Monday, 21 December 2009

What I learnt about 'thank you' from my Aunty Violet.....

Up until she passed away, I wrote to my Great Aunt Violet every week. Just a little note asking how she was and an update on how things were with me and the family.

She was probably the only person I did write to with any regularity but as I think back.. I had written to my aunt for almost my entire life - putting pen to ink smudged paper even before I could complete a full sentence.

Every birthday, Easter, Christmas..without fail, she would send me a gift.

Thoughtful presents and so reliable that you could set your hallmark clock by their arrival. Once the time passed I would sit down and pen a little note of thanks to Aunt Vi. Obviously when I was younger this took a little more work from my mum and the note was probably something like

Dear Aunt Violet

Thank you for the pretty necklace. Mummy put it on for me.

Lots of Love

Amanda xxxxxx

As I grew older I was able to realise and see my aunt as a special someone in my life - the content of my little notes grew and developed... it wouldn't just be a thank you, but also about why the gift was so important i.e. thanks for remembering that I liked Duran Duran - they are my favourite group at the moment..or something equally as insignificant - but to me meant the world.

The point of my little tale is really as a reminder that a thank you communication is a crucial element of communication plans and should be so much more than an admin function that punctuates a gift that has been received, but instead evidence of on-going narrative and relationship building.

Like with Aunt Vi, my initial letters were very much about the act of thanking - but I didn't really know her - they said what was needed and it was heartfelt, but as my knowledge of her grew and so did our relationship the letter became a thank you and so much more, an opportunity to share my world and her to share hers.

I have read a number of posts recently that state various advice and tips on thanking and I would agree with all of it.

There are indeed many ways to ensure that the content of the thank you has the right balance and is something that engages the donor and reaffirms their decision to donate to your worthwhile cause as a good decision and actually thanks them. There is some great advice to be found
here on SOFII (you should register if you haven't already) and here with a great check list.

Where I think we are not going far enough is in how we use the Thank you as a way of demonstrating that we actually do know the person to whom we are writing. Often thank you letters sound like they are to strangers. Yet before we have got to that point of sending one, we have jumped through all nature of production and data hoops to prove the exact opposite.

We personalise appeals to segments of one, we quote how long people have supported, we play back key information about the nature of their support, we even personalise donation forms (and I don't mean with just names and address and SRN). We are becoming cleverer about pulling in pertinent information in order to build relationships which will help to solicit a certain response, most frequently a donation - but then the thank you is produced and it remains for many a rehash of the appeal they have seen and responded to.. and I think we can do better than that.

Ultimately, as our relationships develop with supporters so should the thank you - so much so, that this approach should be based on the entire value of their support not necessarily purely financial and not merely for a one-off gift. So some things to consider:

  • What is the entire nature of this supporter's relationship with you - ok - they have given £xx to your recent appeal but chances are they have done so much more too - which is not necessarily ever acknowledged. Is this the time? Or what other opportunities should and could be used to do this?
  • What is the best way to thank this person? The phone is a great way to thank someone and get useful feedback into the motivations of why they gave - but you need to ensure that you manage expectations

  • Once you have set the standard of the thank you i.e. personal call or hand-written letter from chief exec to those who gave over £xxx amount - you should probably think about how these people will feel about any less personal letters in the future. After all - their overall support won't have diminished even if their one off gift may be a little less next time.
As this is a labour of love for me at the moment, I would like to caveat this post with the fact that what I am suggesting is not straight forward. I know. There are often many systems and processes in the way and I am not just talking about the letter going over to another page.

My point is that we have to start somewhere. By recognising that we can do this a whole lot better and starting to look at thank you communications as a key to your development and retention strategy not merely as a letter, would be a great place to start.

Thank you :O).

PS Wouldn't it be great if there was an actual award dedicated to this kind of stewardship - I for one, would be very proud to win that award at the IOF!