Episode 76: Thanking – how to go the extra mile, with Laura Croudace

Episode Notes

Under pressure, it’s all too easy to put most of your energy into the search for new supporters. But if you want to grow fundraising income, a great place to start is to take a careful look at how well you thank and look after people who have already donated.

Interestingly, we’ve found that if you go above and beyond what most people would expect, it not only helps your donors feel great, it also often leads to increased fundraising income.

One fundraiser who LOVES this philosophy is Laura Croudace. In this episode, Laura talks to Rob about why ‘the extra mile is rarely crowded’ and why this approach is so powerful (and fun to do). She shares lots of examples, (including one seven figure gift to a small charity) and shares tips and encouragement to help you go the extra mile in your own fundraising.

If you’d like to share this episode because you think it will help charities – THANK YOU! – we are both on Linked In and on twitter I am @woods_rob.

Further Resources

Want to go deeper and get 24/7 access to LOTS more inspiring training content?

Our training and inspiration club for fundraisers, the Bright Spot Members Club, has an extensive library of Rob’s best training films, a supportive community, and access to live masterclasses and problem-solving sessions with Rob and other experienced fundraising / leadership trainers EVERY WEEK. To find out more about how to get access to all these resources, go to www.brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join/

Would you like training, inspiration and support to increase fundraising income? You can find out more about our flagship 6 month programmes: the Major Gifts Mastery Programme; the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme or the Individual Giving Mastery Programme by following these links.


‘When you make thank you films, the best advice I can give is to make it short, make it meaningful, and have an element of surprise and delight in there’

Laura Croudace

‘It doesn’t need to be scripted, as you mentioned. The more real and raw it is in parts, the more impact it will have.’

Laura Croudace discussing the power of Facebook Lives to boost fundraising.

Full transcript of Episode 76

Rob:                 Hello, this is Rob Woods, and welcome to Episode 76 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. And the first thing I wanted to say is a massive thank you to everyone who’s been enthusiastically sharing the podcast with colleagues and on social media. And a massive thank you if you’ve left a kind review with your podcast provider. Because I’m excited to say, I’ve just discovered that the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast has now been listened to more than 40,000 times and I really appreciate all your help in getting these ideas and examples out to so many fundraisers since we started the show.

And if you’re listening to the show for the first time, I put this podcast together for anyone who works in fundraising and who wants ideas, and maybe a nudge of inspiration to help you enjoy your job and raise more money. Today we’re talking to the brilliant Laura Croudace who currently works at Cirrico. This is the second time I’ve spoken to Laura for the show. You might remember that in Episode 72, we were looking at Facebook Lives and she shared a bunch of examples and tips to help charities do that tactic really effectively to raise funds. This time we’re looking at thanking and why it is so powerful when you find ways to go the extra mile.

And I mentioned this last time, but one reason that I really rate Laura’s advice is that in addition to her day job to the last eight years, she’s acted as a mentor for more than 350 fundraisers. And in that time she’d become really experienced at seeing the patterns and the opportunities for charities to increase income. I really enjoyed my chat with Laura and I hope you will too.

Laura, welcome back to the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast.

Laura:               Thanks for having me, Rob, how are you doing?

Rob:                 I’m really well. And thank you so much for the other day, creating that other interview for the show. We’ve got lots of lovely feedback from people who really were just given a boost of encouragement to do with Facebook Lives and that kind of more proactive approach to communication. So thank you for that one. And I wanted to talk to you again to talk about a slightly different topic, in terms of going the extra mile, but in case people didn’t hear the other interview, let me get the details right. You work for Cirrico and that’s part of Salesforce. What’s your role?

Laura:               Yeah. So I work for Cirrico we’re a Salesforce partner and my role is Technology Impact Evangelist, which is a really cool job title. But people are probably wondering, “What on earth does she do?” My role is to work with nonprofits and businesses with purpose to work out what change they want to make within their nonprofits. So if it’s accelerating change to help 10 million more people or 10,000 more people, or to raise double in the next five years, or even a year in some cases, how you’re to achieve that and how we can help you do it and make it happen through technology.

