Being a donor – my big experiment

Remember back in July (seems so long ago…), I wrote about finding out what it’s like to be a donor?

Ask The Question

I challenged myself to give to the next 10 charities to ask, the ones which I don’t already support, to experience the donor side of things for myself.


Now, there’s always going to be a certain amount of cognitive dissonance with this – I can’t fully separate being a donor and general professional nosiness. So take everything herein as my gut instincts on receiving the thank you communications from the charities I included in my big experiment. Another point I should make is that I’ve decided not to directly name (and potentially shame) any organisation.

I’ve grouped the charities as best I can for clarity and comparison; here’s the breakdown:

Education: 4

Health: 3

Environment: 1

International aid/development: 2

It’s probably no surprise that education is the most popular ask; I work in HE after all. Given the demographic of where I live, it’s also no surprise to me that health charities and international aid charities are also high on the list. If I’m honest, the environment one was not a cause I would normally have supported. In the interest of giving to those who asked however, I made my modest gift then sat back to see what would come next.

(At this point, I should also explain that while most asks came either through social media or email, three came via post. Hence the mixture of thank yous which came back!).

Let’s start with the education organisations. University 1 sent me a very personal thank you letter, complete with pin badge welcoming me to the donor community. A+, university 1! I also received a pleasant letter from university 2, as well as the email thank you below:


Universities 3 and 4 sent me their standard thank you letter. No personalisation at all, which was a bit disappointing given my previous relationship with university 3. Just 10 seconds looking at my record in the database would’ve shown that I know the organisation quite well – missed opportunity there, university 3!

Moving on to health charities. A mixed bag here, I found.

Health charity 1 sent me a great letter from one of their beneficiaries, including the person’s story of recovery from cancer, as well as the email below:


Health charity 2 also sent me a nice, personal email from one of their fundraisers, making special mention of a matching programme my gift had helped them unlock. Great job, health charities 1 and 2!

Compare those experiences with that of #3 though:



Giving health charity 3 the benefit of the doubt, I assumed this was just an automated email and a more direct note would probably follow. I was wrong. Nothing. Health charity 3, please have someone take a look at your online giving portal!!

Let’s look at the international aid/development charities now. Both are large, multinational organisations, and are very, very good at what they do. Both sent me emails in response to my online gift, and both have subsequently sent me good feedback on what my gift has done so far.


In fact, my only gripe with this automated email is the giant “Payment successful” across the top. Bit off-putting, as it makes my gift feel a little transactional. It’s a minor point and it’s partly personal preference, but I also wrinkle my nose at “donating”. It just doesn’t feel as warm and fluffy, to me. All in all though, well done international aid/development charity 1. Gold star for you!

International aid/development charity 2 haven’t sent me a thing. No acknowledgement, other than a standard “your payment has been processed” type email, which I’ve since lost in my inbox. Oh dear.

Finally, there’s the environment charity. Which, I’ll be honest here, I hadn’t really heard of until a cold, unaddressed mail drop landed on my doormat. However, the ask letter was warm and interesting, the pack came in an engaging outer envelope with a picture of a forest, and the gift form was quick and easy to fill out.

Environment charity have since sent me three separate mailings; one reasonably good thank you letter, a Christmas gifts catalogue, and a leaflet about lottery giving. Erm… I suspect I’m not their usual target audience, as I have no intention of buying a woodsy-themed glass bauble for my Christmas tree (which the cat would undoubtedly break), nor am I likely to do anything with lottery giving. Still, not a bad effort, environment charity.

So what did I learn from this? 

Well, first I learned that it’s not easy finding charities who want my money! II’ll admit that July probably wasn’t the best time to start doing this, which is why it’s taken me until now to write up this blog post! It could be partly to do with my age; I’m one of those dreaded Millenials who don’t like getting things in the post, are glued to their smartphone and have enormous debts.

Secondly, I learned that it’s probably little details, unnoticed by us as fundraisers, that spoil our hard work in building meaningful relationships with our donors. Not acknowledging an existing relationship (just writing a little note on the letter would’ve done it!), using the same system for giving and buying items from an online shop (while saving admin costs, means donors get emails about their orders being processed!), or just straightforward word choice can affect the donor’s experience.

We can’t plan for every type of donor, and there’s always going to be a few exceptions to the standard rules. But if I’ve learned anything in the past few months, it’s that giving gives the giver gooey goodness. Or, less alliteratively, giving feels good. So let’s make sure those warm fuzzies last as long as possible.


PS. Yes, one of my personal email addresses is tigerintheflightdeck.


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