thank you shutterstock_253887976Can you remember a time you or somebody you know did something for someone, and that someone didn’t say “thank you”?

Was it something big like a loan or helping them move? (That’s always a good one.) Or was it something small like holding open a door?

Maybe they said “thank you,” but you knew they really didn’t mean it? Why, that’s even worse! Do you remember how you felt? Slighted, hurt, or maybe offended, depending on your sacrifice? Is it possible you may even have cast a silent cuss at the ungrateful so-and-so?

What about at work? Same thing, right? You go out of your way, above and beyond for a colleague, and not even a whisper of thanks. After all, you were just doing your job or duty, right? Nope. Even though it’s work, it still stings a bit.

And what are the chances you’d repeat your act of kindness toward someone who didn’t even have the courtesy to say those two simple words? It’s not like we’re looking for a parade or a trophy, right? Just…“thank you.”

Now imagine you or somebody you know just made a meaningful donation to a favorite charity and nobody said “thank you,” or they did but you know they didn’t really mean it. How would that make you feel? Right? I know!

For any fundraising organization to be truly successful—if you agree that success means connecting with supporters—we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the donor, and by “we,” I mean everyone from the corner office to the factory floor.

A great example of this is from a couple of years ago when I was helping at one of our mail shops while we were up against some tight deadlines. A supervisor, Rob, was working with a crew on one of my jobs, trying to get one of the inserters going. They were having a problem with an inkjet head, and as I approached, everyone was hurried, the lead operator was barking orders, spoiled materials were being cleared…typical busy-season lettershop fun. This was not staged, mind you, because it was 2am, my first night there, I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt so nobody would have pegged me for anyone other than a helper or temp, and there was no time for introductions. It was sort of like Undercover Boss…very cool.

Anyway, after several minutes, I heard Rob the supervisor say, “Looks good,” everyone was directed back to their posts, and we were back in business. As Rob and I walked away, we both heard the machine stop behind us. “Ugh, not again,” he grumbled.

We turned back. “What now?” he asked sternly, and the lady sorting the mail on the end of the line, Emma, said, “This doesn’t look good to me.” We saw smudging on the envelope, on the top line of the address block—i.e., the donor’s name. One member of the crew said, “Don’t worry about it, it’ll still get to the mailbox,” and Emma, one hand on hip and the other lowering her eyeglasses slowly to peer over the frame toward the crew member, said, “If they’re getting my money, they better not mess up my name, honey.” It was freaking awesome!

Rob patted Emma on the shoulder and said, “Good going, Hawkeye.” She smiled, they made another tweak to the inkjet head, and once running again, Rob grabbed an envelope off the line for a quick last check, then shouted “PERFECT!” And guess what? Emma smiled again.

Now, granted, perfection in direct mail is elusive. Sometimes quality compromises are made when up against deadlines, the USPS doesn’t exactly handle mail with white gloves, and Emma probably didn’t know whether it was an acknowledgment, acquisition, or house mailing, but the point is: we had an employee working overnight, sorting mail on the production line, who put herself in the donor’s shoes while doing her job, and by doing so, demonstrated she genuinely cared about the nonprofit’s (our client’s) quality of being grateful. That, my friends—the quality of being grateful—is the definition of gratitude.

Spending more time with Emma during that summer, I learned she possessed that quality; she was grateful for her job and for being able to provide for her family, including her grandkids.

It reinforced for me that if you bring that attitude to work, you can directly impact how effective we are in this business of saying “thank you” on behalf of our clients.

Powerful stuff you can’t buy anywhere! People can’t be trained to be more grateful; you either get it or you don’t. But we can surround ourselves with people like Emma, and set the expectation for everyone else: we will treat our supporters with gratitude.

Can you imagine an organization top-to-bottom, side-to-side, being so dialed-in to the contribution of the donor, asking in every which way regardless of the campaign or marketing vehicle, “How can we help make this person feel truly appreciated for their act of kindness?”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit we all have jobs to do, and too often we get caught up in the mucky-muck of budgets, deadlines, bad inkjet heads, and so on, but if we all as leaders-of-our-circles came back to that attitude of gratitude and donor appreciation, wouldn’t that be something?

Consider acknowledgments for a moment: it wasn’t that long ago these were viewed as low-cost, low-margin mailings, and from a business sense, that may be true to some degree. But what happened when we applied the right attitude? These down-and-dirty mailings evolved into a nonprofit’s meaningful expression of gratitude, digitally personalized with “thank you, Cindy” for her actual, dollar-specific contribution, maybe Genuinely Penned, and explaining how her generosity was helping a specific program, because Cindy’s data showed she had a special interest. What better way to retain Cindy’s support, to increase the odds of her being not just a donor but a loyal, lifelong donor?

The ability to say thank you right away, and in the right way, speaking on a personal level, acknowledging one’s gift, and what a big help it is…how is this much different than what we expect from holding the door or helping someone move? A smile-with-good-eye-contact thank-you or a kiss-on-the-cheek-and-big-hug thank-you…it makes so much sense, but it’s more than common sense, isn’t it?

gratitude definition

As I said, by definition gratitude is the quality of being thankful. “Quality” can be defined as an inherent feature or property, which implies a characteristic that belongs to a thing’s essential nature. In this case we fundraisers are that thing, and our essential nature better include gratitude.

Saying thank you shows appreciation for the generosity of others; it’s returning kindness. That’s powerful in any context and why it hurts so much sometimes when those two simple words aren’t expressed.

I thank you, for reading this all the way to the end.

John Maguire is a Senior Account Director at Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. To learn more about successful donor retention, contact us at Answers@Innovairre; subscribe to our newsletter here; and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.