Making your Thank You’s SUPER – a guest blog by David Burgess



Can you remember how it felt the first time you told someone you loved them? Were you excited to take the next big step in the relationship? Relieved to share how you felt? Nervous of what the other person might say? Terrified at the thought of being rejected?

Or was it a mixture of all of the above?

When someone gives money to your cause – whether it is £1 or £1million – they are taking the exhilarating, terrifying leap of saying “I love you”. Your Thank You is your way of saying “I love you” back. No pressure, but how you respond has a huge bearing on whether your relationship with this supporter is going to flourish and bloom or wither and die.

So why do so many charities fluff their lines at this crucial moment?

In return for the supporter sharing their love with the charity, too many charities respond by sending them passionless, self-centred, insincere, automated garbage…if they bother to send them anything at all!

Rather than fan the flames of the relationship, they seem content to stamp out any spark of passion the supporter might have had. Your Thank You should be a love letter to your supporter. At Apollo Fundraising, we’ve put together some tips to make this all-important communication SUPER:

After you’ve said “I love you” to someone, how long could you stand to wait before they said something back? What’s the longest you could sit in silence before you started to feel
embarrassed, betrayed and like you’ve made a huge mistake? You want your Thank You to leave your supporter with a warm glow – a strong feeling that they are a good person, that they are valued and respected. The longer the delay, the greater the chance is that, instead of feeling positively about the experience, your supporter will be left with a bad taste in their mouth.

Saying Thank You is really the first time you say “I love you” to your supporter. Don’t make them wait. Your SUPER Thank You should go out as soon as it possibly can – ideally within 24 hours of receiving the gift.

This is not just a case of good manners. There is another reason that you should be racing to get your Thank You out as quickly as possible.

When we make someone feel respected, valued and rewarded we trigger a release of two
neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine. As well as making us feel good these chemicals help us to remember pleasurable experiences. However, the longer it takes for the supporter to experience that feeling of being respected, valued and rewarded, the harder it is for the brain to link that feeling to the original action (in this case, making a donation).

Jo Cutler at the Social Decisions Lab at the University of Sussex describes it as being like throwing a ball at a target. If you throw the ball at the target and the target instantly falls over you feel certain that it was your action that causes the target to fall. However, if there is a delay between the ball hitting and the target falling you become less certain of the cause. The longer the gap, the greater the feeling of uncertainty.

The closer in time you can stimulate this surge of happiness to the act of making a donation, the more chance you have of your supporter remembering the donation as a pleasurable experience. And pleasurable experiences are more likely to be repeated.

As supporters, our rational brain knows that we are not the only person trying to have a
relationship with our chosen organisation. For most of us, it also knows that other people
are giving more and might need more attention.

But our rational brains don’t make donations – our emotional hearts do. And, as far as our emotional hearts are concerned, we are the most important person in the world.

Sending a letter that is clearly mass-produced and mail-merged is unlikely to cut it with an emotional heart that longs to feel valued and significant. After all, if your Thank You looks, feels and sounds generic the chances are it also looks, feels and sounds insincere.
A SUPER Thank You feels unique and personal to your supporter.

This doesn’t necessarily mean writing each new Thank You letter from scratch. But it does mean looking for opportunities to show your supporter that you recognise the relationship you have with them. This could include simple things like the supporter’s name (sounds simple but you’d be amazed how many organisations still send things saying Dear Supporter. Hardly the mark of a love letter!), the size and nature of their gift, what they have given to, what impact it will have, why they’ve given (if you know) and their previous relationship with the organisation. This might also mean thinking about who in your organisation should send the Thank You.

Do they have a personal contact with someone at the organisation? Would they expect to
receive something at a peer-to-peer level?

A simple way to make a Thank You feel unique is by handwriting part – if not all – of the letter. A handwritten salutation and signature will give your Thank You a human touch, whilst a handwritten envelope will help your Thank You stand out from the rest of the post.

SUPER Speedy and Unique
A few years ago I made a donation to SolarAid. I still remember the Thank You they sent and regularly use it as an example.

