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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.

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Question everything – but don’t stop giving

Last night a Panorama show revealed that Amnesty International gave their Director General over £500,000 in expenses and other claims as pay out when she left. They made a near £750,000 loss at their annual Secret Policeman’s Ball in 2012. They pay top staff over £100,000. They also exposed that Comic Relief have invested some of their income in to the arms, tobacco and alcohol industry in order to increase their funds. And that Save the Children censored staffs criticism of the energy industry as they have energy suppliers as corporate partners.

A brief look at the Twitter response to the programme showed what I expected – ‘This is why I don’t give to charity’ and ‘I’m never donating to Comic Relief again’ were common themes. I’m sure there will be supporters of the charities mentioned who wake up this morning and question whether they should cancel their monthly direct debit or buy Christmas cards that give to another organisation next year. And yes a few things could have been handled better at the charities mentioned in the show – but it is for their boards and supporters to hash out.

The damage of the programme will have affected the entire charity industry though and this is what disappoints me. It has fuelled the debate around top charity bosses pay packets and made it seem that charities are very loose at decision making when it comes to spending their donors money. As with a lot of media coverage, this opinion is skewed.

I feel most for the people working at Amnesty International, Save the Children and Comic Relief, that aren’t at board or top management level. Those are the people today who will be fielding calls from supporters who want to know more about the contents of the programme and what is going to be done about it – unless internal communications are super slick, and an all-singing, all-dancing FAQ and script sheet has been produced, staff (as well as supporters) will need answers too.

Working for a charity when they come under public scrutiny is difficult. When you choose a charity to work for, you represent the organisation, you trust it, you become it, what they do is what you do. So when something like Panorama airs about your employer, you will be left reeling. And scared – because if the charity is working in a way you don’t believe in, you’re going to have to find one that does. But then you may have to move away from the cause which you love.

Each of the supporters on last nights show that were either told about their charities ‘wrong-doing’ or revealed it themselves, said they would continue to give. But would start to ask questions. And I hope that this will be a positive legacy of the programme. As supporters, we must ask questions. We must push our charities to work in the way we believe they should, to help the cause in the way it needs to be helped. But we must remember that as with all business, we cannot have all the information, all of the time. So we must utilise opportunities we have for engagement – read the annual report, go to the AGM, attend the open days and meet the staff, volunteer at events. It is this way that we get to truly understand what the charity does, how and why. Pulling out a few bad examples of practice makes a good show but does not do justice to the good that these organisations have done. They have saved lives, they have campaigned for justice and won and they have helped millions of people living in poverty both at home and abroad. If you watched last nights show, go an question the organisation you support – but don’t stop giving to them. Please. They won’t do better without you.

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