Rob:                 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Amazing job. Today, I thought it’d be really interesting to talk about one of your favorite subjects, which is an approach to relationship building, not necessarily to, “Where do we find new supporters?” But with people who you already are in touch with or already are maybe donating a little or a lot. How you can use that opportunity to really develop relationships in a more human way, deeper, better than many of us necessarily do when we’re trying to primarily be efficient. And sometimes you refer to this as going the extra mile as a deliberate strategic decision. That’s a generous one, but also it’s one you found helps to raise more money. So would you start off by saying why you think now more than ever, this can be one of the X factors that cuts through when times are quite tough?

Laura:               Yeah, absolutely. So I guess, I was doing this, without realizing, for a number of years. So my first ever fundraising job, I walked into the organization, they didn’t have a laptop to give me, I had to bring my own. Which now with GDPR and everything would be massively frowned upon. But back in the day, that’s how it was. And they had no database, no tack. And I think now if only I’d have had Salesforce back then they would have been raising millions more. But they had nothing other than an Excel spreadsheet of the donors that they even had records for.

And I went online, I remember vividly, and I got a real stern telling off for it. I went online and ordered about £60 or £70 worth of thank you notes and a fountain pen from Paperchase. And I wrote to every single donor that we had a record for thanking them for their donation and loosely giving them an idea of what impact they’d made. And I wrote to one donor in particular, and I always refer to him as Johnny. That’s not his real name, but I don’t have the permission to share his name. So I wrote to Johnny and I thanked him for his two pounds a month, which he’d been donating for years.

And I didn’t think that I was going to get any letters back or I didn’t thank people in the hope that they were going to be like, “Oh, what a nice letter I’ll send in a cheque.” I wrote to everyone. And I started getting phone calls and emails back. And with him in particular, we got on like a house on fire. He was very eccentric. He was very old. He was in his nineties and he told me that he’d never been thanked before by the organization. And he wanted to meet me. And if ever I was in Manchester, I could meet with him.

And it just happened that a few months later I was going to Manchester to meet with a corporate sponsor that we had. And off I went, I met with him and we had soup. I remember it really vividly, I even remember the restaurant’s name. And when I met him, he looked like he was really struggling. And I felt even more grateful that he’d been donating two pounds a month. And he would ring me up all the time at work for a chat. He was really lonely and he would talk to me and we’d have a lovely chat. And that was that. And I’d thank him for calling me. And we’d kind of just have a little bit of a giggle and that was it.

And I left the organization that I worked for, and I don’t know, six or seven months after I left, maybe longer, I got a phone call from my previous boss, he said, “I need to talk to you about something.” And I thought, “Oh my goodness, what did I do wrong?” Instant thought, you got a call from your old boss thinking that’s a bit odd. And he said, “I need to tell you that Johnny passed away. He left you a note in his will to say that you’d inspired him so much by meeting with him and talking to him that he’s actually left his entire estate. And he’s left us around 1.7 million pounds.” Which was a huge amount of money.

And it turns out that this particular man had been one of the first engineers at Bentley. He’d invented one of the most extraordinary violins. He had a painting on it and he’d lived an incredible life, which he was very, very humble. And he didn’t tell me anything about this when I met with him. So when I think back to meeting with him, it really, really makes me think about if I hadn’t have gone the extra mile and written all those thank you cards, which I got a real talent for wasting money on thank you cards may I say, I’m not sure that would have happened because I don’t know what would have happened to his estates, but it made me really think years later when I would think about that example.

And also other people started sending in cheques, and there’s actually, if you Google my name and put in the Guardian. I wrote articles in the guardian about ethical fundraising and there’s one article I wrote now maybe eight, nine years ago called Fundraiser’s Moral Compass. That was it. And it was a by these thank you letters I wrote and how one woman, in particular, started sending in thousands of pounds. But the first check was 500, then it was 700. Then it was 3,000. And I was writing to her to thank her. And then she sent in another check and I wrote the article for the guardian because it was around the time of the Olive Cooke situation.

