As a parent, I think a lot about gratitude. There are many things I aspire to teach my children, and being grateful is high on the list. They are lucky kids with a lot of family and love on their side, and I want to help them understand how important that is.
So I started with simply teaching the kids to say “thank you.” Whenever they are handed something, told something nice or given a gift, the polite response is “thank you.” At various times I’ve been told that my kids are good at saying thank you, and for a while it seemed like I was accomplishing my goal. But over time I also realized that I was teaching an automatic response more than a true feeling of gratitude, which is ultimately what I wanted them to learn. How do I help them understand that the important thing about a gift is the relationship behind it? That the special part of a birthday present is not the toy itself, but that your sister was thinking of you?
In fundraising, I sometimes see organizations rely on the automated “thank you” more than a true expression of gratitude. Certainly an organization should aim for a timely and consistent message of thanks when they receive a gift from a donor. And then there is the practical reality that donors need tax receipts. So the automated response — the thank you — is the place to start.
But sometimes organizations fall short of recognizing the relationship behind the gift, and expressing gratitude to their most loyal donors and fundraisers. Personally, I have received a lot of generic thank you letters over the years. But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten a phone call after I made a donation.
Showing gratitude doesn’t need to be something big or grand, and often simple is the best way to go. A handwritten follow-up or picking up the phone can make a lasting impression on someone who cares about your mission. As fundraisers, we need to think beyond the actual gift and focus on the relationship behind it. The special part is not the gift itself, but that they were thinking of you.