CDE project 4 sec­tion 2: prin­ci­ples and actions

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 29, 2017

1. The sector needs to take thanking and welcoming much more seriously.

Frankly, the overall response to the Thanking and Welcoming project was somewhat underwhelming. Despite promotion on blogs via, the Supporter Care Forum, on the JGA website and on social media, the number of submissions made to the project was quite limited, despite many anecdotal assertions as to the value of good, responsive thanking.    

As discussed in the introduction, many phrases are overused in thanking communications, to the point of losing effectiveness. The most common, and therefore least impactful, phrases are as follows”  

Appears in over 90% of acknowledgements:

“Thank you (so much) for your kind / generous donation of <£amount>.”

“Your support really/truly is greatly appreciated.”


Appears in over 75% of acknowledgments:

“Thanks to people/supporters like you…”

“You really are making a (real) difference to….”


Appears in over 50% of acknowledgements:

“You are helping to build a brighter/better future for…”

“You (really) are helping to change/transform lives.”

“If you would like to know more about any aspect of our work please do not hesitate to contact me/us and we will be happy to help.”


Appears in over 40% of acknowledgments:

“Worth an extra <£x> at no extra cost to you.”


Finding better, more exciting and inspiring ways to express these sentiments would go a long way to making an acknowledgment far more memorable, and interesting, for the donor.

2. First time donors should always be thanked for their gifts.

A first gift to a charity is often described as the most difficult to get, and therefore it seems strategically suspect to then not thank someone who has given for the first time if their gift is arbitrarily judged to be too small to warrant an acknowledgement.   

There are two major flaws with this approach: firstly, on a fundamental level, by not acknowledging a gift, the messaging from the donor’s perspective cannot be positive ones – “my gift wasn’t worth thanking”, “they don’t care enough to thank me”, “they can’t need the money if they can’t be bothered to say thank you”.  

Secondly, who is to judge what is or isn’t a substantial gift for a donor to make? For example, a pensioner giving £5 from their state pension of £120 is giving 4% of their weekly income – the equivalent of someone earning £30,000 per year giving a gift of £23.

3. Acquisition materials should not include a tick box option for new donors to opt out of receiving a thank you.

Many will do this automatically thinking it saves the charity money, but they will not be thinking of what this prevents the charity from being able to do such as building any kind of initial relationship, sending a Welcome Pack, or taking the opportunity to make the donor feel good for giving with a well-crafted and engaging acknowledgement.

4. All new donors should receive a Welcome Pack

Our understanding from conversations with supporters is that Welcome Packs are seen as useful and helpful for donors who are new to an organisation and can be particularly good at reassuring them over key areas (use of data, preferences etc.) as well as setting expectations (how they will be treated and explaining more about the work of the charity). Donors do not perceive a Welcome Pack to be wasteful or expensive, provided it is well planned and appropriate for the particular audience and reflects how they gave their initial gift.  

The issues with poorly received Welcome Packs generally seem to involve being overwhelmed with too much information and material, being asked overtly for more support (thus negating the welcome aspect) and anxiety over the cost. These can all be relatively easily addressed by sending materials and information relevant to the donor (Y Care International offer a nice Welcome Pack with a range of loose postcards they can select from depending on the donor and where they were recruited), offering a genuine welcome and setting out the standards and expectations (see Appendix 1: Case Studies, page 43). This need not be expensive or overwhelming, but should introduce the donor to the wider work of the charity and set expectations for how the donor can expect to be treated and valued by the charity.  

New donors giving online should be given an option of getting their Welcome Pack digitally or via the mail. Digital versions should be developed to offer engaging content using video and strong imagery and can be delivered more quickly and at a lower perceived cost. 

The Alzheimer’s Society (see Appendix 1: Case Studies, page 42) has developed a donor-centred welcoming engagement programme as part of their overall supporter journey work. It reflects the ethos of the charity in terms of supporter care and the emphasis on long-term, permission-based, non-pressuring relationships with donors.

5. Existing supporters should always be thanked for their gifts irrespective of the amount, unless they have specifically asked not to receive an acknowledgement.

As with Point 2, it seems counterintuitive to not thank someone for their gift, unless they have specifically requested not to receive an acknowledgement. We would recommend thanking every eligible donation (particularly those made by cheque, card or voucher) unless there are exceptional circumstances (for example, a very low level gift made in cash of 50p or less).  

Even if there were a policy to not thank donations under a certain threshold, it would be appropriate to acknowledge the supporter at the outset so that you can explain what the internal policy is in terms of thanking. This would give the donor the understanding as to why you do not thank donors for gifts of under a certain amount, rather than simply hearing nothing at all from the charity. Once a year, these donors could be thanked for their cumulative gifts to ensure they are not forgotten or unappreciated. 

In the early 2000s, Habitat for Humanity GB would always receive a low-level donation to most appeals from an elderly lady donor – generally of £2 or less. However, they came regularly, and so they would always be acknowledged with a letter of thanks. After one such letter the lady phoned to speak to the signatory and explained that she made lots of small gifts to many charities that she was interested in, but Habitat for Humanity were the only organisation to always write and say thank you. As a result, she told them that she had decided to update her Will to remove the charities she had originally decided to leave bequests to and make one single bequest to Habitat for Humanity, as they were the only organisation that genuinely appreciated her support. While we are not claiming this would be commonplace if charities always thanked their donors giving lower amounts, it does demonstrate the power of appreciation and the impact a genuine, honest thank you can potentially have.

