How to annoy donors and drive away friends with a thank you letter

16 Jan

This festive season we saw more than our usual share of thank you letters. Apart from the number, though, little had changed with thank you letters since 2001, when I started working with non-profits.

So we tried to get into the heads of people whose job it is to write thank you letters and understand why they write what they write. Here’s what we found:

1. “Dear friend/ Dear donor,”

Inside the letter-writer’s head (LWH): There’s your first clue to how much we care about you. We haven’t bothered to find out your first name. Even if we do know, we don’t care enough to do a mail-merge or even scribble your name in.

2. “Thank you for your donation.”

LWH: It’s Monday morning and I don’t have the time to get creative. Never mind that you’ve got 27 other thank you letters that all started the same way. And ended up in your dustbin.

3. “Thank you for your generous donation.”

LWH: Erm.. The database manager is not yet at work. After all, you know how much you gave to us, right?

4. “Your contribution will go towards helping people help themselves.”

LWH: I don’t yet know exactly how your donation will be used. No, we can’t give two or three specific examples of what your donation could fund. So I will stick to some nice sounding broad statement that covers it all.

5. “AllAboutUs Foundation is a people-centric organisation that builds the capacities of individuals and communities for self-reliance, sustainability and success. We were founded in 1947 by our illustrious founder, xxxxx…” (Three more paragraphs follow)

LWH: There are good reasons why we write like this.

  • This is how we have described our organisation since 1947, and any change has to be endorsed by our board members.
  • It expresses the totality of our work and covers all perspectives.
  • Everyone knows what capacity building means.
  • The donor wants to know more about ‘us’, right? The thank you letter is about us, not them!

6. “We hope that you will continue to donate to us in the future.”

LWH: I don’t know when I will write to you next, so why waste an opportunity to ask? I expect you to remember this ask until the next time you feel a generous moment coming on, and give to us again. PS Why do you feel unappreciated just because we asked you for more money? I said thank you at the start, didn’t I?

Here are the Top Five Things We Don’t Do, just to make sure the donor never finds us or gets back to us.

  1. No name on the letter. The donor will appreciate getting a letter from a faceless organisation, rather than from an individual.
  2. No phone number or email ID. They can always Google us, can’t they?
  3. I’ve said thank you once. I don’t need to say it again.
  4. Donors know about tax benefits. That’s why they give. Why waste space mentioning it?
  5. Actually sign the letter? That’s too much trouble. A printed name looks neater.

You might say the letter writer didn’t mean those things. Too bad. The donor thinks the letter writer meant them. And that’s what really counts.


3 Responses to “How to annoy donors and drive away friends with a thank you letter”

  1. Barbara Talisman, CFRE January 16, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    Reblogged this on Talisman Thinking Out Loud and commented:
    Great article by @bharatir No Small Change on annoying donors with bad thank you letters!

    • barapani January 17, 2014 at 4:49 am #

      Thanks, Barbara 🙂

  2. Joelle O'Reilly-Hyland February 21, 2014 at 6:40 am #

    All that you’ve mentioned here are effective.

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