It stood out for two reasons. The first is that it was Speedy. The post mark shows that it was posted within 24 hours of me making the gift. It arrived the next day.

example 1.3However, the real reason this Thank You was a winner is that it felt Unique. The handwritten envelope makes me feel special – someone took the time to write to me personally. It instantly stood out from the other window envelopes and clearly mail-merged letters I’m used to receiving. And, even though the postcard is clearly mass-produced, the simple handwritten touches make it feel unique to me.example 1.2

The whole thing probably took a minute to write but the impact on the supporter is significant. In fact, as a result of my experience I now have a monthly direct debit to support SolarAid’s work.


The most memorable love letters of all time have one thing in common – none of them started with a feeling of obligation, a standard template and a mail merge.

The act of giving a gift to charity is an act of passion. It’s an emotional act that shows the supporter feels strongly about something. A SUPER Thank You reciprocates this emotion and passion. It recognises the human being behind the gift and helps them to see how the world is a better place because of their act of passion.

It is not purely a receipt or an administrative document. It’s a celebration.

But passion doesn’t just come from the words you say. Actions speak louder than words,
and sometimes it is the seemingly small gestures that have the biggest impact. A SUPER Thank You reflects the fact that the supporter has done something amazing. It shows them that the organisation knows them, and recognises and shares their interests and their passions.

While your Thank You marks the end of the supporter’s experience of donating, it is not the end of the relationship.

A bad Thank You is like a Dear John letter – it’s one way, cold and designed to shut down the conversation. You might feel this one-directional approach is suitable for a soon-to-be-ex partner, a soon-to-be-rejected job applicant or a soon-to-be-redundant colleague but it’s not appropriate for someone you are trying to build a relationship with.

A SUPER Thank You is two-way and conversational. It asks questions of the supporter.

After all, there is probably still a lot you don’t know about them. Why did they give to you? What are their passions and interests? What are their turn-ons and turn-offs? It also gives you a chance to find out what type of relationship they are looking for. How involved do they want to be? How do they want to learn about the impact their gift is having? It gives them a chance to shape how they hear from you and the type of involvement they want.

Remember, if you want someone to engage you need to make it easy for them to reply. Ideally, pick a channel that is well-suited to two-way dialogue. For example, what’s stopping you from picking up the phone and thanking a supporter for their gift?

Your Thank You is a love letter, not a Dear John. Rather than shutting the conversation
down, a SUPER Thank You paves the way for the relationship to progress.

SUPER Passionate and Engaging
A few years ago I was working in the office of a small music charity in London. They had just received a four-figure donation completely out of the blue from a first-time supporter. Rather than send a generic Dear John, the fundraiser was smart. She sent a personal email that started a conversation with the supporter.

Through this conversation she learned that the supporter had just started learning the piano and was loving it.example 2

Two days later the charity was putting on a concert with an internationally-renowned pianist, performing a new piece for piano. The fundraiser saw an opportunity. They got a copy of the piano music and asked the pianist to write a short thank you note to the supporter. This became the SUPER Thank You.

How’s that for a passionate gesture of love?


You might not be able to achieve all of the points above in the same letter. For example, you might not be able to send a passionate Thank You from the supporter’s personal contact in a time frame that would be considered speedy.

That’s OK!

In fact, it could be better than OK because a Thank You shouldn’t just happen once. A SUPER Thank You is repeated, taking different opportunities to thank the supporter and show them the impact their gift has had. For example, there is no reason why someone from the fundraising team can’t send the first passionate Thank You, before their personal contact follows up in a more engaging way.

Sending multiple Thank Yous is not enough by itself to make your supporter remember you. However, it does reduce the risk of your Thank You being missed/ignored/forgotten/lost in the post. Repeated Thank Yous also enable you and your supporter to make a smooth transition from one-time fling to ongoing relationship.

Too busy to be SUPER?
One of the most common reasons I hear from organisations trying to justify sending passionless, generic, forgettable Thank Yous is that they don’t have the time or the money to do better.

I have no time for people who say they have no time to thank their supporters properly.

Here are two reasons why:
The first is that, like you, your supporter also has very limited time. They have their own to- do list to get through and their own throng of friends, family members, companies and charities chirping to get their attention. Yet they have taken time out of their day to show you some love by making a donation. The least you can do in return is to take a few minutes from your day to love them back.

The second reason is that not being thanked properly and not being shown the impact of their gift are two of the top three most common reasons supporters give for not giving a second donation having previously supported. So, if making your supporters feel SUPER is not enough motivation for you to improve your Thank You, perhaps you should try thinking of your PURSE…


To hear more from David, you can find him on twitter here; @davidburgessfr

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