Gratitude Beyond the Thank You Letter

By Molly Hansen, Vice President

During this time of year, gratitude is front and center as the holiday spirit begins to take shape in our communities. However, we know that for nonprofit leaders like you, gratitude is not just felt during this time of year but infused in our work all year long.

In fundraising, we know that sending thank you letters within a few days of receiving contributions is an essential pillar of a basic development program. Additionally, there are countless articles on the internet with excellent suggestions for going further in expressing gratitude to your donors and I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you as you come up with new ways to further engage your most valued supporters:

  • Send a welcome packet to new donors with information about the impact of their giving
  • Set up board members to make thank you calls to a few donors each month
  • Engage donors as volunteers, especially with direct contact with your organization’s participants and programs

The idea is to bring people closer to your organization. These small gestures can have a positive and lasting impact on your donor retention – keeping your donors year over year and increasing the level of their contributions.

Real People and Real Stories

I wonder how often we really think about our donors as real, individual people. They have their personal stories, passions, dreams – just like you and me. Sometimes the most authentic way to deepen your relationships with your supporters is to simply treat them the way you would treat a close friend. When you have an opportunity to ask them to meet for coffee, consider the following tips and you might be surprised by what you learn.

  • Ask donors for their advice
  • Learn about what makes them tick
  • Find out what brought them to your organization
  • Learn why they give and what other causes they support
  • Listen and observe what really lights them up

Of course, you have stories to share too. Stories of gratitude honoring the people who have been greatly impacted – the many participants in your organization’s programs, or one very special person or family.

The mother who, with her two children ages 2 and 4, escaped her abuser and feels safe for the first time in her young adult life. Together, with the help of this transitional program, this resilient mother was able to rebuild essential parts of her life and move her two children into permanent housing. This family of three amazing souls are thriving now.

This is just one example of the many stories of transformation that are out there because of your donors’ contributions. Share as many details as is appropriate. It’s all about impact and gratitude, gratitude and impact!

Basic major gift stuff, right? I bet you share powerful stories like this, have coffees, and ask advice from your major donors all the time. If you want to take this work to the next level, consider enlisting key supporters to create a meaningful stewardship plan.

I suggest that you, as a –  fundraiser, board member, volunteer or staff – can also bring along some “non-major donors” on this ride of gratitude. Start with a few of your most consistent and long term donors. I bet they have some wonderful stories about your organization. Something keeps bringing them back with a contribution, right? All those years of steadfast support will surely bring you new insight!

You may not see changes overnight, but you will see and feel the changes in your fundraising success. Track your efforts and understand your organizations retention—and be patient.

Gratitude in Practice

At the beginning of this blog I mentioned a gratitude practice. I’ve had a formal and informal gratitude practice for a long time. Sometimes I am very specific and very intentional and mostly, along with the specifics and intentions, I am grateful throughout my day. These days I’m shaking it up a bit – in the morning and evening in my quiet time, being specific and intentional about people and events and ideas directly connected to my profession. Some examples of my own personal gratitude include:

  • Knowing a program officer who lovingly shepherded a client’s proposal for a new mammography machine through the foundation’s board process resulting in a truly life-saving grant.
  • Learning from a colleague how to highlight and un-highlight in PowerPoint – seriously so grateful!

What if you began and ended your day being grateful for all of your donors? For a specific donor? A board member who may be ruffling your feathers lately? For the great idea that came to you for your next appeal?

How might you do it? Sit quietly at your desk for just 60 seconds and bring what you are grateful for into your mind and your heart. Close your eyes and do nothing else for 60 seconds. Do it every day for a month and let me know what’s changed for you.

I am grateful for you, dear reader. I hope to hear from you!


See Molly’s Bio and Contact information here.


Here are more interesting resources:


Making the Most of Volunteers

Comprehensive Annual Giving Roadmap 

Engaging Your Board in Major Gifts