Six weeks after the end of financial year and we finally have all the tax receipts for the donations we made.
But it was a hard slog getting them all.
What was plain to me is that many charities have terrible donation follow up and thanking procedures. In some cases, it took well over a month for us to receive gift receipts.
Is the gift receipt a thank you? Yes it is! And if it’s not, it should be. Multiple thanks never goes astray. You should thank a donor at least once in every communication.
Below are some of the issues we encountered. And apart from the operational problems highlighted, I encourage charities to think of these as brand issues.
Online only gift receipts
Some charities only sent us a gift receipt electronically – an email that either had a PDF attached or a link to a web page that generated a tax receipt.
Of the two, it was definitely much better to have a PDF attached. If you’re going to have a link to a web page, I suggest it needs to be highlighted in big text and made into a button. I missed several such links because they were buried at the end of the email and it had to be pointed out to me by the kind donor care officer who responded to my request for a receipt. Okay, maybe I’m dumb about tech but I don’t think so. In a past life, I’ve done IT helpdesk, written software processes and edited a book on business intelligence systems – and I consider myself to be very tech savvy. If I missed a link to a crucial document then this is a usability issue – it’s about making it easier for the donor.
It’s okay to send an online receipt but I believe charities should also send printed receipts (unless the donor specifically requests online only). This is for two reasons.
First, you can’t guarantee email delivery (you can’t guarantee mail delivery either but it’s much harder for a printed letter to get lost than an email).
In fact, I’m certain I did not receive online gift receipts from four charities (three of them were big names) – even though they all claimed I should have got one when I asked for receipts. I hunted through my junk mail box, my trash, did advanced searches on my email (after all, I’m tech savvy) to no avail. That’s a lot of work to make your donor do – and many of them will not be good with computers! With these issues, what experience is your donor associating with your brand?
Now, the missing gift receipt emails may have been a problem on my end, but I received all the emails from these same charities asking me donate. And I got acknowledgement and/ or gift receipt emails from all the other charities we donated to. Some of them took a while to arrive but I got them. Of those that didn’t send gift receipts via email, we got them via snail mail. In some cases, we got receipts via email and mail – but getting it twice is better than never getting it all! That’s why you should also do a printed receipt.
Second, when you do a printed receipt, it’s an opportunity for you to thank the donor and share a good news story about what their gift has done or will do. Or you can pop in a thank you card or some other personalised token. This feels warm and personal rather than transactional. This type of donor nurture should not be viewed as a cost but as an investment into donor relationships.
I’ve been to numerous fundraising conference sessions where charities are implored to send receipts and thank yous within three days of a donation. I myself have given this advice to clients and said if you can’t do three days then within a week. Now, we received gift receipts from a small number within a week of the donation. That’s pretty good, especially since Australia Post no longer guarantees next day delivery. We got a higher proportion within two weeks – if I’m being forgiving, I can accept that especially if they sent me a nice story or some kind of report back to confirm where my gift is going (we got some great ones which I’ll share in another blog post).
A couple of charities told us in their donation confirmation email they would send a receipt in the mail “shortly” or “in the third week of July” or something similar. Although this is not ideal, at least they told us what to expect. Others didn’t tell us anything so we assumed they were mailing us receipts – my husband kept checking the mail to see whether they’d arrived. Tax receipts trickled in all the way to the first week in August, at which point we gave up on the ones we hadn’t received and started asking directly for them.
What’s your turnaround time on gift receipts… and what experience is your donor associating with your brand?
Calling me John when my name is June
So we’ve waited over a month and have to ask for the gift receipts. As indicated above, I got a series of emails back with PDFs attached informing me I should have a link to a tax receipt in my confirmation email.
But the one that made my eyebrows raise was the email that said:
First, I actually thought it was spam. Then I noticed it was from a charity I’d emailed about a tax receipt so I looked a little closer. They said they’d tried calling me but I had no missed call on my phone so either the wrong number is on file or they’ve got me mixed up with someone else. And I do wonder whether there is some poor bloke called John who’s getting extra tax receipts for June. At any rate, I didn’t receive the email within an hour. So it did feel a little like the old line “the cheque’s in the mail”. Is that the kind of experience you want the donor to associate with your brand?
Another email netted me an apology and the tax invoice attached as a PDF – and this time they called me June.
Look, we all make mistakes but please try to get the donor’s name right! I’d like to give again to this charity because the cause is great. But calling me John is not inspiring confidence in this charity’s ability to use my donation well.
Not feeling thanked…
After all that, I admit I did not feel like I had been thanked for my gift. It felt like an administrative nightmare.
And on that point: when a donor experiences issues like these, they don’t care about your logo or your tagline (unless they’re spoofing it to vent their frustration).
To your beneficiaries, your brand is the experience of the help they receive. Not your logo.
To your staff, your brand is the experience of the way you treat them. Not your logo.
And to your donors, your brand is the experience they have when they deal with you. Not your logo.
What are your thoughts? What are the challenges of creating a positive experience for your donor? Leave a comment or drop me a line here.
I’m interested in talking to you if you’re trying to reconcile conflicts between branding and fundraising.