This is a true story. And not one I am proud of.

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* 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.


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 articles helping people translate what Brits means versus what they say, like this one I’ve snatched from GBMag, an online guide for students considering studying in the UK.

Extract from a table offering what brits say, what you think they man and what they actually mean. One line is included in the image, which reads

from GB Mag 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!

Give your major donor programme a health check now