Early on in my fundraising career, I learned a valuable lesson about thank-you notes. I had gone to work for an advocacy group working on women’s health issues. The organization was run collectively by two utterly overworked staff people and forty volunteers. The organization had won recognition for its work to expose and eventually remove from the market a dangerous birth-control device and for championing reproductive rights issues. Several months before I began working there, a woman who had read about the group’s victories in the newspaper sent $25. She did not receive a thank-you note. She did, however, receive the organization’s newsletter, and she heard about them from time to time. A year after making her gift, she received a form letter requesting a renewal. She threw it away.
Some time later, this woman learned that a friend of hers was a volunteer in the collective. “That group sounds good,” she told her friend, “but they don’t even have it together enough to send thank-you notes for gifts. I can’t imagine that they are really fiscally sound or that they use money properly.”
Her friend defended the organization: “We do really good work. We don’t send thank-you notes because we are too busy doing other stuff. It is not fair to conclude that we don’t use your money properly just because you don’t get an acknowledgment.”
The one-time donor replied, “It is fair. It is my only contact with them. They claim to want a broad base of support, ...