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A simple Thank You. Let’s leave it at that.

Charities are suffering. Donations are down since the pandemic struck. Of course, people are suffering too, many having to make do with a fraction of thier pre-Covid income and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Still, there’s a sad irony in donations being low at a time when savings are at record levels. A key point is that we are interacting less with charities during lockdown – no fundraising events, no street collections, and so on.

This was probably in the back of my mind when I transferred some money recently to an emergency relief effort in Syria. Two weeks later, a letter arrives in the post. It’s a thank you. Or is it? Sure, the opening lines are an acknowledgement of my donation, but the second paragraph quickly shifts to the next emergency and the urgent need for funds. And the letter is wrapped in marketing collateral, all seeking to part me from more money.

Now I’m not overly sensitive and I get the need for the sector to exploit all possible touchpoints with prospective donors, but I couldn’t help feeling a tad put out. Was I really going to reach into my pocket a second time just 2 weeks on?             

Anyway, I don’t mean to criticise, given the difficulties facing the charity sector, but the episode recalled a business seminar I attended a couple of years ago. The speaker was Whitney Johnson, an acclaimed US executive coach and author of Build an A-Team, published by Harvard Business Review.  Johnson was talking about motivation and alluded to an office scenario many of us will be familiar with.

You’ve just netted a nice piece of new business and the boss is on the phone. “Just wanted to say great pitch there, you put a lot of work into this and it really showed. So well done.” Cue delighted employee, about to hang up feeling great that his work has been recognised. “…you know we’ve that second round presentation next week so let’s be sure we give it our all.” Cue disappointed employee, let down as a congratulatory call quickly morphs into just another plea to work harder. A motivational opportunity turned on its head.

The lesson is a simple one. Thank yous are fragile, to be handled with care. Be sure to uncouple them from the everyday requests that make up most phone calls with staff. Just leave these for a separate call.

In pushing too hard, charities have an excuse. Not sure bosses do.