Why Can't More Nonprofits Follow This Simple Piece of Fundraising Advice?

Warning: This is going to be a rant.  

For years and years, I’ve been reading that people want to be thanked for donating to charities without being asked to give againThat doesn’t mean you can’t ever ask donors for another gift—just not during the thank you. 

Multiple studies by Penelope Burk, who surveys thousands of people who give to charities every year, have found that donors crave a sincere thank you that is unencumbered by a request for more money. 

Even tucking a return envelope in a thank-you letter without any mention of another donation, Burk found, still makes donors feel like they have a target mark on their forehead. The only reason you’re thanking them, they suspect, is to get more money out of them. 

In fact, Burk told me, “donors say the return envelope is the ask.” 

Thank donors without asking them for anything! Why can’t charities follow that simple advice?

I once visited a direct-marketing consulting company in Washington and suggested that they advise their nonprofit clients to send donors thank-you communications—without a solicitation or a return envelope.

“Oh no,” all four consultants insisted over a brown bag lunch in their conference room. Their company, they said, compared the response to letters simply thanking donors with identical letters that included a return envelope. The envelope got a better response, and the numbers don’t lie, they told me.

That may be true—but only in the short term. 

With charities losing 50 percent of the new donors they recruit in any given year, and some losing far more, you’d think nonprofit organizations would bend over backward to give donors what, over and over again, research says they want.


I just came across yet another example of how charities and fundraising experts botch their thank-you communications to donors in Cause Selling: The Sanford Way, a new textbook paid for by philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. 

In the book’s final chapter on how to enhance donor loyalty, the authors share what they call an “exceptional” thank-you letter. 

At first glance, the letter to donors from the Best Friends Animal Society is pretty good, coming from Gregory Castle, the charity’s president. (Donors like hearing from charity leaders, research shows). 

And in a nod to the copywriters who know that fundraising communications are improved by speaking to donors rather than droning on about a charity’s needs, the letter tells donors that, “thanks to you,” dogs like Rhubarb and Georgia were placed in permanent homes.

But then comes the postscript—are you ready? 

"Please use the enclosed envelope," it says, “to get a head start on your gifts for next year.”

Best Friends Animal Society just lost my second gift. How about yours?