Could we at least be told which particular disused Cornish tin mine our donations to the party are being thrown down, please?

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My wife and I once gave a small donation to a Nuns’ mission in Kenya that helps the desperately poor. A week or so later we received a hand drawn card which had been signed by all the nuns in that mission, thanking us most effusively for our donation. It was the nicest thank you we have ever received and we treasured that card for months.

Recently I made a donation to a re-wilding project in Scotland. I received not one, but two personally signed thank you letters, one from the treasurer and one from the chair of the project. They were both long letters, explaining how my money would be spent. One of them said: “Your donation arrived at a crucial time for us, so was particularly welcome.”

I regularly receive letters from charities saying “thank you for your ongoing support”.

Like other tax payers, I receive a report from HMRC every year, informing me how they spent my taxes.

Recently I made what, for me, was a huge donation to the Liberal Democrats. It was the largest single donation I have given to any organisation ever (with the exception of HM Government!).

I am very grateful that within 20 seconds I received a 58 word email from Nick Harvey thanking me for my donation. Thank you Nick!

And that’s it. I don’t expect to hear anything more. I have never heard anything more in the past. So goodness knows what they will do with my money.

Will it go to Orkney and Shetland? Will it be used in Penzance? Will it be used to print Focii? Will it be used to buy rubber bands to bundle envelopes in Shropshire? Will it be used to test fly Focii-delivering sheep drones in rural Caithness?

I have absolutely no idea. And I will never know. And it’s not just me.

After being bombarded by letters and emails asking for money for decades, people give what they regard as huge donations to the party and receive an automated email to thank them.

And that’s it.

It’s like throwing pound coins down a disused Cornish tin mine.

You don’t hear the coins hitting the bottom of the mine.

(It’s stating the obvious, but my feelings of disappointment were particularly acute in 2015. Then, in response to pleas from Paddy (bless him) and the like, I thought we had a good chance of hanging on to most of our MPs so gave repeatedly to the party in what I thought was a generous way. Then our 57 MPs were reduced to eight and I wondered why I had wasted all that money.)

Could we not show our gratitude a little more? Like use a tenth of the energy we use sending out begging emails and letters on sending out personally signed thank you letters? Or send periodical letters thanking people for their ongoing donations? Or send out an explanation of where the donated money is being spent? Or invite donors to occasional thank you events in their area?

Our national party needs to get better at thanking donors. We need all donors – big and small – to have a warm and fuzzy feeling after they donate. That way, they are more likely to continue and, perhaps, increase their support for the party.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Duncan Hill 15th Sep '19 - 1:44pm

    “Dear donor
    I wanted to send you a personal letter of thanks for your recent donation.
    Your donation will help us to buy the stationery and stamps we need to send out personal letters of thanks to donors like you”

    If enough money is thrown down old Cornish tin mines, then at some point it would become profitable to re-open them. As Keynes put it “If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.”

  • Yeovil Yokel 15th Sep '19 - 2:16pm

    During General & By-elections I target the bulk of my donations at particular seats, and I invariably have received individually-written thank you letters, cards, or e-mails. In the case of East Dunbartonshire (when Jo Swinson was returned to the HoC in 2017) I received a ‘phone call and an invitation to a celebration party; and for Brecon & Radnorshire Jane Dodds rang to thank me in person before polling day.

  • Paul Barker 15th Sep '19 - 3:25pm

    I frequently send donations to HQ, I would be cross if I got a letter of thanks in return as it would be a waste of paper & money. I imagine staff are too busy. Perhaps we could have some sort of automated email/text response ?
    This article raises a broader point, freedom vs responsibility & self-discipline. Should the LDV Team have published this during conference ?

  • I’m sure it’s generally accepted practice in fundraising that people who donate once are likely to donate again so thank you contact is part of building that relationship. Building a motivated donor base is an investment not wasted money.

    Party organisation does seem very poor ATM – see also the comments about membership packs not being received. I’ve not had any emails since updating my preferences (which were TBF for no emails about 3 weeks ago. I kind of feed there have been email-worthy things going on!

  • Richard Underhill 15th Sep '19 - 4:45pm

    After the merger decision and because of SDP2 we were asked to give written consent to continued membership of the merged party, donations welcome. Volunteers at Cowley Street were asked to note donations of £100+.
    Thinking about that I did make two donations the campaign at Brecon and Radnorshire, which was important to win, to reduce Boris’ majority.
    I did receive a letter, which was from Sheffield Hallam,
    asking for money and enclosing a reply paid envelope, which I reconsider daily.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Sep '19 - 5:35pm

    remember EMILY

  • Jane Ann Liston 15th Sep '19 - 7:03pm

    … it makes the dough rise.

  • Dennis Wake 15th Sep '19 - 8:32pm

    I gave a donation to the Brecon & Radnor by election fund and received a message thanking me but the money was never taken from my account. Something wrong somewhere.

  • Kevin Maher 16th Sep '19 - 7:57am

    I sent a cheque to Brecon & Radnor on behalf of my local party. It was never cashed.

  • John Marriott 16th Sep '19 - 8:09am

    @Paul Walter
    I couldn’t agree more, Paul. When I was a member, despite all the money I used to shell out in my local area, plus the time I used to spend travelling around and quite frankly neglecting my family, I still used to receive the odd call from Cowley Street from some posh sounding but obviously sincere lady asking me for more. Well, as they say, money talks. Unfortunately all mine ever seems to say is “Goodbye”. Today, what little spare I and my wife have goes on our sons, their wives and our grandchildren!

