Last month, my husband and I inadvertently launched an experiment in charitable giving. We gave similarly-sized donations to a number of charities, and sent all the cheques on the same day. Then we waited to see how the charities would respond. One month later, the results are in!
First, I should explain how this happened. We never intended to study how charities thank their donors (although if you know me, this is exactly the sort of thing that I would want to study!) What we did do is set up a gifting account with Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). We gave them some stocks (part of a gift given to us) and some instructions, i.e. a list of charities with amounts and frequencies. Most of our gifts were annual ones and we left the timing up to MFC.
Clearly the money was burning a hole in MFC’s pocket and they made all of the annual gifts right away! And then the fun began…
A rep from one of the larger charities on our list called and left a message. Around the same time, we got a hand-written thank-you card from one of the smallest charities on our list.
The next week, a standard thank-you letter with a personal note added. I was impressed, as this was a charity that has done thank-yous poorly in the past. Someone had attended one of my workshops, where I always advise charities to say thank-you early and often. Perhaps the message is getting out, I thought.
Next was a lovely home-made thank-you card featuring a winter photo of canoes at a summer camp, eagerly awaiting the campers’ return. That was my favourite so far. We also received another phone message, this time from an enthusiastic caller who noted our long support of the cause. We were astonished, we had no idea it had been that long!
Last week, we got another standard thank-you letter, this one with text awkwardly inserted to reflect the designation of our gift. Fortunately for them, this was from a cause near to my heart and all will be forgiven. We also received my new favourite letter, this one from another camp (I guess we like camps, they are a favourite cause among many Christian donors, but that is a post for another day…) It was a genuine one-of-a-kind letter that started with “Wow, what a great surprise…” and assured us that our gift will have an immediate impact.
There are also some organizations that we haven’t heard from. It’s sad really when I look at the list. I know the charities and know they are doing good work. Resources are stretched and sending a thank-you letter does require someone’s attention. I’d argue that sending a thank-you letter takes the same number of minutes whether you send it after a day or after a month! It pains me to think that these charities are inadvertently sending out a message that donations do not matter to them.
Let’s close on a cheerier note. People give to charities and causes they believe in, and where they feel some sort of connection. That’s what my research tells me, and I am just like the donors I have studied. I think the best thank-you letters intuitively reach for that connection and emphasize the shared cause. I am grateful to be able to support some causes I truly value – the thank-you experiment is just an added bonus!