just when they need an extra touch. My concern though has been that after I send a postcard, in addition to our standard (but heartfelt!) thank you letter, I worry that a thank you phone call might be a bit too much. That is 3 thank yous for one gift, all within a couple days of each other. I am all about thanking for every single gift, but I worry that all 3 might be slight overkill. I would be interested to know what you and others think on these matters!

    1. Penelope Burk and others recommend 7 thanks per gift, I don't think 3 is too many, especially if they are meaningful and well timed!

    2. Lynne, how many TY notes would you send to the school that fired you for negligence - Yeshiva?

  2. You can never thank enough. There is a big difference between a "thank you" correspondence and a true and meaningful thank you FOR the donor. Thank you's are not a thing we do for ourselves as part of our process, but rather a hug for our donors a message of true appreciation for their part in making a difference.