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This is a true story.

Several years ago now I was the trustee of a charity. At the end of the financial year I gave a donation – a few £hundred – with a note saying not to worry about a thank you but could I have a receipt for my tax return please. At the time was a lot of money for me – I’d had to save up to give it. I felt deeply about the work this organisation did.

The charity took me at my word and a couple of weeks later I received a perfunctory letter acknowledging receipt of the cheque (yes, mega old-school) and my accompanying Gift Aid declaration. The letter was signed by the team administrator.

I was livid.

I was livid for several reasons and not all of the reasons were fair.

Let me take you through my thoughts:

  1. Weeks had gone by since I posted the cheque. Even allowing for the postal system two-ways this was poor.
  2. The letter was signed by a really junior member of staff.
  3. It was perfunctory; it was unfriendly.
  4. It didn’t say thank you.
  5. As a fundraiser on a trustee board of a charity I was concerned that this was considered okay.

Yup, you’ve guessed it, I was peeved that I wasn’t thanked.

I emailed* the Chief Executive to complain. And to raise concerns about this being usual practice. He pointed out that in my letter I had asked not to be thanked and that I was being unfair in complaining now; that I had upset the fundraising team.

Whoops!

I felt suitably chastened and apologised. I over-analysed the situation time and again in my head over the next few weeks. And I realised that the fault was definitely mine (you’d already reached that conclusion, I know) but because of my choice of words, not for what you’re thinking!

By “there’s no need to thank me” I actually meant “please don’t make a fuss.”

I am not the first person to say one thing and yet mean something else. The internet is awash with helpful American-British translation tables like this one I’ve snatched from a Telegraph article:

What made this realisation worse is that my final complaint – about being a professional fundraiser – was now turned on me. As someone who spends her working life building relationships with donors through active listening and taking a genuine interest, I know this stuff. I know that some of the stereotypes about “Britishness” are very true – we can beat about the bush instead of say things directly; we can be embarrassed about money. I had done both in my letter.

I share this story to remind you of one universal truth – that we all like to be thanked, regardless of what we say.

I am not advocating breaking clearly-given instructions and contact preferences.

I am advocating that you look for the opportunities to be friendly and grateful. My receipt-letter could have been friendly and thank-y, perhaps saying “I know you said you did not want to be thanked but as we are writing to you anyway to give you a receipt I thought I would take this opportunity to say how much your generous donation means to us” and signed by a member of the team I knew.

Finally I want to make it clear that whilst I’ve pulled a lesson from this I was still wrong and I am still sorry!

*Also yes – I posted a cheque in the age of the internet. Bonkers, right! But at that time this charity couldn’t accept online donations and I didn’t think to ask for their bank details!