Thank before you bank – moving from gratitude to appreciation.

March 20, 2021

Many years ago, I had a mentor who would often say, “No one’s first gift is their largest.”

She believed donor retention was a better strategy than donor acquisition. To build her message into our team culture, I came up with this tagline for our office, “We thank before we bank.” Our goal was to send a thank you note before we took the donor’s check to the bank for deposit. Now, this was 20+ years ago and times were different. Not much for nostalgia, I admit looking back that I miss seeing those checks in the mailbox. It allowed me to witness a donor’s generosity through the intimacy of seeing her handwriting, how she addressed the envelope, if she enclosed a note or not.

Over the last couple of decades, that intimacy with our donors has unconsciously slipped from our lives. As online giving, monthly giving, text-to-give, social media and peer-to-peer fundraising efforts have become more standard – well, unfortunately so has our stewardship. Thank you notes are auto-generated, immediate and frankly, boring.

There’s an old adage, “Have an attitude of gratitude.” But, what if we moved to, “Don’t wait to appreciate.”

There’s a subtle, but significant, difference in being grateful for something and truly appreciating it. To appreciate takes attention, effort. It’s not passive. Merriam-Webster defines “appreciation” like this, “To grasp the nature, worth, quality or significance of.” And “To increase the value of.”

To grasp the significance…to increase the value.

Y’all, that demands slowing down, redirecting our energy, and connecting with our supporters in a different way. Appreciation can’t be automated, it must be made-to-order.

Are you grateful for your donors or do you take time to appreciate your donors?

There are many things that can appreciate over time … gold, gems, art, vinyl records, baseball cards, land.

Your donors can also appreciate over time. If you’re familiar with Penelope Burk’s “Donor Centered Fundraising” research, you already know that year-after-year-after-year-after-year, donors share that they stop giving because they are not thanked in a meaningful way, they are not included, they are not educated about how the work is making an impact, they are asked to give again before they first gift was appreciated.

The nonprofit sector is a competitive marketplace for donors. If they aren’t having a great donor experience at your organization, they will find another one.

A tax-receipt is not a thank you letter.

A thank you letter doesn’t invite dialogue.

Be curious about your supporters. Consider a donor survey, small donor focus groups, or one-on-one discussions to learn more about the people who care about the same things you care about. They don’t just care about your mission. They care about the challenge your mission is working to address. That’s pretty powerful. Start a conversation.

Keep up the good works,


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