When I was a preschooler, I watched a morning TV show called “Romper Room.”  Designed to mimic older siblings’ and friends’ classroom experiences, the show was hosted by a warm and welcoming teacher who varied by geographic region.  (I think Miss Barbara was my Romper Room teacher, but I’m not sure.)  The most memorable part of the show for me came at the end of each episode.  Miss Barbara would pull out her “Magic Mirror” and offer this incantation:  “Romper, bomper, stomper, boo.  Tell me, tell me, tell me do.  Magic Mirror, tell me today.  Did all my friends have fun at play?”  This would cause the mirror she held in front of her face to become transparent so that I could see her through it, and, more importantly, she now could see me.  She would then proceed to call out the names of children who were watching at home.  “I see Billy.  I see Sally and Lisa.  I see Dwayne, Tommy, and Mary.”  More than anything, I wanted to be seen!  Every day I waited to hear my name called.  But on the many, many days when she didn’t say “Tammie,” Miss Barbara always wrapped up by saying, “And I see you.”  I felt as though I had been seen.

When we solicit and thank our donors, we need to remember that they are out there, just like I was, truly hoping to be seen.  How can we communicate that our institutions recognize them as individuals and generous supporters?  The first tool at our disposal is the text of our messages to them.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the use of “donors like you.”  I suspect its origins are at PBS (the U.S.’s Public Broadcasting System) which routinely adds a message to its programming stating that it is made possible by contributions from “Viewers like you.”  In that context, it makes sense.  Public television is broadcast to everyone, regardless of whether they’ve contributed funds to the station, and the majority of viewers likely fall into the non-donor category.  Telling your non-donors that those providing the financial support for programs they love are like them serves as a subtle way of reminding them that they, too, could be donors.  But for the donors who are watching, this phrasing excludes them from the thank you.  They didn’t make the show possible—the credit goes to viewers like them.

Luckily, direct mail, email, and social media advertising can be segmented, targeted, and/or personalized, options not available in television broadcasts (yet).  This means that we should not only avoid the use of “donors like you” in any communication to a donor, but also that we can avoid it.  A quick Google search yielded thousands of examples of thank-you notes that include this phrase.  I’ve provided just a few excerpts below with my amended versions that directly acknowledge the donor alongside them.

“However, the support of donors like you is helping us to make it possible for children living with HIV to lead happier and fruitful lives.” However, you are helping children living with HIV to lead happier and more fruitful lives.
“Generous gifts from donors like you provide the financial and moral support needed to continue our mission.” You provide the financial and moral support needed to continue our important mission.
“As you are likely aware, we had to shut down our physical program operations on March 30. Thanks to generous gifts from donors like you, we had the funds on hand to pivot quickly to provide services to our clients through HIPAA compliant video conferencing.” We had to shut down our physical program operations on March 30.  But you helped us to pivot quickly and continue to provide services to our clients through HIPAA-compliant video conferencing.  Thank you!

When “donors like you” is replaced with “you,” the donor is the actor, the hero of your story.  They are improving children’s lives, furthering important programs, or providing health services to those in need.  You are recognizing and thanking them and showing the impact that they made in partnership with your institution.  You are building or strengthening a relationship.

As you communicate with your donors, please remember Miss Barbara.  She never ended our time together by saying, “I see children like you”—she said, “I see you.”  And that is what we all long for.

Tammie L. Ruda