    Seriously, though, one of the reasons I did not renew my Lib Dem subscription a couple of years ago was because of the local party’s interpretation of the infamous ‘Councillors’ contribution’ in the party’s constitution. Mine wanted 10% of my gross allowance and threatened me and my three County Councillor colleagues with expulsion unless we paid up, when we all had severe doubts that it would be spent wisely, knowing the individuals involved. Despite meetings at regional level the matter was never resolved when three of us decided to ‘retire’ at the end of our term in 2017. As far as I was concerned, it left rather a bitter taste in my mouth.

    Our small Lib Dem County Councillor Group had, many years ago, agreed to pay regular contributions into a fund, which we used to assist campaigns of which we approved, as well as our own re election campaigns. It might sound like a hubristic diktat to some; but, believe me, to win any election above Town/Parish Council in Lincolnshire as a Lib Dem requires much more than a yellow rosette or a parroting of National party policies. The few of us, who kept getting re elected, felt we had a right to have a large say as it how the money we earned as councillors was spent – and by this method we did.

    Yes, Paul, a word of thanks for all we give, both of our time but especially for our cash, from high up for anything might not be too much to ask. That’s what Paddy wrote in his autobiography to me when I met him at a book launch in Lincoln a few years ago.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Sep '19 - 10:53am

    John Marriott 16th Sep ’19 – 8:09am
    Are your grandchildren grand?
    Have you made a will? or recently reviewed a will in the light of changing circumstances?
    Would you, or your wife, like to invest in the future of your grandchildren, and any children they have, by naming the Liberal Democrats in your will/s?
    If so you can expect the party nationally to continue to exist, whereas local parties depend on the hard work of key activists such as yourself.

  • John Marriott 16th Sep '19 - 12:24pm

    @Richard Underhill
    You must be joking. If I were even to mention such a thing to my wife, let alone my sons, I would certainly be persona non grata in the Marriott family!

    No. I’ve given enough of my time and money to the Liberals, the SDP and Lib Dems over the past forty years, about which my nearest and dearest continue to remind me. Let those with far deeper pockets than mine pick up the challenge.

  • I don’t think he is joking, John… which tells you something.

    Of course you should be generous….. if previous form is anything to go by it will be Sir John Marriott (think about it,…. Lady Marriott !!)… or for a few more hundred K…. it could be Lord Marriott of Hykeham High (or Low according to taste) in the County of Lincolnshire and the chance of a soiree with the dear Leader.

  • Sean Hyland 16th Sep '19 - 3:19pm

    Would it be too hard if once in a while the party put up a general notice with some rough figures/percentages – a kind of “where the money you raise/donate goes”.

    x% on full time staff
    x% on phone bank
    x% on campaigns
    etc etc
    and a big thank you somewhere boldly displayed

    Can either be posted on site or attached to the e-mails seeking further donations.

  • Having read the above comments and the lack of any explanations or rebuttals I will need to reconsider my regular donations. This is an organisation that hopes to govern the United Kingdom but cannot organise itself. What is going on ?

  • “The unit cost of the thank you package must have been more than the donation.”

    Unlikely unless the donation was very small (ie around the £1 mark)

  • Dennis Wake 17th Sep '19 - 5:38pm

    Hywel: Each one may have been small but added together it could have amounted to a large sum if there were a large number of donations so it was a waste of money which the party claims it badly needs. What do they need it for ? Is it that hard to bank a cheque or ensure a credit card donation is accounted for ? Many people on LDV seem to have little regard for other people’s money – maybe they have too much themselves ?

  • “Each one may have been small but added together it could have amounted to a large sum if there were a large number of donations so it was a waste of money which the party claims it badly needs.”

    Say £1 per mailing and it would run up to £5k if there were 5,000 donors.

    But money spent on enthusing and motivating the activist (and donor) base is a key part of engaging that. Badges were sent to everyone who went to Eastleigh so this sounds like a repeat of that. Which suggests that it had a net benefit.

    The most likely people to donate are those who have donated before. Motivating them is a key part of fundraising. It’s an investment not an expense.

    If you take your point to its extreme you wouldn’t do members newsletters, no-charge thank you events, sending out for pizza/curry etc for volunteers at elections, having receptions for high value donors etc etc etc.

    It isn’t IMO OK not to be cashing cheques or processing donations – but that is a different point.

  • I used to be a fundraiser a long time ago. There are three things that make it difficult, expensive and distracting to do as Mr. Walter suggests.
    (1) To get a personal letter of thanks, and not an automated response, you need a person to do it. That person needs to be senior enough and involved enough to actually write something meaningful (otherwise why bother de-automating). They need to take time to compose the letter – perhaps 10-15 minutes each. So, for 5,000 donors a year, you’d need 1,200-1,500 person-hours each year plus all the admin, etc. That’s basically one new employee full-time at 5-10 times the cost of the automated process.
    (2) To explain specifically how your money is spent, you’d need a labour-intensive and sophisticated system of accounts — how do you know that money spent on a particular item is “yours”? Either you say, well, it’s a % of everything (in which case, that’s an annual report), or you let donors restrict what you can and cannot spend money on. That means you then need governance controls and approval layers to ensure it’s done. More cost; slower decisions; less operating freedom for managers.
    (3) The details of the answer may put off more donors than it attracts. People give to people and visions they believe in. Consider the relative attractiveness of two “pitches” for the same 100 quid: “Help stop Brexit by supporting our campaign to elect [insert MP’s name]” vs. “Pay for an upgrade to the party’s accounting software to free up resources given by other people to help stop Brexit by…”
    Not all donors will give attention enough to a request that asks them to understand the difference between capital and operating expenditure, and why it matters, and therefore why they shouldn’t be put off by a spike in spending on, say, new computers.

    What might help is coordinating better with local volunteers to invite donors along to local events, etc. — but, especially to comply with data protection laws, that probably also requires better databases and processes, which cost money to implement…

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