Wisdom from My Mom to Supercharge Your Fundraising
Why and How to Invoke the Power of Thank You
My mother was known for having impeccable manners. At her memorial service, it seemed as if every other person who shared a memory talked about her manners. They did so not in a nitpicking way, but in a loving way. It seemed she always knew just the right thing to do to show her appreciation.
Maybe that’s why I love writing “thank you” notes. Seriously, it’s my favorite thing to do in all of fundraising. And it’s undoubtedly why, when I first heard Penelope Burk speak in 2001, it completely changed my approach to the practice of donor development.
Given Penelope’s research and the latest data on donor retention (see the recent Fundraising Effectiveness Project report showing that a whopping 77 percent of first-time donors—Wowie Zowie!—won’t give again), you should change your approach too. Why?
Studies show donor satisfaction with the quality of service provided by the fundraising team is the single biggest driver of loyalty toward your organization.
And what “service” do donors most care about?
A prompt, personal thank you.
Yup. It’s that simple. Just tell ’em:
• You received the gift.
• You’ll put it to work immediately.
• You appreciate this donor more than words can express.
• They are your hero!
One-time gifts are here today, gone tomorrow.
Single transactions won’t help you next year or the year after that. No.
You’ve got to use the power of thank you to transform one-time transactions into something longer lasting.
The Power of Thank You Is Indisputable
It turns out there’s nothing like gratitude. Stop for a moment to think about the last time someone let you know they were grateful for something you did. Really think.
Okay… got something? How did it make you feel?
Chances are it made you feel just a little bit warm and fuzzy towards the person expressing the gratitude.
“More than any other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.” — Michael McCullough, PhD, University of Miami
This is precisely how you want your donors to feel after they make a gift to you. And it’s why it’s so important you think beyond fundraising to encompass “friend-raising.”
A one-time donor is just that. But a friend?
A friend is someone who will become a loyal, ongoing support for you—someone you can count on through thick and thin.
Great stuff, yes?
But wait, there’s more.
Thanking your donors will yield innumerable side benefits.
Check out some of the findings from 26 research studies on gratitude.
I don’t mean to get all touchy-feely and spiritual on you. After all, this is an article to help you improve your fundraising results. But if you read just a little of this research, it’s quite eye opening. The science on the many physical, mental, psychological and social benefits of practicing gratitude regularly is convincing. You’ll begin to wonder why we spend so little time on thanking and so much on asking.
Gosh darn it! Asking makes many folks feel just lousy. Thanking elevates folk’s self-esteem and optimism.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you stop asking.
It’s just that after you’ve been thanking, thanking, thanking you’ll feel much more pumped up and capable of making an ask.
Really—I’ve seen this happen time and again when I’ve asked reluctant volunteer solicitors to begin with “thank you” calls. They graduate to solicitation calls in no time!
Bottom Line: Gratitude Makes Us All Happier
Both being grateful and receiving thanks has this effect. How cool is that? (See "The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life")
Here are just a few of the magical things gratitude does according to the research:
1. It makes people like you. You want your donors to like you, don’t you? It deepens friendships. If they like you, they may stay with you.
2. It helps people experience good feelings. If your donors feel good after they give to you, they may give again.
3. It encourages pro-social behavior. This is the very heart and soul of philanthropy—“love of humankind” and doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
4. It makes you less self-centered. The very nature of gratitude is to focus on others (on their acts of benevolence). When you sincerely appreciate your donors it makes it easier to sincerely appreciate your donors. Get it? This is for real, folks. It’s not a ploy. Thanking begets thanking, just as giving begets giving. So give some thanks, okay?
5. It boosts your productivity. Rather than taking away from your overall effectiveness (yes, I heard you saying you don’t have time for this stuff), it helps you network, enhances your decision-making capabilities, increases your productivity and generally helps you achieve your career goals. Simultaneously, it makes your workplace a more friendly and enjoyable place to be. Nice, no?
6. It makes you more optimistic. The act of gratitude is the act of focusing on the good in life. If you thank your $25 donor as if they were a $1000 donor you’ll perceive your current life to have more good. This leads you to also believe your future will have more good. Such optimism is contagious and will cause others to want to be a part of your life (and the life of your cause).
7. It increases self-esteem. Gratitude has been shown in multiple studies to make people kinder and more friendly. Because of this, grateful people have more social capital. This means that grateful people are actually more likely to receive help from others—for no reason other than that they are liked and appreciated. Since help is exactly what you’ll want to be asking your donors for later on down the line, it’s clear how channeling an attitude of gratitude can work in your favor.
8. It makes you look good. This is where we get back to good manners. It’s simply perceived as rude not to say thank you for a gift bestowed. The converse is also true. Ingratitude is universally regarded with contempt—and it’s one of the chief reasons donors stop giving to you.
Practicing gratitude is good for you, too—not just your donors.
There are oodles of documented benefits—from keeping you away from the doctor to boosting energy, making you more resilient, helping you exercise and giving you a good night’s sleep. But you’ve got to do it consistently.
You can’t just do it once then stop.
Gratitude, to be effective, must be repeated. It must be an ongoing practice, not a one-time thing.
According to the research cited above, a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10 percent increase in happiness and 35 percent reduction in depressive symptoms, but the effects disappeared within six months and 3 months, respectively. If you want to continue to feel satisfied in your work with donors (and, as a corollary, if you want your donors to stay uplifted by their philanthropy) then you’ve got to practice gratitude as a way of life.
Don’t forget: You’ll be like the typical charity and lose close to four-fifths of your annual donors between the first and second donation and up to 40 percent annually thereafter. Is that acceptable to you?
I didn’t think so!
That’s why you need an intentional donor acknowledgement program that drips gratitude consistently throughout the year.
You’ll feel better, and your donors will too.
Gratitude is contagious! Nothing else will keep your donors in as continually a receptive mood.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.