Sunday, 21 August 2011

How not to thank me for my donation

A couple of weeks ago, I read a powerful piece on the website of a prominent UK mental health charity (I shan't name and shame them here). I subsequently made a one-off donation on their website, and yesterday I received a thank you letter for that donation. At least they're thanking their donors, which is allegedly more than some UK charities manage sometimes, but the way they've gone about it has destroyed a lot of the goodwill I had towards them.

The actual thank-you letter is decent enough, apart from unnecessary shoe-horning-in of Gift Aid regulations. I would generally prefer to be thanked for an online donation by email though - it just makes more sense to me to thank through the same channel as the gift was made - but I accept that's a personal preference, and isn't a big deal here.

What perturbed me was the accompanying literature included alongside the thank-you letter. A small postcard with the story of a service user would normally be acceptable, if it were telling me what my donation has achieved. It's not: it's telling me what a donation of £200 would achieve. The next item I picked up was an envelope. On closer examination, it's a donation envelope. So that's effectively a second donation ask in what's ostensibly a thanking package.

The last item included in the package is a 12-page leaflet detailing the charity's work. Or rather, six pages of it are about the charity's work. The remaining six pages provide a plethora of ways I can give money to the charity, from making a simple donation, to leaving a legacy, to getting involved in a marathon. The latter I mind less; it's perfectly acceptable to try and convert a donor into doing an event for the charity, but the others are inevitably going to be far less effective. I'm a one-off donor who has given £25 because of an article I saw on your website. I'm extremely unlikely to want to include your cause in my will, or ask my company to provide corporate support. It's just completely the wrong forum to be making this kind of ask. And then, of course, at the end of the booklet is another donation form.

And just when I thought that was the pinnacle of the over-asking, I've now noticed while writing this that the headed paper the letter came on also tells me that the charity relies on donations to continue its work (no shit!) and invites me to call or email them to make a donation.

Going back to the booklet and its pages on the charity's work, I was dismayed at how badly the cause is presented here. It takes until the seventh page (by which time it's making an ask) to mention the word 'you'. I've always been taught that in the act of soliciting a donation, the most important factor to consider is the donor. Instead, the booklet is full of the work that 'we', the charity, do, and the ways in which 'we' help. As a (prospective) donor, I don't care about the charity itself, I care about the difference I can make. And I don't mean that I can make a donation to the charity. To prompt me to make that donation, I need to be told that I will be helping people with mental health problems, and the ways in which I will be helping. It's not about the charity; it's about the donor. The problem is that this leaflet is trying to accomplish too many things at once, and is not succeeding particularly well at any of them. It's probably also used for information at events, for example, or for community fundraisers to present to contacts in order to support their ask. There's nothing really inherently wrong with the leaflet itself, it's not suitable as part of a thank-you package.

So, to sum up the overall problem: in a mailing from a charity that's supposedly thanking me for my donation, I've also been directly asked three times to give more money (along with several other soft asks). And while asking, the charity is completely failing to explain to me how I can help. I suppose I really shouldn't be that surprised. When I initially went to make the donation on the charity's website, upon clicking the 'Donate' button, I was presented, not with the donation form, or perhaps with a page explaining what different levels of giving would provide, but with a page inviting me to consider making a donation in memory of a loved one. Completely inappropriate - I've already considered and decided to make a donation, and the inclusion of a reference to donating in memory is, happily, not relevant to me. It was almost enough to stop me giving there and then; after this 'thank-you' letter, I'm sorry to say I probably won't donate again to this charity. It's a shame, and a difficult decision, because it's a cause I really identify with and want to support, but at the same time I have no desire to support bad fundraisers. Fortunately, there are other charities in the field whom I can switch my giving to.

Just to end this entry on a positive note, I'd like to praise another charity thank-you letter I received recently. This one was from WaterAid, in response to a regular donation I'd set up. The letter itself is clear and concise and repeatedly tells me what my gift will achieve. The four accompanying postcards (below) are also much better executed than the one mentioned earlier. They allow me to send them to my friends, with space for writing a message and an address on the back, and are therefore a great tool for me to solicit donations to the cause if I chose to do so. They also provide a brief story to go with the picture on the front, and, importantly, don't refer to what WaterAid has accomplished, but rather what WaterAid supporters have accomplished. The distinction is very important.


1 comment:

  1. I experienced a similar exasperation when a door to door collector called for a local (but pretty famous anyway) charitable institution that I'd like to support.

    The minimum they would accept was a £20 monthly standing order so they went away with nothing which was quite embarrassing after we had warmly welcomed them in. Surely if you can even get a single one-off donation of £20 it's worth doing?

    What is going on in the world of professional fundraising thinking?