And I didn’t bank any of her checks because I was worried that she wasn’t remembering that she’d sent us checks. And it turned out to be a very, very professional woman in her forties that worked at a very well-known tech organization that wanted to support the mission. So when I called her and said, like, “I just want to make sure. Can I meet with you to make sure that you’re aware that you’re sending us a lot of money?” She was definitely aware. And she thanked me for being so considerate to making sure that she was aware that she was sending all these checks.

As my fundraising career developed and as I worked in other organizations and also was mentoring a lot of people around this time as well, I realized that going the extra mile was never crowded. And it was something that I always was passionate about because I think it was partly the way that I was brought us up. You always write a thank you letter to everyone that bought you a Christmas gift, as a kid. And it’s something that I make my boys do. And it was something that I never expected to have a huge return on that small, but important investment.

And then I guess what happened after that was I started looking at, “Okay, how can we do this on a wider scale? How can we do more thanking?” And what’s really interesting to me is that in a recent report that Salesforce did, they made 620 donations to 620 different organizations around the world. I think it’s about 20 different countries, you can read the report online, but what they found was 64% of organizations don’t send thank yous when people donate. They can get anything from a receipt for direct debit or a standing order sent to them on email, they get nothing. They don’t even get an email to say like, “Thank you for signing up.” Or they get a really generic one-line email, “Thank you so much.” A meaningless, thank you. Right?

So there’s a real need for us as a sector to start inspiring people to donate on a regular basis because 72% of people that make a one-off gift never make a second donation to organizations and maybe board members sit there thinking, “Well, I wonder why that is.” And it’s probably because fundraisers are too busy to write meaningful, lovely thank you cards, or emails to every single donor. But if they have the right technology in place to do it and everyone got an automated, beautiful email that looked like it had been written by Laura Croudace fundraiser or Rob Woods fundraiser, then actually their fundraising would be even more impactful.

Rob:                 Mm-hmm. And so if we are conscious that our organization might not be as organized as we’d like in this respect, or maybe we think we’re doing fine, but now we’re a bit worried, we need to go and double-check, as far as I can see, there’s two elements to this. Part of it is being organized and finding not just a process but a process that’s really good and delivers well, and then there’s also what I would call the high touch, less efficient seeming things that you started out talking about, where it’s more bespoke with a thank you card or a personalized film or whatever. What would your advice to the listeners be about which of those needs to come first or any tips to how we do both of those rather than just one or the other?

Laura:               I don’t know what comes first. I think it depends. I think it’s about being memorable. And I think the reason I say that is, in fact, there was someone that I had a call with this week a guy called John Blackburn and he runs an incredible recruitment company. And I definitely recommend just going and following him for interesting content and how he is changing the way that people do recruitment. Because let’s be honest, if you’ve ever sat through loads of interviews, it can be really boring. I’m the first to say that. I had a call with him about some stuff to do with sustainable business and people over profit.

And he knows that I’m really time-poor at the moment. And he sent me a video thank you on LinkedIn. He sent me a video thank you. And he was like, “Oh my God, that meeting just blew my mind. I’m not going to lie. It was really exhausting because it was so interesting.” And he really shocked me. He sent it to me at 9:30 at night. You could see that he was still in the office and that’s not me trying to blow the trumpet of let’s all be mega busy and still be in the office at 9:30 at night. But he clearly was, and he sent me this really nice thank you. So thanking people and going the extra mile and all of that good stuff is really important, but I think it’s about being memorable.

And if you can send an email or a handwritten letter to everyone… In fact, somebody that I mentored last year a fantastic woman called Jax Jones, who used to work at Mountbatten Hospice in the Isle of Wight, a big fan of Jax, go check her out on LinkedIn. She now works at Unity4 Telephone Fundraising Agency, but I mentored her for a year. She got all of her volunteers to write a thank you Christmas card to everyone that had donated to Mountbatten in 2020. And everyone got a thank you card. Now, if you’re a fundraiser and you’ve got volunteers and they want to do stuff for you; that’s a great way to utilize your volunteers.

