I am taking the writer’s prerogative this month to depart from the usual Q & A format of this column to rant on a topic of critical importance.
The subject of my rage is one that should not require any discussion. It should be a no-brainer to anyone in this business. Sadly, it is not. “It” is the essential need not only to say thank you to donors, but to communicate tributes to any designated individuals, on a timely basis.
Recently, I have had several bad experiences. In each of my cases, they have been perpetrated by organizations with large development offices, with budgets to hire the best, with no excuse for ignoring this most basic tenet of fundraising. However, I would hold the smallest shops to the same standard, for there is no substitute for saying thank you.
Let me give you three examples that have all occurred within the last several months. The first, was in making a donation to a foundation in honor of someone’s birthday. I sent my contribution in plenty of time and indicated the date of the birthday. I received a thank you for my donation about two weeks later. The birthday came and went, but I heard nothing from the person I had wished to honor. More than a month later, I asked the individual. She had not been notified of the gift. This was not the first such experience with this organization, so I contacted the office. I was told that they “aim” to send out such notifications once a month, but are not always able to communicate with everyone within that timeframe. I explained that if the honoree is not going to hear on a timely basis it defeats the purpose of offering tributes. The response was that they know they should try to do better!
The second example involved sending clothes to a career closet sponsored by an organization that I feel particularly close to. I loved the idea of having business clothes I was no longer wearing give a leg up to people that did not have the wherewithal to dress appropriately for job interviews. I cleaned and packed up more than 20 suits, spending a small fortune to send them to this organization located in another state. Fortunately, I tracked the package, because if I had waited for a thank you to tell me that the clothes – with a significant value even at Good Will or Salvation Army rates – had gotten there, I’d still be wondering and worrying. Writing to the manager, I was told it probably slipped through the cracks when the person handling this left the position.
The third example occurred as a result of a death in the family. We asked that memorial gifts be sent to one of several different foundations. I didn’t think much of it when I got very few notifications from one of the foundations. I assumed most people gave to the others. However, I began hearing from some people who wondered if we had gotten notice of their gifts – in each instance, made to this one foundation. When I called, I was told that the office only sent notifications to the family if the donor specifically asked that one or another family member be notified! Worse, they told me that their policy was to only automatically notify a spouse, who in this case they knew pre-deceased the individual for whom they were receiving these contributions. They never thought to notify the children who established the fund, or anyone else. I’m still waiting for a list of all the donations the foundation received so that I can determine who has not heard from a family member with our sincere thanks. I don’t know how I am going to explain the several month delay in communicating our appreciation.
Ask anyone in our business, and they will say donors should get a thank you within 48 hours, or at the very least, within 72. This same standard should hold for notifying people for whom a tribute has been made. If you must, send form letters initially, then follow up with something more personalized when you have the time. You will never hear a complaint from someone saying that s/he was thanked too often. You will likely lose future donations when people are thanked late, or aren’t thanked at all.
There are a few other policies that should be in place as well. Life is such that whoever is tasked with saying thank you will get sick sometime during his or her tenure, take a vacation, or leave. Identify the back up positions responsible for getting out the thank you notices on a timely basis when those situations crop up. Then cross-train these people so that they do the job correctly and seamlessly.
Build in some redundancy. Even the most responsible individuals can miss something. Have someone review your spread sheets on a regular basis to ensure there are check marks by “thank you sent,” and “honoree notified,” as appropriate.
When memorials come in, confirm who should be notified, then follow through. If your records don’t show a likely recipient, look up the obituary online, determine next of kin and ask the question.
Again, there is nothing new in this column. It shouldn’t have to be written. Alas, it did have to be written.