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Gratitude is a Game Changer
Nonprofit Management

The Revolutionary Power of a Traditional Thank You

If trends in the greeting card industry are any indication, thank you notes are in decline. In recent years, prominent card sellers Papyrus and Paper Source have filed for bankruptcy, and younger generations are forgoing handwritten messages in favor of quick and easy texts and emails.

Even though individuals might be ditching traditional cards, nonprofit organizations should never underestimate their power. When it comes to building lasting donor relationships, tax receipt letters and automatic emails won’t cut it.

Whether during a campaign or annual fundraising, we are always coaching our partners to thoughtfully thank their donors. In fact, gratitude is one of our core values! Here’s why it makes a difference.

Your organization will stand out.

The contents of our mailboxes are dismal: bills, catalogues, coupons, and ads. With so few people sending cards or letters anymore, a handwritten note from your organization will be a welcome surprise to a donor—especially if they already received your tax receipt email.

You could also develop a “gratitude call at random” program, and select some first-time and current donors to call about their recent gift. If the donors have time to chat, you might strike up a conversation about what inspired them to give, but the intent is to thank only—not to solicit. Even if they send you to voicemail, imagine their delight to hear your voice thanking them for their generosity. This personal touch will rekindle the warm glow they got when they made their gift.

Your board members can get involved.

The downside of personal calls and notes? They are time-consuming. When your staff is already stretched thin providing important services, thank you notes and calls are bound to fall by the wayside. That’s where your board can help.

Consider forming a gratitude committee. When we worked with Lakeside Chautauqua on their capital campaign to build a new aquatic center, we advised them to divide their donors between a few tenacious board members who would write heartfelt thank you notes. Serving on a gratitude committee is a great way to foster deeper board involvement and ease them into more active fundraising tasks. Because saying “thank you” is less intimidating than making solicitations, even new board members can confidently volunteer for this job!

Your investment in your donors will pay off.

According to Penelope Burk’s donor-centered research, 90% of first-time donors will not give a second gift, and 92% of donors surveyed say that gift acknowledgement is critically important. If organizations want to retain their new donors, they need to make sure those donors feel appreciated.

No matter how big or small, a donor’s first gift is a chance to build a relationship. Your gratitude could turn a one-time gift into a recurring donation, a major campaign gift, and even a bequest someday. If you treat each gift like a seed that could grow into a huge tree, you will soon have a grove of strong supporters that will stand the test of time. But you’ll never know if you don’t say “thank you.”


We have a quote from Maya Angelou hanging in the Cramer office that sums up our philosophy on gratitude:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

When donors give of their time and resources to support an organization, the response (or lack thereof) will affect how they feel about their choice. Sincere gratitude has the power to create a lasting memory and a lifelong donor.

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