And I was so moved by Jax when I started my new job she actually sent me a notebook with my initials on it. And it said on the front, “Every new job deserves a new notebook.” And she thanked me for mentoring her. And it’s things like that, I didn’t expect to get a gift from her, but it made me remember her, and having mentored 350 people, I actually always remember the people that have thanked me because I guess it makes you feel something. And when you feel something and when you’re moved by something, the myelin in our brains, without going into a whole kind of biology lesson is strengthened. And it’s really interesting the way that we then remember a certain thing or certain places. Why if we smell a certain fragrance, it can take us back somewhere.

So if you get a thank you card that you’re not expecting, I recently just got, I became a donor to RNLI they were one of my favourite charities, but I stopped my donation because I stopped hearing from them years ago. I just signed back up and I’m really excited to open my mail later, I haven’t opened it yet, to see what they sent me and I’m not donating so that I get my thank you letters. I’m more intrigued to see what they’re sending their donors and to support people at sea. But I think it’s about being memorable. And I think it’s about using the resource and the time that you have in the most effective way.

And for me, because I genuinely love writing thank you cards. I have a box of hundreds of them that I buy around when I see nice ones in TK Max or wherever I might be, I genuinely love saying thank you properly and making someone’s day. Someone’s gone out of their way to do something for you or donate. Then the least I can do is say thank you properly. So using your time efficiently, I think, is how I would answer that.

Rob:                 Hi, it’s Rob. And I just want to jump in quickly to let you know about our training and inspiration site for fundraisers, which is called the Bright Spot Members Club. Rather than have me explain, I thought it would be more useful if you could hear from one of our longstanding members, Hannah, who joined in March 2020 and whose family resource is really helpful during the pandemic. In fact, her small arts charity has had a transformational year and doubled its income in 2020 compared to the year before COVID. Here’s what Hannah said about why she’s a member of the club.

Hannah:           I think this way of learning for me just fits in much better with my workload. You’ve got so many different resources online that you can just tap into when you need them. And so many different experts that you’ve brought to your program. That actually, I think I would struggle to be able to persuade my board of trustees to spend hundreds of pounds sending me on a three, four-day training course when actually there’s really good value for money and in your series. And Rob, you bring some really fantastic speakers and professional fundraisers to your series. And some of the sessions may be very short, but actually, that really suits my style of learning. So I think actually I would say to someone, just give it a go.

Rob:                 If you’d like to find out more about how the club works, go to brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. For now though, let’s get back to the interview. As I ask Laura for tips to help us go the extra mile, even on days when we feel we haven’t got time.

And what tips do you have, if we feel we haven’t got time for it, what’s your advice to help people get over that hurdle?

Laura:               Record a video. So I wrote an article on this, it’s on SOFII’s website. I think the article was called why I donate to 12 charities or 20 charities. I can’t remember exactly; I wrote it a long time ago. But I became a donor to Shelter about eight years ago. I can’t remember when. But I was walking through Birmingham City Center on a Thursday afternoon, really shattered. I’d had a really long day at work and my train had been cancelled. So I was walking through Birmingham City Center in the Jewellery Quarter. So good half an hour walk.

And I was stopped, I was asked to become a donor. As a fundraiser, I couldn’t say no to the person wanting to talk to me, even though I didn’t intend on becoming a donor. I’m massively passionate about homelessness. I think it should not be a thing in this country. We’ve got far too much wealth, but that’s a whole other podcast. But what struck me was I got a text from them to say, thanks for becoming a donor. And then obviously Shelter has hopefully hundreds and hundreds of thousands of donors. And I got a really, really, really cool memorable email on Christmas day, which was titled because of you I’m working Christmas day.

I was probably checking my emails to see what was on sale at John Lewis or Gap or something at the time, opened it and thinking, “Who’s complaining at me that they’re working because of me on Christmas day?” And I opened the email and there’s a picture of a guy in a Christmas Rudolph jumper with a headset. And it says, “Because of you, Laura, we’re working Christmas day.” And it was a video message they’ve obviously prerecorded of someone answering the phone to those unfortunate people losing their home on Christmas day due to domestic violence, it could be anything, right?

