Not all thank you letters are created equal.

What the perfect thank you letter looks like is a regular topic in our office. Don’t be too gushy so you appear false. Don’t be too casual and risk not sounding grateful enough. Don’t drop too many tears over the paper so the ink runs.

Today I had to write a thank you letter to a lady who donated a large sum of money to us in memory of her son. I work for the East Anglia Air Ambulance and we flew out the day her husband handed their 11 month old baby a blackberry to nibble while on a family walk. Heartbreakingly, the poor child choked on the fruit and was unable to be saved.

How do you even begin to convey, on paper, to a family that have suffered such extreme loss, that you’re thankful for them thinking of you during it all? How do you convey to someone you’ve never met that the whole charity has been touched by what’s happened to you and has questioned often, how you must be coping? How do you say that you have no clue how they move on from this but you hope they have people around them who are helping? How do you get across that you really value writing you this letter, that you’re concerned about saying the ‘right’ thing, that you know they’re going to receive this just before Christmas when it must all feel like it can’t get any worse and you don’t want to make anything more terrible? How do you let them know that you won’t just write this and forget what has happened to them and that you won’t stop working hard in the new year in the hope that no one else will have to go through what they are?

Writing that thank you is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my role. I hope I did OK. I hope the family know how grateful I am for their donation. And how much my colleagues feel it too. And that I’ll be thinking of them on Christmas Day and hoping they see some glimmers of happiness in 2016.

For the record, I don’t believe there is a perfect thank you letter actually. But what I do believe, is that there is being truly thankful. This Christmas, I hope all fundraisers are taking a moment to be truly thankful for the support they recieve from the public, again and again and committing to remembering it a bit more often in 2016. We’re going to need to remember how much support we DO get, because the media is going to try and make it really hard for the public to keep believing in what we do. It’s down to us to show them differently. It’s down to us to remain thankful.

General Charity

Classic Charity Christmas Myths…by Uncle Bob

Christmas is a time for catching up with old friends, meeting new people and trekking miles across the country to visit the long distant relatives who won’t speak to you all year if you don’t pop by (even though you’d be quite happy if they didn’t speak to you all year…guilt – and Mum – say you must go).

This Christmas, while embarking on all of the above, I’m sure I’m not the only charity worker who experienced what I like to call the ‘Classic Christmas Charity Myths’. They’re also known as the ‘Random guy in the pub musings’ and the ‘Obnoxious guy on first date main course conversations’ (true story).  They included:

‘Oh you work for a charity? What, and you get paid?’

‘I heard that out of every £1 donated, only 11p actually gets spent on the cause itself’

‘Aha, so you’re a Chugger…’

‘Do you not feel like you should donate your salary back to your employer?’

‘You volunteer for a different charity? Isn’t that a bit disloyal?’

All of this is fine. I’m not angry. Just disappointed. I believe it is the fault of charities themselves that questions like this are still being asked. We must educate the public – as well as ask for their support – about how we work, what we do, why we do it and where their money goes. We must be honest and bold about how we can do better and why we behave in certain ways now, but could soar given the chamce. Dan Pallotta says it much better than me.

So I’m not bothered that my oldest school friend, my friends new boyfriend and Uncle Bob all contributed to the above conversations happening over the festive period. I’m more bothered that I didn’t say anything. And that their opinion is still the same.

But what was I to do?!

If I’d have said what I really thought (PLEASE tell me how to work for free and still pay the mortgage, if only 11p reaches the cause then do not give that charity your money, there are over 200 different roles in most large charities so no, I’m not a chugger, maybe I do donate some of my salary back to my employer – and also see my first point – and who ever just had one thing they’re passionate about?) and tried to engage these people in a conversation about how charity really works, it would have all got uncomfortable, a row would probably have ensued (people get VERY passionate about all of the above) and it would have just been a bit unpleasant. And not very festive. But mainly, nothing would have changed. Because most charities do not include changing opinion on the above in any of their strategies so I as a lone charity ranger, bottle of sloe gin permanently in hand, felt underprepared.

A 2012 report by Ipsos Mori shows that while more people than ever are using a variety of different charitable services, the public is concerned about a variety of fundraising methods being used and the operational activities in the sector (high salaries, bonuses, administration costs etc). Few organisations have responded to this information with an open, detailed plan aimed at addressing these issues – and the realisation that if we don’t, income will suffer.

Except for one. The RSPCA have launched an ambitious 10 year campaign to change public perception of their work as they approach their 200th birthday. I remember nearly falling off my chair when I read this article. A 10 year plan?! To prepare for an anniversary year? OMG! Go RSPCA!

We will of course see how it pans out and how the results from their work has an impact on that of others but for now, as we start 2014, and I thankfully don’t need to see Uncle Bob for at least 352 days, I’ll be asking myself what can I do to change public perception of the organisations I support, and the sector as a whole? I’ll actively seek out and ask questions of the people at the top of the organisations to make sure I hear the truth from the horses mouth. I’ll share information with supporters about things we’re doing, how we’re spending money, how we made that decision and why. And I’ll encourage other colleagues to do the same. It is only through this, and thinking about public perception throughout all of our work, that opinion will change.

I can’t do it alone though – join me?