The Dismal Results of My Online Giving Experiment

Or, Can a Girl Get a Thank-You Note, Please?

Back on November 24, 2008, I cashed in a bunch of credit card miles through Capital One’s No Hassle Giving Site, converting them into cash gifts to charities. Capital One partnered with Network for Good to deliver the donations to the charities. I specifically selected 12 national charities that I had not previously contributed to, but whose missions I support, in order to see what the communications response would be to my $25 gift. On the form, I opted-in to share my contact information with the charities and provided both email and mailing addresses. I called it the “What I Got When I Gave” experiment.

I’ve been waiting all this time to report back on the experiment in hopes that the results would change, but they haven’t. It’s pitiful. Of the 12 national charities I gave to, only four — a measly 33% — acknowledged the gift in any way. (I also gave to three regional charities where I live and the percentage was the same – only 1 of the 3 acknowledged the gift.)

The fastest response came from National Public Radio, which sent me an email thank-you note addressed to “Dear Friend” on December 10. Personalization would have been nice, but at least they get the Gold Star for timeliness. I haven’t received any other communication from NPR since.

interplasthankyouThe next three all came within a day of each other, on January 6-7, 2009. Both Interplast and The Alliance for Climate Protection sent paper thank-you letters, addressed to me personally.

The Alliance mentioned receiving the gift through Network for Good on December 15, which would have been Network for Good’s next payment distribution day after my gift. Given the holidays, I have no problem with the date I received the letter. It was a standard form thank-you letter – nothing stand-out about it, but adequate.

Interplast’s thank-you letter was great. I’m a big fan of their blog because of their effective storytelling, and the thank-you letter does the same thing. Instead of a bunch of generic successes (which are better than none at all, I guess), they tell me a story and include before and after pictures! I’m constantly telling people to include pictures in thank you notes (see here and here), so I’m glad to see a nonprofit doing it well. Way to go, Interplast!

I haven’t received any additional communication from either Interplast or the Alliance for Climate Protection since the thank-you letters.

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital didn’t send a thank-you note, but they did add me to their Hopeline email newsletter list and I’ve received the January and February 2009 editions.

I’m obviously really disappointed in not hearing a peep from the other eight. But, ever the supporter of nonprofits, I have come up with several potential reasons (uh, excuses) why this may be the case:

  • $25 is chump change to them and doesn’t merit acknowledgment. I know there is significant debate out there about what you do with low-dollar donors. I hoped that $25 was high enough to generate some kind of response, but apparently not.
  • Since I cashed in miles, they don’t think it’s a “real” gift (even though Network for Good sent them real money).
  • It was the holidays and the gift fell through the cracks.
  • Giving through Network for Good is not their preferred means of receiving online gifts — they’d prefer to get them through their own website — so they are not set up to acknowledge gifts like mine.
  • The post office and/or Gmail’s spam filter ate their thank-you notes.

Do any of these hold water with you?

You may also be wondering what I was really expecting. I think each charity should have acknowledged the gift either via email or in print. Either one or both is acceptable, given that it was an online gift. Since I supplied my email address, I would have been fine being added to an e-newsletter list. Or, they could have strongly encouraged me to join a list in the thank-you note (or subscribe to a blog), with very explicit instructions for how to do that and a motivating description for why I would want to. So, none of the four who responded knocked it out of the park for me, but they all get kudos for responding at all.

Right about now, you are probably dying to know who the other 8 organizations are. I’m really torn about naming names, because as I said at the top, I really do believe in the missions of every single one of them and I would hate for their inclusion in this post to tarnish them in any way. So I’m not printing them here, at least not right now. But I definitely thought about it . . . C’mon, people, can’t a girl get a thank you note?!?

What do you think? Do these results surprise you or not?  Are any of the rationales for no response legitimate? What would your group have done with a $25 donation from out of nowhere? Please leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

3/12/09 Update: Here is my follow-up post: Saying Thanks Even When It’s Inconvenient or Time-Consuming

3/13/09 Update: The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Prospecting” section picked up this post. Read more comments there.