6. Thanking could be much more imaginative than it is currently.

Our conclusion is that the thank you is too often just an afterthought and hastily put together to meet a need, rather than being planned as a significant donor communication that can motivate, inspire and generate improved loyalty.  

More engaging content including case studies and media and that avoids stock phrases is effective. Handwritten thanking should be used more often and formats could be varied much more – for example thank you cards, better digital content and the telephone – would all help make a thank you stand out and be more memorable. SolarAid (see Appendix 1: Case Studies) have made excellent use of all of these approaches and achieved some exceptional responses from supporters in terms of additional income,  advocacy and loyalty.  

More than ten years ago, the Railway Children charity would use A5 cards with a strong image on the front and a short thank-you message on the back as their standard acknowledgement mechanism for some appeals. Feedback for these was always good, with donors telling the charity they had pinned them up at work, at schools and at home on the fridge, or had shared them with friends and family.

A number of charities have used thanking videos to good effect. These include Terence Higgins Trust (, Friends of the Earth ( and, perhaps most memorably of all, CharityWater from the USA, who spent a week personally thanking donors of all kinds using videos on the occasion of their fifth anniversary ( These short videos do not have to be expensive or have high production values, but they do need to be genuine and authentic and have interesting content.  

Blogs and social media are a good way of expressing thanks more publicly – identifying and acknowledging donors in a way that can be more informal and sometimes humorous. A brilliant example can be seen with the Innocent Drinks blog (see Appendix 1: Case Studies), particularly with the way they thank customers taking part in their Big Knit charity initiative for Age UK. Wonderfully original acknowledgements, individual thanks, light-hearted and amusing copy that is very on brand and genuine appreciation. Donors would love this!

7. Better use of the telephone.

Much better use could be made of the telephone for thanking supporters – both to say thank you quickly, but also to offer a far more personal and engaging acknowledgement for those donors who have done something particularly special, unusual, or significant.

8. Digital acknowledgements need to be more than just bounce back receipt e-mails.

It is typical of taking the path of least resistance to just assume an automatic receipt e-mail will suffice for those making gifts online. While it is the minimum that might be expected, anything more is an opportunity to engage and involve the supporter in a much more interactive way. At the very least, following up the automatic bounce-back e-mail with a more interesting and inspiring thank you should not be difficult to do and can impress a supporter – see the example from the Hope and Play charity in Appendix 1.

9. Thanking should not be confined to just donations.

There is an opportunity to build loyalty and goodwill by using thanking to strengthen the relationship, even when a donation has not been forthcoming.  

On the whole we could be much better at thanking supporters directly when there has been a major success for the charity – for example, if the numbers of a threatened wildlife species begin to increase, when land has successfully been bought or preserved for environmental reasons, a medical research breakthrough occurs, or a project has better than expected results. All of these are great reasons to contact a donor who has supported the work, say thank you and let them know what they have helped you achieve. There is a good example here from Anthony Nolan, where Alex, a young boy that has benefited from a lifesaving transplant, directly thanks everyone who has supported the charity via a powerful video message. (  

At Children’s Aid Direct in the 1990s, we would send donors who gave to emergency appeals a thank-you card after six weeks to let them know what we had managed to achieve thanks to their support in the crucial early days of a disaster response. These donors were sent with a suitably positive image and a short summary of our impact. There was no ask of any kind and no response form. This approach always generated a huge secondary response of donations from supporters grateful to know just what they had helped us achieve.  

SolarAid have achieved excellent feedback by recognising donors for the length of their support (see Appendix 1: Case Studies, page 22), particularly with direct debit givers.  

Anniversaries are another good opportunity to demonstrate a personal level of thanking and supporter care. For example, in-memoriam donors acknowledged again on the first anniversary of their gift demonstrates the charity’s awareness of a probable emotional time for the supporter and lets the supporter know the charity is aware of their situation and has taken the time to acknowledge the anniversary.  

Better, more inspiring thanking for taking campaigning actions, such as writing to an MP or signing a petition, is another obvious opportunity, as is acknowledging volunteer service.  

Even a simple thank you for informing the charity of a change of address shows how important the donor is to the charity and confirms that the new details have been received and updated.  

All of these are ways of making the donor feel valued and demonstrating excellent standards of supporter care.

10. This area of Supporter Care needs better, and more relevant, measurements and key performance indicators.

While it is important, and of course prudent, for charities to know what activities cost, it is equally important to think carefully about what and how the impact of such activities should be measured. Fundraising has a directly measurable financial return, but this is a far less useful measurement of a genuinely donor-centred supporter care strategy. The benefits of an exceptional donor thanking programme can be measured in terms of satisfaction, engagement and long-term behaviour. 

This could be done in a number of different ways. For example, when talking to supporters on the telephone, there is an opportunity to ask them about their thank-you communications and what they think of them, which would give useful anecdotal insights. Questions about thanking could also be included in any wider donor satisfaction research – Mission Aviation Fellowship did this in their 2015 survey to supporters (online and print), which provided some very useful insights into how valued, and valuable, thanking was for the organisation.


We would particularly like to acknowledge the contributions of Jennie Mummery (Alzheimer’s Society) and Richard Turner (consultant) to this project.

Click on the image below to see Project 4 in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

Related case studies or articles

CDE project 4 summary: thank you and welcome

This project will look at all aspects of the first few days of a donor’s contact with a cause, to set out the ideal way to get each relationship off to a good start and to show appreciation appropriately throughout it.

Read more