“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”
Honestly, the best part of our work is thanking. If anyone ever offered me the job of Chief Thanking Officer, I would take it and never look back! Many of us in the nonprofit world truly believe that we are in relationship with generous people, foundations and corporations that support our causes so thanking them is an essential part of building and strengthening those relationships.
What have you done to thank donors in a creative way? We suggest personalizing appreciation when appropriate and keeping it low cost. Often, donors do not want you to spend money thanking them for supporting your charity. Instead, donors respond to:
· A thank you phone call from a board member
· A thank you phone call from staff the day the gift is received
· A handwritten note from a board member or staff member
As we approach Thanksgiving, I asked the Bacon Lee & Associates team for thoughts on creative thanking. Sometimes, just hearing a story of how a nonprofit showed true appreciation can inspire us to think more intentionally about the ways in which we thank donors.
Here are some intriguing examples:
Amy Phipps, former Executive Director of the Zachry Foundation, shared, “The best thank-you’s are the ones that get sent! From a typical grant slate of 40-50 organizations, there would always be several who never sent ANYTHING. Their absence was noticed, and we would always follow up to make sure that there had been no hiccups in receipt. To me, the language on the thank you letters we did receive was almost immaterial. The important thing was that they were sent.”
Beverly Seffel spent 32 years at the Lower Colorado River Authority, helping connect employee dollars to nonprofit causes. She explained, “An organization we funded left a small potted tulip for me that just said “thank you” at the front desk. They didn’t intrude on my day; they just left it and went on their way. I also had a group whose volunteers bake cookies during the holidays and deliver them to donors. It was a treat for the whole office.”
Barbara Anne Stephens, a mentor of mine who recently retired from our firm, loves creative thanking. She shared several stories of excellent and imaginative thanking:
When I was working at the Witte Museum, we reached a milestone–our 50,000th visitor to the HEB Science Treehouse. I sent a handwritten note to Charles Butt, “Dear Mr. Butt, I thought you’d like to know that today our 50,000 guest played in the HEB Science Treehouse. Thank you for your extraordinary gift to our community.” He read the note, circled 50,000 with a red marker and wrote back “WOW! Thanks for letting me know.”
As a major donor to a local university was becoming more infirm, she was consistently visited by the wife of the President. One day the President’s wife asked, “Isn’t there something I can do for you?” The donor said, “I have this glorious grand piano and no one to play it.” The President’s wife went to the chair of the Music Department to find a student to play for the donor, and arranged for the personal concert. The donor was delighted and the student got to perform for one of the University’s most generous supporters.
The point is this: find a way to make a real connection between your organization and your donors. Most nonprofits send out a timely receipt and thank you note. What can YOU do that is different and unique?