While I realize that sometimes there's no choice but to send out blanket fundraising appeals in hopes of reaching new supporters, this wasn't one of those instances...

You see, this letter is from a charity that my family has supported on a monthly basis for over eight years. No, it's not a huge contribution, but I do send cheques for larger amounts from time to time and it is an important cause to me. 

So why the "Dear Friend"? 

Our name is printed on the bottom of the letter on an attached pledge card, so I know that this organization has the capacity to electronically personalize the salutation of the letter. Is it laziness? 

If you read a little further down, you will see that the sender is asking for a small increase in our monthly contribution - not much more than the cost of a fancy coffee - so not a big deal, right? It's just that the letter started out in an impersonal tone and the way it ends is with an opt-out - ie. "we will begin withdrawing the increased amount from your account unless you are in touch with us to decline."

OK? But aren't donations usually an opt-in transaction? Frankly, I probably would have happily upped the ante at least $10-$15 / month if you'd asked rather than simply informed...

In addition, the timing of this letter was somewhat off too. It came in early January. Right about the time that I would normally expect to receive my annual thank you letter and tax receipt for the previous year's support. But that hasn't come yet.

The whole thing felt a lot more like a bill and a lot less like an "ask" by the time I got to the bottom of the letter. Could I at least have had a new picture of the kid I sponsor? We kinda joke that he must be a teenager now, he was about eight when we started all those years ago, surely he's grown since then?

So what keeps me on the roster despite the bad taste that this left in my mouth? I really don't feel like I could let Rafael in Peru down by moving on to another similar charity. I guess I just care too much about the mission. I guess that's why I felt so sad that the only news of the impact we've been making for our particular sponsored child was in the first paragraph of the letter and frankly, pretty shallow.

Ask Better?

To me, this charity has assumed that I won't be leaving them any time soon and though they're probably right, I think I'd have more positive comments about this letter if it had been personal and provided a genuine connection to what we're partnering in together rather than leaving me feeling like an ATM.

Give Smarter?

I think the experience goes to show that we do give from the heart and that sometimes passion does rule our choices. Though I didn't think this organization did a great job here, I'd feel like a horrible person to abandon Rafael, so there's little chance that I'll be canceling the gift or opting out of their increase. However, I'll probably be looking to spend more of my giving budget elsewhere rather than increasing my contribution to this charity.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Would you opt-out?

*Update* (April 2012)
There is a full discussion of this fundraising campaign happening at a national level following a CBC Marketplace report: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2012/busted/

You can check in over at the Agents of Good blog for more commentary and a response from the charity that sent this letter.

Though it seems like Christmas was only last week, we are, in fact, coming up on Valentine's Day shortly.  For many charities, early January is also fiscal year-end and a time where the gift processing managers are hurrying to record and receipt and account for a rush of donations that were made at the end of December so that the books can be closed from the previous year.

It got me thinking about the similarity between a donation pledge card and a Valentine's Day card. They're both small, they're usually an odd size, and they're both an expression of love. Let's pause for a moment and talk about the expression of love part; that person chose to skip buying a Starbucks coffee, pass up a chance to pad their retirement account, included you on the list of Christmas and birthday presents they plan to buy this year - it's possible to imagine any number of situations, but the point is that that little card is what they used to express their love for your work and their financial sacrifice in doing so. 

But sometimes, it can seem like the relationship between donors and their charities are a one-way love affair!

From the charity perspective, maybe it's time to focus on saying, "I love you" back to donors this Valentine's Day! 

There are a bunch of good discussions happening right now about writing better thank-you letters. My addition to the conversation would be to think about writing these from a "love letter" or "love song" perspective. Skip the impersonal and start with "I" or "we" and make the tone about "you're awesome, I admire everything about you, and without you, life would not be as bright for me..." - of course the tone would be tied into the core mission of the organization.

Gail Perry has a great tip sheet on "How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter" here.

An example of something that didn't work for me this week was the letter I received from one charity where I'm a monthly donor. It had a somewhat apologetic tone, but it was basically a bill letting me know that they would be automatically increasing my monthly direct withdrawal unless I wrote in to opt-out. There was no BRE included. The worst part? I still haven't received a donation receipt for my 2011 contributions or a thank you letter or phone call.

Kinda left me feeling like our relationship is pretty transactional and not like I want to take this date home to meet my mom or dad!

Ask Better?

One idea that I had is to pick a small group - your volunteers, your board members, 25 of your first-time donors - and to send them a Valentine this year. If it's a bit of a less-formal group, maybe you could even use a set of those cards that kids usually exchange at school. Otherwise, maybe a plain note card with your logo and a heart surrounding it on the front?

Dear Ron, 

Sending our love and gratitude to you - thank you for choosing to be a volunteer with us. Life wouldn't be as rosy without you!

Happy Valentine's Day, 

Julia at Save the Unicorns Intl

© 2011-2012 Christina Attard. All Rights Reserved