Thank-You Note Operator’s Manual
I spoke at a client’s conference this past winter. I was in Little Rock, Ark., with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) at its leadership conference.
After my return home, I received a handwritten thank-you note from Nicole Dolan, my client and one of the organizers of the meeting. It read:
I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Thank you for presenting with me in Little Rock and engaging with our volunteers so compassionately. Thank you for your time and words of wisdom. Thank you for your insight and encouragement, personally and professionally.
Thank you for helping AFSP develop best practices and raise more money. ☺ You are appreciated, and I’m grateful to have you in my circle.
I’ve been in nonprofit work for about 28 years. I’m battle-hardened. I’m crusty. I wear librarian glasses just so I can look over the top of them and scare children, yet this note moved me.
In our work at Turnkey, we study human reactions. We study recognition and how to use it to install and grow intrinsic labels (e.g., I’m a "suicide prevention evangelist") in our volunteer, peer-to-peer fundraisers. I knew this note was in line with that work. I really wanted a breakdown though—why did it impact me so powerfully? I wondered, "Can you bottle that?" I turned to the beloved, Otis Fulton, Turnkey’s behavioral expert and my hubby, for help.
"Beloved," I said, "please take this note and break it down for me. I need the psychological analogy to a diagramming of a sentence by a grammarian." Thus, I quote (with Otis' comments included in parenthesis):
Dear Katrina, (She said your name. Literally, she recognized you.)
I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you. Thank you for presenting with me in Little Rock and engaging with our volunteers so compassionately. (Nicole was specific in her thanks, noting a particular action you took. This will increase the likelihood that you will continue to work on her organization's behalf in the future.) Thank you for your time and words of wisdom. (Sincere flattery always works to strengthen relationships.) Thank you for your insight and encouragement, personally and professionally. (She is reinforcing the idea that you have a social relationship with her. It’s not just based on personal gain.)
Thank you for helping AFSP develop best practices and raise more money. ☺ (Nicole has emphasized that your actions have been competent and successful.) You are appreciated, and I’m grateful to have you in my circle. (Nicole, again very specifically, has recognized you as a person.)
So, in fact, there is a formula. At Turnkey, we use formulas in delivering recognition programs. We work hard at doing that ever more effectively. We study the formula. We train people on the formula.
As an industry, however, we pay little attention to teaching staff what came so naturally to Nicole. If we taught thankfulness—why it works, how it works, when to do it—and then we measured their performance in this area—how much better would they perform in pursuit of the greater good? If we taught thankfulness, we will have taught a large part of how to manage and motivate volunteers and other staff people.
And, of course, the lesson goes far beyond the act of writing a thank-you note. The lesson is about living a life of thankfulness and all the good that results on both ends of the exchange.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.