So if you can’t write a thank you note or ring every donor and you haven’t got the budget to use an amazing telephone fundraising agency to ring everyone and thank them, even though it’s the best investment you could make, I would definitely recommend recording a video with one of your volunteers or one of your people that carries out the work and you can do it on your smartphone. You don’t need a film crew to do it, and then email it to everyone on your database that’s donated in the last month or six months. And make it personal and make it feel like they’re speaking directly to you.

So the best advice I can give is to make it short, make it meaningful, and have an element of surprise and delight in there. There’s a great book about the founder of Starbucks, that my previous CEO, Kyla Shawyer from Resource Alliance at the time shared with me. And it’s all around the surprise and delight aspect of Starbucks. So go to Starbucks on your birthday and you say, “It’s my birthday.” They’ll give you drinks and stuff. I don’t know if that’s still the case, but back in the day, it was.

A lot of the time if I go through the drive-through at Starbucks, not very eco-friendly I know, but sometimes I’m desperate for a coffee. If they say, “Oh, how are you doing today?” And I say, “Oh, God. I’m really tired, I’ve just done an 18-hour day at work.” And they go, “Oh, that’s awful. Do you want some vegan chocolate?” And I go, “Yes, please.” It’s all around that aspect of surprise and delight. And I think that as fundraisers, we can take elements of that theory into our work and get one of our trustees on video talking about “I volunteer with… ” I don’t know, whatever organization it might be. “I wanted to thank you. We’ve just finished up a board meeting. We were talking about our incredible donors. I wanted to reach out to you and thank you.” And it’d just be really, really short and sweet. So that would be one of my top tips is to use video more. And also if you use the word video in the title of an email, it has a 28% higher open rate than if you don’t. So that’s a win too.

Rob:                 That’s such a helpful step to be aware of, sometimes that these small tweaks to a title of an email can make all the difference. I think when we spoke the other day, you were talking about how valuable it can be to expand your network because it gives you more resources and more ability to potentially be creative in adding value to people and helping people feel special. Do you want to say a little bit more about that?

Laura:               Yeah, absolutely. I have to credit you for getting me to do this about 10 years ago. Rob, you were one of my first mentors, I think you were the first person that mentored me over a lunch. And you told me to spend the first 15 minutes of my day building out my network on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on wherever I wanted to do that. And I’ve done that. I’ve got 25,000 people on my LinkedIn now and it’s really come into its own. When I started my fundraising career as a volunteer at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and didn’t know how I was going to raise any money. I went on to raise, I think around £70,000 in my first ever volunteer role.

And I would just ring companies up and ask them if they could donate X, children’s stock that we could give out or face paints. Because we used to run a Zombie Walk where people would be painted and then walk through Birmingham City Center. Even though I’m terrified of anything scary, it was not my idea at the time. But building out your network is incredibly powerful because a lot of the time corporates think that in order to support a nonprofit, they need to give £100,000 or 2% of their profit.

But actually, in order to surprise and delight our individual givers or run events in a really incredible way, it might be that we build a network of people that can actually donate incredible things or create things for us. So for example, Paperchase, if you were connected to someone at Paperchase, and you said to them, “Hey, we’re doing this really cool event around mental health. And we want to encourage people to journal around mindfulness and we’re going to do a campaign and get people to become individual givers. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could create, I don’t know, 5,000 notebooks for us that were focused on mindfulness, or donate 5,000 notebooks?”

That’s absolutely nothing to an organization that sells millions of products every year, but it actually saves you having to buy them. And there are gifts in kind implications with tax and things like that. But all in all, it’s going to save your organization money. And so if you’re a, I don’t know, children’s hospice and you want to do something incredible for your donors, and you want to send chocolate out to every donor on behalf of the organization at Easter it could be that they do all of that and post it out for you. I’ve seen incredible things.

And in fact, in lockdown last year, I had a very, very well-known chocolate manufacturer call me up and say, “We’ve got 2,000 Easter eggs in our warehouse that we’ve created extra to donate to a children’s hospice. And the children’s hospice have furloughed the staff member we were going to send them to, and now we don’t know what to do with them.” So then I got in touch with the children’s hospice and they said their entire fundraising team has been furloughed. And I’m like, “Okay, but there’s 2000 chocolate Easter eggs waiting for you. Where are they going to go?” And it ended up that the chocolate manufacturer couldn’t send them to this hospice because they’d furloughed all of their staff, which really upset the chocolate manufacturer, as you can imagine. And severed that relationship temporarily or permanently that they could have ended up doing a charity via partnership and raising a million pounds or whatever it might be.

