Developing a culture of gratitude by Jeanne Murray

Nov 18, 2015 | All Posts, Campaign Counsel, Fundraising Counsel, Team Expertise


At this time of year, you are busy creating year-end appeals and reaching out to donors to say thank you. As a development professional, you probably think of expressing gratitude as making those calls and writing those letters. Have you stopped to consider how gratitude looks and feels from your donor’s perspective?

  • What do donors experience that is gratifying – that is, helps them see the impact of your organization and feel that their contribution made a difference?
  • How can recognition and acknowledgement help donors feel connected to the future work of your organization?
  • How can expressions of gratitude help donors feel noticed and invited to become more involved?

Sometimes we are so close to our work that it helps to take a step back and look at ourselves from an “outside in” perspective. What does a donor (or potential donor) experience when they engage with your organization?

In marketing terms, we call this the “brand experience,” and a donor feels it at every stage of interaction, including the thank you. The more compelling the experience, the more likely a person will continue to be engaged with you. A positive brand experience is especially important when you are engaging with those who are new to your organization and may not know your history.

Stay focused on the donor perspective by cultivating a culture of gratitude throughout their experience with your organization. For example,

  • Communicate by telling the stories of the clients you serve and your organization’s impact in the community.
  • Make sure the physical experience at your organization’s location is welcoming to visitors and donors.
  • Walk yourself through a “first contact experience” to identify whether expressions of gratitude are part of the experience. Note that a potential donor’s first contact could be digital.
  • Before you write off a lapsed donor, give it one more try by calling, emailing, or writing a very personal message saying that you remember what they did for you (time and money), noticed their absence, and would welcome their reconnection.
  • Evaluate ongoing communications, including how key volunteers talk about your organization, to understand whether gratitude is part of a donor’s ongoing experience.

Donors don’t give TO your nonprofit but THROUGH your nonprofit, and the best thank-yous are conveyed back through the nonprofit, too. Do your donors experience a culture of gratitude when they interact with your organization?