Why do staff at smaller charities seem to have more time to write heartfelt thank you notes?

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

Some charities send me amazing ‘thank you notes’.
They are personal, relevant and heartfelt. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy. And, they make me want to give again and again.
But I’m perplexed.
This is just my anecdotal experience, but it seems like smaller the organization… the more personal, relevant and heartfelt the ‘thank you letter’ is.
Why is that?
Shouldn’t bigger organizations with more resources, a more well-known brand and more volunteers be able to out-do the smaller ones?
Got any help for me on this one? What gives?

donation thank you letter Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 9.54.49 AM

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17 responses to “Why do staff at smaller charities seem to have more time to write heartfelt thank you notes?”

  1. Lizzie says:

    I’ve noticed this as well! I receive heartfelt, personalized thank you messages from smaller charities. It makes me feel good about my donation and inspires me to give more!

  2. Thom Digman says:

    Impact. Smaller charities and thier staff are closer to the “good” being done and can see and share the impact of giving. We kid about loving hands around the table, but it really is the case in many instances like the ones you cite.

  3. Olga says:

    Having worked in large and smaller nonprofits I have some inkling of how this happened (at least where I have worked). First, the larger brands have engaged consultants who like to impress upon them the need for KPIs and ROIs. Some brands even segment who does the soliciting from who does the stewardship. The messaging needs to have tighter control: bigger also means more people are “the face” of the organization and the likelihood that someone will get “off message” is higher. Donors are also likely “handed off” not personally, but through a database/CRM system. The information you have on any given donor is only as good as the information someone else typed in. Frontline fundraisers are encouraged to make pithy notes, often editing out details like: “She had pictures of her daughter doing dressage all over the living room”. And so an opportunity to make a connection later on is missed.
    Smaller nonprofits don’t have the ability to create complicated stewardship pipelines. They have fewer staff members, so there’s an easier exchange on how to steward a donor. They may also have a more localized mission or perhaps a smaller scope. They probably have a centralized management model as opposed to a matrix or a chapter or regional structure, meaning, the CEO knows who her people are talking to rather than receive a sticky note and a script to make the Thank you call.

  4. Angela Haynes says:

    I have worked at large and small nonprofits, with teams of one (myself) and larger. In the smaller nonprofits there are fewer donors coming through regularly, and each donation is critical. I make a practice to sign the letters and write the notes so I can better understand the donor and build the relationship. In large organizations that I have worked often outsource their thank you letters to mail houses, thus the development people don’t even see it before it goes out. That is my guess, but I like working at small to mid-sized organizations because I know my work is truly making a difference, and I get to witness the magic. Best of luck!
    By the way, I am a large fan of your blog and resources. THANK YOU.

  5. Mary Lou Frank says:

    Hi Greg, Although it seems counterintuitive, I wouldn’t expect anything different. Smaller charities, the ones with fewest financial resources, may often have to pay their shoestring staff lower scale wages. As a result, those organizations likely retain staff members who are there more for the mission than for the money. They are often family and friends of the charities’ founders — people for whom the personal touch is natural because they actually know some of their earliest donors. They are naturally more connected to their constituents because they ARE small and have fewer people with whom to keep in contact.
    And, handwritten additions to thank-you notes are physically arduous and time-consuming on a large scale. Undertaking them is quite costly, (unless you’re using a handwritten laser font machine, which is, of course, nothing but a cheap trick and somewhat demeaning in my estimation).
    Large charities have more purely administrative level staff members, which eats up a lot of those resources you refer to. Smaller charities’ staff members undertake all the tasks on a much smaller scale, so adding a personal thank-you note is a far more reasonable expectation.
    It’s similar to the difference in the retail industry … a one-man cobbler shop can give his customers a spit-shine shoe repair in a few hours. But you’ll never get personal saliva when you purchase from a large shoe factory, right?
    Sorry, that was just the first example that came to mind!

  6. Mike CowarT says:

    Greg,
    Hand-written communication is the most powerful form of communication, and your samples are great illustrations regarding this irreplaceable personal touch. In a large organization, this type of communication should always be used with major donors and legacy society members regardless of the time or money involved. I had the privilege of being involved with a large international nonprofit. The executive director wrote a short personal note on EVERY acknowledgement letter!

  7. Kathryn says:

    Smaller nonprofits have a smaller number of donations and cherish them all the more!
    Small nonprofits are often community-based and there’s a greater sense of connection and community.

  8. Hi Greg, l allow time to write a personal note on “with compliments” slips to each bequestor when a fundraising appeal letter is sent and ALWAYS write a thank note to every person who donates that is on my bequest program radar. Continually doing the little things now – will encourage big giving later. Effective Relationship Management is critical to keep donors engaged and key to achieving bequest objectives for now and beyond. As a result, over the years l have seen not only growth in donations for this core group, but little notes coming back to me. This kind gesture may take time, but the rewards are many. Cheers Sharon

  9. Anne says:

    People like me, who were trained in a small development shop write more personal notes – it is just what we do, part of the process to move people along from stewardship to solicitation and back again. In the larger shops, unless you have that training, or someone above you mandates such personalized responses to gifts, it most likely won’t happen at the same rate as in the small shops.
    I’m working for a large hospital system now, but doing planned giving the way I’ve always done it – my desk has many pens and stationery from each of our affiliates – it still gets the job done, no matter how much big data is or high-powered consultants are brought in to assist us in reaching the right people…it’s still a people business.
    Thanks for reminding us how important this is and how precious a handwritten note is in today’s automated world!

  10. Kate says:

    In this modern day and age, I’m not convinced that handwritten notes, or even snail mail, are the way to go. We keep in touch with our donors via email and phone calls (to the larger ones). They are most interested in knowing that we are putting their money to good use and want us to show what value they are getting out of their donation dollars. Part of my work now is figuring out how to cultivate and retain younger donors – the generations who have probably never even seen a stamp or written a letter! This is especially important as our older donors start passing away.

    • Tim Chaten says:

      Kate,
      While I think email and phone calls if done right are great, there is nothing more touching to me (a 30 year old) than getting a personal letter in the mail from ANYONE.
      Because it is something that I as a younger person use so infrequently it makes that medium all the more valuable when it is a personal letter that isn’t junk mail. It stands out. I’ll go through my inbox and throw away a lot of mail, but a special connection opens up when it is a personal letter.
      Just some thoughts from a younger person.

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