So there are definitely ways to work with people, build out your network, start talking to people, see what people are interested in. Gymshark is one of my favourite organizations to watch on LinkedIn. I don’t wear their clothes, I’m a Lululemon yoga girl. Gymshark do incredible things here in the West Midlands. But Ben Francis, their CEO, early twenties, when he started Gymshark, in lockdown he donated over £100,000 to Birmingham Children’s Hospital through getting all of the people that follow Gymshark to post a selfie and do a hashtag around Birmingham Children’s Hospital, engaged in a global network of people. And then, yeah, I think Ben may be an ambassador of Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Actually, I think it was announced last week. So there’s a huge amount of value to having an online network and just connecting with people.

Rob:                 Loads of excellent ideas you’re sharing with us, Laura. Before we finish, is there any other point you would make about how building our network can help us go the extra mile to help supporters feel special?

Laura:               Yeah, absolutely. I think if there are people that you look up to in your LinkedIn or brands that you think are absolutely nailing it in terms of their comms or even as a consumer that they may have sent you great emails, connect with those people on LinkedIn and ask if they’ll mentor you because I can tell you from being a mentor and being mentored by somebody I followed for about two years, the CEO of Don’t Cry Wolf, an incredible guy that I… Every time his content came out, I was like, “God, that is so good.” And so I thought, “You know what, I want to learn from him and be able to go the extra mile in the way that I do things.”

So I reached out to John Brown, he’s the CEO of Don’t Cry Wolf asked him if he’d mentor me, I never in a million years thought he’d say yes, especially as a volunteer because you know, he’s the CEO and extremely busy. He said, “Yes.” And I was so thrilled. I did a little dance in the kitchen because I was so happy that he was going to mentor me. And he’s shown me how to go the extra mile in ways that I didn’t know about and how to do things that I thought were impossible. So I think using your network go after, if it’s the Vice President of Marketing of Nike, I’ve seen those people at Nike, high positions, mentor people in sports non-profits or whatever it might be.

Don’t ever worry about asking for support in order to further your career. And then in turn further your non-profit’s mission because it’s far harder to get somebody to donate that time than it is money. But if people are able to pass on the expertise, knowledge, and tools that they’ve learned along the way as a mentor, that makes you feel great because you’re actually giving something and passing something on to somebody that they’ll then be able to use from you. And it then becomes a multiplier effect. So that would be my other tip.

Rob:                 Wow. So many good ideas, Laura. I’d love to go on and on, but we better get you away. If people would like to get in touch with you, how could they do that?

Laura:               Through LinkedIn. I don’t really tend to touch much of the social media because I find it too distracting and I can get lost down a Twitter rabbit hole. So LinkedIn is where I’m at. You can find me at Laura Croudace on there, and I’d love to chat to you. I’m always up for a virtual coffee on zoom with anyone that wants to talk with me.

Rob:                 A very generous offer. Laura, thank you ever so much for, like I say, generously giving your time to share these examples and stories with people, give your advice. I really appreciate it. We got loads of lovely feedback from the other episode you did already. And I foresee this may well happen again when people hear this episode. Until the next time Laura Croudace, thanks for coming on the podcast.

Laura:               Thanks, Rob.

Rob:                 Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing Laura’s tips and examples. As always, you can get a full transcript and a summary of the episode on the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk. And if you’d like to find out more about the Bright Spot Members Club, our training and inspiration site for fundraisers, you can find out more at brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join. There you’ll be able to get information about all the resources that our 300 members get access to 24/7, including an extensive library of my best training films as well as live workshops every week. Finally, Laura and I would love to hear what you think about today’s episode. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter I am @woods_rob. Thank you for listening today. And I look forward to sharing more Bright spot examples and ideas with you very soon.