‘Tis the season for year-end appeals…and year end fa-la-la-la-cknowledgments!
As we gear up for these incredibly important giving campaigns, let’s take a look at two studies that demonstrate proven methods to make our fundraising work more impactful.
A 2022 dissertation study by Audra Vaz utilized Appalachian State University’s annual giving program to test the efficacy of thank you messaging. Vaz ran two texting campaigns with gratitude messaging: one campaign was “other-praising,” focusing on sharing gratitude with donors about the type of person they are, and another campaign focused on “self-benefit,” concentrating on the benefit the student ambassador would receive. Vaz found that “donors who received other-praising expressions of gratitude were more likely to give again than donors who received self-benefit expressions.”
So, what does this mean for us as practitioners? It’s time to craft acknowledgments that thank donors for the type of people they are, and not the gifts they make. Don’t thank them for making a generous gift—thank them for being a generous person! Use phrases such as “You answered our call for help” or “Your generous spirit inspires us” or even this gorgeous example from The Memory Foundation: “You remembered for those who cannot.”
The second study has BIG implications for our year-end appeal messaging, and it starts with a much-dreaded phrase: “thanks in advance.”
Patrick Dwyer, of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, conducted a 2015 study about this very phrase in which he determined that saying “thanks in advance” is often detrimental to our fundraising efforts. To illustrate this effect, Dwyer created three appeals asking for volunteers, and then delivered them to randomly assigned research participant groups. One group of participants received an appeal for volunteers that ended with no gratitude messaging, one group received an appeal that ended with “thanks in advance for your help,” and the third group received an appeal that simply ended with “thanks.” Study participants were then asked to indicate the number of voluntary activities they would be willing to perform. Dwyer found that those participants who were thanked for volunteering indicated that they would complete more activities than the control (no gratitude messaging), but the group who received the “thanks in advance” indicated that they would complete even less activities than those who were not thanked at all.
What does this mean for your year-end fundraising appeals? Aside from not ending your year-end solicitation with “thanks in advance,” we need to be aware of how our gratitude messaging might be perceived by our donors. At their core, donors are most hungry for meaningful expressions of gratitude, and they will rise to the challenge when asked to give (or volunteer). However, when we treat our donors in a transactional manner—assuming they will give or volunteer—we lose the opportunity to show sincere gratitude, and that’s a big turn-off for donors.
Think of your year-end solicitations as opportunities for donors to show just how generous they are—and be sure to share your gratitude in meaningful ways that honor their generous character, not just their substantial contributions. It’s donor-centered fundraising at its best, and that’s what all of our donors deserve.
Interested in learning more about how to write in a way that inspires generosity? Join us for our upcoming writing series, Not-Your-English-Teacher's Writing Course—or check out our on-demand webinar series “The 4 Keys to Writing for Donor Relations.”
Colton Withers, Director of Operations, is a proud graduate of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the world’s first school dedicated solely to the study and teaching of philanthropy. He loves applied research that impacts our important work in donor relations…just don’t ask him about statistics, please.