Thank before you bank – moving from gratitude to appreciation.

March 20, 2021

Thoughts on Donor Appreciation … 

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 team, “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. That was 20+ years ago and times were different. Looking back, I miss seeing those donation checks in the office 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.

Since then, 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 – sadly, so has our stewardship. Thank you notes have turned into auto-generated tax receipts.

You know the old adage, “Have an attitude of gratitude.” Well, what if we shifted to “Don’t wait to appreciate.”

There’s a subtle 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; 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.

There are many things that will 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 the reason they stop giving is because they are not thanked in a meaningful way, they are not included, they are not educated about how their gift matters, they are asked to give again before their first gift was appreciated.

A tax-receipt is NOT a thank you letter. (No, not even if the receipt says “Thank You.”)
And “recognition” is not the same as “appreciation.” Listing a name in the annual report doesn’t take the place of picking up the phone.

So, how do we know what makes our supporters feel appreciated?

Get curious. Start a conversation. Design and deliver a donor survey. Ask your supporters questions: Why us? Why now? What inspired this gift? Do you understand how your gift is being used? Do you believe it’s making a difference? How can we do better? What other causes do you care about? How do you stay informed about us? What else do you need from us?

Give a deadline. Track results. Discuss with your team. Adjust your stewardship plan. Most importantly, share a snapshot of those results with your supporters: we asked, you shared, we listened, and here’s what you can expect from us now.

Put simply, give your donors something to do besides donate. Give them your attention.

Appreciate your donors by “grasping the significance” of their investment in your mission – by asking, listening, responding. Over time – like a lot of other things – they may appreciate, too.

Keep up the good works,


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