How to make your Thank You more effective

Thank You by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Alice Sharman | 13 November 2018

A study out this month has concluded that more thought needs to be given to a ‘thank you’ communication – when an organisation responds to a donor after a donation is made – and that the type of thank you should depend on the charity’s relationship with the donor.

Produced by The Philanthropy Centre the report aimed, for the first time, to measure the effectiveness of a thank you and its importance. It looked at the role of donor acknowledgements and how important a thank you is in these relationships.

The authors of the report acknowledged that the thank you is intuitive to most fundraisers, but says that it has received very little scholarly interest or attention.

Aiming to plug this gap in knowledge, and to explore what charities could or should do to optimise how good people feel when they are thanked for their gift, it predicted that if charities can acknowledge one gift well, they are significantly more likely to receive further gifts – and build more mutually beneficial relationships with their donors.

It concluded that the thank you can play a critical role, providing feedback to the donor in respect of how their gift will be used and affirming the individual for their generosity in having given freely to help others. It said that even the most subtle changes in communications have the ability to profoundly influence how good donors feel as a result.

This two-year study is written by IoF’s Chief Examiner Professor Jen Shang, Professor Adrian Sargeant, Kathryn Carpenter and Harriet Day. It includes interviews with leading fundraising practitioners, a review of psychological literature on thanking and gratitude, and a series of six experiments with four non-profit partners on their fundraising and acknowledgement communications.

Barriers to a thank you

But what are the barriers to a thank you communication? The Philanthropy Centre found that the one of the biggest boundaries is the difficulty fundraisers have in convincing employees to make the investment.

The second biggest boundary was the lack of quantitative evidence in measuring its benefit. This is then exaggerated by the fact that there are difficulties in measuring them.

The Philanthropy Centre found that the value donors derive from a thank you might vary depending on how developed their relationship is with an organisation.


The Philanthropy Centre gave the following advice on how to make acknowledgment communications more effective:

  • At the beginning of the relationship, the thank you should reaffirm the difference that the donation – not the donor – had been able to make to the cause. This should reflect what had been promised in the original ask. 
  • Later on in the relationship, it suggested that the focus of the thank you then shifts to the quality of the mutually beneficial relationship the donor has developed with the organisation or who the donor is. It could celebrate the individual’s sense of who they are, their identity, the kind of person they are, and their values.
  • After supporters take an initial action for an organisation, it recommended sending a prompt, short, interactive email where people can affirm the contribution that the action has made to their wellbeing. It suggested multiple choice questions saying statements such as “Yes! Signing the petition made me feel I can voice my belief” – even if people did not feel very good about what they did in the first place, ticking “Yes!” to these statements will increase the likelihood that supporters will feel better. 
  • After a first donation is made and before this donor has given as often as the average of the database, a thank you communication should be sent out primarily to thank people for the differences that their donations have made. 
  • Once a donor has given more often than the average number of times of supporters on the database, it recommends that organisations send out a thank you letter to primarily thank donors for the long-term relationship.
  • It found that the donor needs to be primed to see how the vastness of the mission drives their involvement and passion for the work, and that the vastness is at the core of what is driving the relationship


The Philanthropy Centre’s research Learning to Say Thank-You: The Role of Donor Acknowledgments can be downloaded here.

Telephone agency NTT Fundraising are also looking at the impact of the Thank You by conducting their own research. Get involved here.

Alice Sharman, Content Manager at the ToF


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