I got this brilliant message from April Kelsey – a fundraising and communications specialist based in Hampton, VA, USA.
Hey, Sean! Today I made about $100k off ONE thank you email, applying techniques I’ve been learning from you and others in the fundraising communications field.
To set the stage: We had four high-dollar projects that had gone a little while without funding, and it was draining us in liability. (We commit to fund if approved.)
So…we put up some major donor money as a match and sent appeals in February and March. By February, we had raised enough to cover two of the projects. By end of March, we had enough money to approve all four, plus a fifth project.
There was a major related news event in the project area, and our consultant advised us to seize the moment.
So I drafted a thank you email to our main list, informing donors of our fundraising success and the new approved project, and thanking them profusely for their generosity.
Then I mentioned the related news event, assured them that they were standing with the affected people in that area, and threw in a convenience link in case they felt like giving again (in the final days of the match).
The consultant complained that my copy didn’t center the ask, took too long to get to the give link, and sounded a bit too final (past tense language, little expectation of additional gifts).
But it was too late.
The email was live by that point. Sean, you wouldn’t believe it. That might just be the most successful fundraising email we’ve ever sent. One major donor called in and pledged to send $75,000.
Others called in as well. Right now, at end of day one, it looks like this one THANK YOU email has raised $100k. And I haven’t even checked the online gifts yet!
Needless to say, my bosses have their jaws on the floor right now!
I have a reputation for being a lovely, thoughtful and caring person (ahem) so I congratulated April effusively:
Well done! Thank you for letting me know. I am a big fan of thanking properly.
But I also have a reputation for being a mathematician, with limited social skills (ahem). So I added a short warning.
However… I do agree with your consultant.
You made $75,000 from one lovely donor (awesome)…
Your thank you is undoubtedly the trigger for that donor, but it could be that whatever you sent would have done this.
Even if you ask them why they donated, they would post-rationalise an emotional decision; you can’t really use their response as fact!
The assumption, given the result of the campaign, that a thank you with a subtle ask is better than a more positive ask is actually very dangerous, but very appealing – especially to your bosses.
Even if you had tested 50/50 the lovely gorgeous super person who donated the $75,000 would have had to have been removed from the test results!
My experience is if the ask had been stronger, and you take the outlier out, you would have most likely made more than $25,000.
However, your approach in writing this as a thank you may have led to a better, more engaging story. This could be the reason it did better than previous, not because it was a thank you … Does that make sense?
Luckily April seems to forgive my slight balance on the weight of praise and theory… on the basis she let me share this exchange with you. Hopefully, she will write and tell me good news again. Her response was positive too:
Yes! And I absolutely understand what you are saying. I am usually a fan of direct, positive asks and have complained in the past about approaches that are too subtle (something the consultant has helped drive home to the execs). So, you’re right.
With the consultant’s suggestions, we might have pulled in more money. But I was so excited to see what a highly relevant thank you could pull in. I’ll definitely be making notes for the future. Thanks for your great work!
She finished with another question
Just a quick question, is there a golden ratio of asks to thank yous? [Tom] Ahern says you can ask 21 times per year, and we do about that amount. However, several donors complain that all it seems we do is ask for money. I now suspect we aren’t asking too much, it’s that we’re not thanking and reporting enough. What say the fundraising gods?
Super question. I don’t know what the gods think, but I’ll be conferring with a few fundraising friends and that will be the topic of a future post on this blog.
In the meantime… What do you think would be a golden ratio of asks to thank yous? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
Thanks, April, and thank you too – for reading and letting me know your thoughts.
Please comment below on this blog to share your thoughts.
Years ago I read an article which noted that Doctors Without Borders experimented with replacing one solicitation with a thank you letter while maintaining other asks. I am sure that their income increased, and I believe substantially, that year. Wish I had kept the article.
I’ve seen a few articles like that. The key is to ask – was it a split test? Increasing (or decreasing) revenue year on year isn’t a reliable measure of success or failure in any specific area. We need to isolate the variables and split test them. Sean
If you really need a number, 7 ‘thank you’s’ might be enough. Different voices and words of course.
That made me smile! Thanks Jim.
Interesting question as regards the balance between the number of Thank yous to asks. I’m not sure that there is a magic ratio, but I would say that one or two genuine, authentic updates with real insight would be better than several thank you communications just for the sake of them being in the plan. I think there is a bigger piece in just ensuring that the thank you is something that is elevated at all stages of engagement where at all possible and genuine and heartfelt at its core.
Being authentic is almost certainly key, so thanks for that Amanda!
I agree with Amanda. I do not think there is a magic ratio, however at an absolute minimum there better be one very sincere and authentic thank you for every “ask”. In addition, I feel that we need to do a much better job attempting to connect on a more personal level when thanking our donors, and we need to be more timely. We have been making much better use of calling people to thank them over the phone, and we have also recently started to write out hand written thank you cards signed by multiple staff on the anniversary of our monthly donors first monthly gift. We also had a staff member make an origami tulip that we turned into a magnet (the tulip is the recognized symbol for our cause) and inserted it into the thank you card. We have received great feedback on both.
Nice! That staff member must have sore fingers from so much origami. I hope you thanked him or her properly!