Planning for Gratitude

on in Fundraising

January is Thank You Month.

From formal letters (serving as tax receipts) to handwritten notes on personal stationary, January is the month we catch up with the results of all December’s asking.

January is also the month for reporting – to the board, staff, CEO – on donor behavior. Who gave what, who donated more, who dropped off, who inscribed which message in a personal note alongside their contribution.

And then?

On to the early-Spring cultivation event, the pre-benefit ramp-up, the next ask. With nary a breath in between.

While that is many fundraisers’ reality, it’s not the optimal one. 

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Thank Before You Bank. We’ve all heard that, and hopefully do our best to follow that catchy precept.

But there’s more to donor appreciation than just a one-to-one gift + thank you relationship. And January, with its emphasis on annual campaign reporting, can also be the ideal month to plan out a year of Donor Thank Yous – a systematic, ongoing calendar of gratitude.

Thank Yous are more than donor cultivation. Thank Yous are a moment to stop, assure the donor you are thinking of them (you are!), and to send and re-send the message we’re all on the same team.

That’s a subtly different theme than most donor cultivation missives, which are about the important work going on. Good donor cultivation communications have no ask, are simply “keeping in touch”; which is all well and good, but while related to a donor thank-you, it’s not the same as: “We are aware that your actions make this work possible, and we’re grateful. “ Full stop.

Thank Yous can relate to a specific action – a campaign victory, or a program milestone (the thousandth healthful meal prepared) – or they can simply be programmed periodically (“We had a moment to catch our breath – away from the hubbub of the giving and asking season – and wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your gift at work.”)

But speaking as one who lives in the development trenches, I can say with conviction: It won’t get done unless you schedule it. The flip side is, it’s easy to do, if it’s calendarized and on the task list – and it’s fun.

Thanking is good news. It’s a moment of remembering that nonprofit work is a joint effort – it’s undertaken by a group of individuals with varying input. Some work directly with clients, some donate the funds to support that work, and some of us have the awesome responsibility of being the conduit for that dialogue to take place.

Thanking is the moment we acknowledge how many people are joining in to create this moment, this movement, this social and cultural transformation.

And that we aren’t alone.

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