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Ahern 12.09 - Tom or Thomas, Janice or Jan
Tom Ahern

May, 2012

How would you like to be addressed? Does your favorite charity's database know the difference? Probably not. 

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Dear Thomas

 


See above. What's wrong with this picture?

 

Hint #1: it's not obvious. I.e., all you smarty-pants: it's not because my screen grab lacks a right side. 

 

Even so ... something is terribly wrong with this thank-you note from a grateful (& well known) charity.

 

Hint #2: it's a data entry problem.

 

OK, I'm tormenting you. You can't guess.

 

Because what's wrong with this thank-you note is extremely personal. To me.

 

See, when I was in graduate school, a small literary press published my first book of poems. It was called, as such  things go, The Sinister Pinafore. And for the publication of that book I had to choose, finally, my pen name. My nom de plume. Big decision: "What would Hemingway do?" The book would be registered with the Library of Congress. Would my authorial name be Thomas Ahern? Or would it be Tom Ahern? 

 

Nobody ever called me Thomas really in my daily life, so I chose the less formal: Tom.

 

Not Thomas.

 

The only places you will see Thomas are on my driver's license, my passport, my credit cards.

 

I am Thomas to systems.

 

I am Tom to my friends. 

 

I have an official name: Thomas.

 

I have a name by which I am far more commonly known: Tom

 

But here's the rub, and it's a common rub: there was NO way for me to conveniently register my naming preference with Smile Train.

 

Smile Train did not ask. (Their mistake.)  

 

The Smile Train website gave me a form. At the end of the form I was expected to enter my credit card information. So, to avoid potential problems, I entered my full official name: Thomas.

 

Which led to a thank you note that began (awkwardly and inappropriately) with "Dear Thomas."

 

Do I think anything less of the Smile Train mission because they called me 'Thomas' instead of 'Tom'?

 

Not a bit. I love the work they do. They turn kids born with facial deformities from the "village monster" to just another face. 

 

Do I still think they are one of most "worth studying" charity marketers around?

 

I surely do ... although now not 100%. Now, it is more like 98%. They missed an important step. They did not ask a simple question that would help them raise far more money over the long haul.

 

That simple question is: "How would you prefer to be addressed? Would you prefer, for instance, 'James' or 'Jim' or 'Jimmy'? 'Ms.' or 'Mrs.'? 'Sue' or 'Susan'? Tell us, please! You're the newest member of the [charity name here] family. What should the rest of your family call you? What would please you most?" 

 

"What would please you most?"

 

Had they asked that question, Smile Train would have gathered important data.

 

They would have learned MY PREFERENCE.

 

They could have perfected their first-name addressing of a donor ... which is a very cool - or, I should say, very profitable - thing to do.

 

And from that point on, every personalized communication from Smile Train to me would have sounded truly personal and not (as they do, alas, currently) wrong and robotically-generated. "Dear Thomas..... Ennnhhh. Please, Dear One, Thomas, pay attention.... Enhhhh! Screeeech! Bayhhh! This message will repeat in three, two, one seconds....." 

 

Dear Geeks, semi-geeks, wanna-be geeks, fundraisers: It simply requires asking just ONE additional question of your donors, old and new:

 

"How would you prefer to be addressed? If you've been called 'Sue' all your life, do you really want us to call you 'Susan'? Probably not. Tell us how you'd like to be addressed. We want to earn your friendship."

 

The answers to that so-simple-yet-profound question will create EXACTLY one more field - that's all (OK, maybe 2) - in your database.

 

And that field might well be the most profitable field on your form. 

 

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Incidentally, if you would like to start your very own collection of terrific thank-you notes (except for that little Tom/Thomas problem), donate to SmileTrain.

 

Is it worth it? Think for a moment. How have you spent $250 lately?

 

That same $250 you spent (perhaps) on some transitory vanity could ALSO repair a real child's face forever -- turning what is now "the village monster" into just another kid.

 

Do it. Just do it. Do it for yourself. Do it for a deeply unfortunate child who desperately needs your help. 



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