The Role of Gratitude

on in Fundraising

Gratitude makes us more public-spirited.

Seems self-evident, yes? Someone looked out for us in our formative years, hence we “play it forward” and look out for others who are at that vulnerable time of life.

But here’s the twist: Feeling gratitude of any kind – even completely unrelated – turns out to make us more likely to invest in the public good.

And makes us happier, more optimistic, healthier.

Scientists have proven this to be so…

In a widely-cited 2010 experiment, Northeastern University professor David DeSteno led a team of researchers in studying the behavior of a group of students who had been put into a situation for which they felt gratitude (someone fixed their frozen computer). He contrasted their actions with those of a control group for whom no such intervention had taken place (no computer breakdown and no subsequent fix).

Immediately after the gratitude-inducing repair took place, both groups – the control group and the fixed-up group – were taken into a different room to play an economic game that probed their readiness to contribute to the public good. The subjects in the gratitude group consistently transferred an average of at least 25% more assets to their partners than did those in the control group.

This finding – that gratitude induces generosity – has been seen again and again in different psychological studies.

What import does that have for us in philanthropy?

It tells us that paying it forward doesn’t have to be tit-for-tat – that you don’t have to look for someone who’s attended a subsidized afterschool program (or is an alum) to be a supporter of your afterschool program. You just need someone who’s aware that somewhere, at some point in their life, someone made an investment in them – staked them, purposely or inadvertently, to a better chance in life.

That awareness – that they didn’t make it entirely on their own, that their success is linked, in part, to someone else’s effort – will be enough to make that prospect ready to be receptive to your pitch.

Of course you have to have the right person asking the right prospect for the right amount of the right thing…and all that – but part of the “right” message is plugging in to the donor’s sense of gratitude.

I receive, therefore I give.

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