Who Do We Appreciate?

By Dan Woychick

As I completed the rounds of my early morning workout, one thing struck me about the news stories silently blinking at me from the big screens placed strategically throughout our neighborhood gym. There was an abundance of stories on holiday shopping. Will consumers spend more? Are retailers happy? What does this mean for the economy?

Missing in all the hype, which seems to come earlier and grow greater by the year, was any mention of the upcoming holiday, Thanksgiving, which is treated as a mere speed bump on the way to something far more exciting – the next big purchase.

From an early age, we teach our children to have good manners, to say “please” and “thank you.” During this season, of all seasons, we should pause to consider how we’re thanking those who have helped us this past year.

Tokens of gratitude
Ask and ye shall receive. In the nonprofit world, fail to properly thank your generous benefactors and you shall not be so fortunate next time.

Above all forms of donor recognition, the handwritten thank you note still reigns. Including success stories – not just quantifiable results – provides an emotional reward for your donors and builds trust that their money made a difference.

Building on that idea, Terry Axelrod, in his book The Joy of Fundraising writes: Most donors don’t need plaques or trinkets, which often cause them to question your spending priorities. Donors want to see what their gifts allowed you to accomplish – specific facts and stories of how they changed the lives of real people.

Personal recognition
How well do you know your donors and their motivations? Generally speaking, people give to your organization because they value the work you do and believe their support will yield positive change. But general knowledge isn’t enough.

Is this a first-time donor or a regular contributor? Is the donor increasing their gift this year or returning after an absence of a year or more? Do they prefer receiving personal phone calls or electronic communication?

Everyone probably knows a terrific gift giver, the kind of person who makes a mental note in a casual conversation and then surprises you months later with an especially appropriate birthday present. Knowing your donors, finding out why someone is giving and affirming that in follow up communications, ensures a level of personal attention that makes recognition meaningful.

Distinct and appropriate
Image of donor recognition wall at San Francisco Food BankYour donors, and their reasons for giving, are as unique as your organization. Every time you communicate with your supporters, including but not limited to thank you notes, represents an opportunity to reinforce that distinct mutual interest.

Image of AIGA exhibition wallGood designers often help illuminate and advance an organization’s mission through the clever repurposing of appropriate materials, as with the San Francisco food bank that used the bottoms of empty cans to build a donor recognition wall, the AIGA exhibition that doubled as a fundraiser for a program that taught painting and life skills to at-risk youth, or the paper recycler that used scraps of their own cardboard shipping boxes for an annual report cover.

Image of annual report cover for paper recyclerShowing appreciation for and sharing information with your supporters is an ongoing responsibility that shouldn’t be limited to an organization’s fundraisers. In successful organizations, it’s a pervasive culture that influences everything you do.

It feels good
Finally, while you’re at it, don’t forget to thank the many board members, staff, volunteers and colleagues that help make your job meaningful and rewarding. Remember, when someone says thanks, they make you happy, but research shows they make themselves even happier. In her book The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky describes a dozen strategies to increase personal happiness. The first? Express gratitude.

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