What does research actually say about this time-intensive fundraising strategy?
Yesterday, I gave a presentation about audience segmentation and targeted messaging to the NonProfit Association of Oregon's Executive Director roundtable. Drawing on insights from Allison Fine's new book, Matterness, I shared ideas that show your supporters that they are appreciated and not just another name on a list-or even worse- an ATM. I highlighted my own experiences of feeling like I matter when I receive a handwritten thank you note for making a donation.
At the end of the workshop, one participant asked about proof that handwritten notes improve donor retention and increase giving. Aside from my own anecdotal experience, I had nothing. So I decided to investigate.
It turns out that there is very little reliable research that actually shows it is worth a non-profit's resources to write handwritten notes. There are hundreds of fundraising bloggers who say it is a best practice, but never refer to a controlled study as proof. (Several blogs refer to "an increase of 300%," which I traced back to a marketing company that prints thank you notes that look like they are handwritten. Not exactly a reliable source to guide a non-profit's fundraising strategy.)
I did find this however: A thesis paper from Rutgers University called The Joy of Giving: An Investigation of Positive Fundraising Techniques. Written by a psychology student in 2008, the paper investigates the impact of five different approaches: a standard printed letter, a standard letter with a handwritten note, a standard letter with a handwritten note that included positive emotion words, a standard letter with a printed note, and a standard letter with a printed note that included positive emotion words.
The results were clear; handwritten notes resulted in an increase of 30% in the number of people donating, and an increase of $14.00 in the amount of the average donation (during the peak of the recession). Her finding: "Those who received a handwritten letter donated more money; positive emotion words did not seem to have an effect." The personal touch of a handwritten note had more impact than what was said.