I don’t have a lot of unfounded opinion in my workshops.

As a practitioner, as a writer, as an author of how-to books and a trainer, I trust research. I trust experts. I trust proof.

But I do fiercely cling to one bald assumption:

ThanksThat the nonprofit with the best “thank you” program wins. Receive my direct mail appeal containing some flashy item, maybe a saint’s medallion — and you might feel just a bit obligated to reciprocate with a small gift. I’ve done something for you. Now you can do something for me.

>> Receive some self-sticking return address labels from my charity, and you might feel just a bit obligated to send me a gift in return — even though (here’s the best part) you didn’t ask for the labels and don’t especially need them.

Of course, most people ignore most of these appeals most of the time. But enough people do respond to make the math work profitably.

In fact, the “trinkets” side of mass market fundraising — or as it might be called, the “reciprocity exploitation” side — is big business.

As practiced by innovators and high-level analysts such as Pareto in Australia, reciprocity exploitation can reliably generate record amounts of both cash and retention.

A different kind of reciprocity

Let’s return to my original obsession: thank-you programs.

Here’s what I think: When I give you, my donors, my warm and heartfelt thanks, I am giving you something of value.

I am giving you something you can actually cherish, because it confirms your goodness.

I am making you feel important, which is the primary job of all would-be donor-centered communications.

And you might, just might, reciprocate with another gift.

Thanks do not happen just at the point of sale, either, I’d like to point out. They are not just a knee-jerk reaction to the receipt of a gift.

Thanks — profound thanks — should happen in everything you send to donors, including your reporting media: paper and emailed newsletters.

I have seen the miraculous impact that a tone of thanks can do for a hospital’s donor newsletter.

That permeating tone of thanks, evident in every headline, increased gift revenue by 1,000 percent; bringing in a not-to-be-sneezed-at $50,000 per issue in newsletter-generated gifts.

I know another very thankful donor newsletter that generates a half million dollars a year in gifts from 10,000 donors.

This is reciprocity at work. I give you convincing thanks. I make you feel truly important.

And you will continue to make gifts.

This post originally appeared in the Ahern Donor Communications newsletter.

img via