A Modest (But Really Important) Plea To Thank Your Donors
I am writing this — call it a lament, a plea, a whine — not as a grant writer or as the co-author of a book about how to write grant proposals, but as a donor.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a zillionaire philanthropist. I do, however, donate relatively small (not to me) sums to numerous nonprofit organizations that I have learned about throughout my time in education, government, and while interviewing nonprofit and private foundation leaders for the five editions of "The Only Grant Writing Book You’ll Ever Need."
For years — and, no, this cannot be blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic — it has irritated me that more often than not I do not receive an acknowledgment when I contribute money to an organization.
Oh, the gift’s amount appears in a timely manner on my credit card bill or bank statement so I know it arrived and was processed, and I get request upon request from the recipients of my donations to donate again and again. But I rarely receive a thank-you note or even an appreciative form email from the recipient.
It especially frustrates me when a person in whose honor I make a contribution doesn’t receive notification about the gift. When a colleague’s mother died, I actually chose to contribute to a nonprofit simply because I knew this organization sends lovely notes to the family of the deceased or the honoree (if the gift is to recognize a birthday, anniversary, new job, graduation, wedding).
The fact that this particular nonprofit had nothing to do with the personal interests of either my colleague or her late mother was irrelevant. I contributed because it is not only well-run and known for providing an important service to people with debilitating health problems, but I knew that my colleague would quickly receive a warm note at a difficult time telling her of my gift.
Even more surprising, a friend of mine contributed a very sizeable amount of money to the favorite organization of his friend’s father who had recently passed away. It was a large, well-known nonprofit. And my friend’s company generously matched the gift! Yet no one — not my friend, not the daughter of the man who had died — received any notice that a gift had been received.
I know, I know — it’s the gift that’s important not the “thank you.” And I also know that nonprofits are almost always short on staff so everyone is overworked and forced to wear many hats. Well, in my opinion, one of the most important hats someone at every organization should wear is the “responding warmly to gifts no matter how small” hat.
It’s not only polite to thank your donors, it also makes good business sense. This year I may give $50 or $100 to, say, an after-school program for children with autism, but who at the organization knows whether I might give a whopping gift later —after I win the lottery or get an unexpected inheritance or die. (Many people choose to leave money in their wills to organizations that had only received small contributions from them in the past.)
Acknowledging donations is not hard — it might even be a good job for a volunteer or an intern. And just because it is not hard, and just because the nonprofit staff is busy doing important, backbreaking work, it’s never OK to ignore a gift.
In fact, it’s just plain rude.
Ellen Karsh was the director of the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Grants Administration for more than seven years, writing grants and teaching proposal writing throughout the city. Before that, she developed and wrote grants for the New York City Department of Education for five years. She received her doctorate in Special Education from Columbia University.
She co-authored "The Only Grant Writing Book You’ll Ever Need, 5th Edition."