A simple, unconditional, heart-felt, genuine “thank you”

Published by Sarah Clifton on

I am a numbers nerd; the queen of testing.  I have passionate love affairs with databases.  And even though, over the years, I’ve done every other fundraising job from copy- and proposal-writing to events to a major gift negotiation —  and even knocking on doors asking for petition signatures and “a check as well so that we have the resources to ensure that this legislation passes” (I was 18. Maybe my start in fundraising?) – I always come back to the numbers. Beautiful numbers.

So when I came to work at an animal sanctuary in the Netherlands, I was more than a little nervous to learn that I would be working as a “donor contact” at a nine day donor visitation event. (“You mean I have to talk to people? For nine straight day? In Dutch?”) Language aside, I found the idea of pure social contact – without a pitch or an ask – really intimidating.

But as it turns out, welcoming donors face-to-face and simply saying “thank you” is really lovely. And it wasn’t just special for the visitors to see how their gifts are put to use – to get to see the faces and hear the stories of the animals they’ve helped to rescue – but it also meant something to me. Instead of a speaking with donor number 58673 who gives an average of three times a year to a newsletter and occasional special appeal – who falls into the “socially conscious consumer” donor profile, gives mostly in opposition to animal testing, and whom we’re trying to upgrade to a monthly giver, I got to know “Barb,” a friendly mom who works part-time as a medical tech while her kids are in daycare. Who started donating to animal organizations after refusing to participate in live animal labs while in medical school.

And “Linda,” a older lady who, after her husband’s death, decided to start giving away their savings to charity and wants to leave her house to an animal rescue group but is not sure which one.

The truth is, for all of the techniques I’ve learned over the years to motivate people in fundraising – to speak 1-on-1, to tell a story, to listen for clues as to motivation – it’s really quite easy to connect to someone who believes in the work that we do.  And how nice it feels to just say “thank you” without a “and please…” “but we really…”. Just “thanks.”

And what did I get in return? Also a simple, unconditional, heart-felt, genuine “thank you” for the work that we do. For my contribution.

And that’s certainly a lot more appreciation than I ever got from a spreadsheet.

Sarah Clifton

Sarah is a Dutch / American fundraiser who has worked for animal protection and human rights organizations for more than 15 years. Since 2015, she heads up the Fundraising department at Save the Children Netherlands. She also (tries to) write occasionally and connect with other fundraisers frequently (especially over a beer).


Yolanda Jansen · August 1, 2011 at 15:14

Sweet little story. Thanks for sharing.

Jaclyn Day · August 1, 2011 at 15:41

When I tell people that I work in fundraising, I generally get horrified looks of “you mean you have to ask people for money every day?!?” I tell them that while that’s a part of it, I also get the chance to say thank you every single day, and that’s my favorite part.

It’s nice to know others feel the same way. :)

Tara Lepp · August 2, 2011 at 17:56

It is a great story. I too am usually behind the scenes and don’t often deal directly with donors. I was recently asked to make some thank you calls for some people who had recently given between $500-$1,000. As part of the thank you call I asked them (when it felt appropriate) what inspired them to give and in some cases, I heard some really great stories. One donor has been a patient in the heart program at one of our hospitals for many years but through speaking to her I also learned that she worked at the hospital in the 1950’s and started the heart program with a small group of staff. She has seen the program evolve and is now benefiting from advanced technology available to patients.

I was really nervous before I had to make these calls too but it was a great experience and I hope to be able to do more of these in the future. It’s always much easier to thank donors than to ask them for money (which I don’t normally do face to face either since I work mainly in direct response).

    Sarah Clifton · August 3, 2011 at 10:05

    Thanks, Tara! I guess there’s a lesson for all of us who work behind the scenes: we, too, can benefit from some occasional face- and phone-time with those who make our work possible!

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