Foster Thanksgiving Every Day

by Marcy Heim on November 23, 2020

Generous Gratitude grateful hearts become generous hearts.JPG

Whenever, or if, you celebrate a formal Thanksgiving Day, you have the responsibility…and the give thanks EVERY day. But watch your words!

First, some definitions. Being thankful often implies you are acknowledging your thanks for something that someone has given you, or done for you. This can be a gift or holding open the door. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word thankful as “pleased and relieved.” Both of those are great feelings. Everyone wants to be pleased and relieved. But that’s just it; they are just feelings, and feelings fade.

Gratitude is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “showing an appreciation of kindness.” This is where the difference lies; being thankful is a feeling, and being grateful is an action. Being grateful is about appreciating what one has, as opposed to what one wants.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow” — Melody Beattie

In our fundraising work and lives, we say things that diminish our thanks and gratitude. Here are Three Things to Never Say Again when Being Thankful.

1. “I left money on the table”

What the donor gives you is just right. It may not be the number you put down in YOUR plan. Or, you sense they would have given more if you had asked for more and somehow you feel like you blew it. Do you see how this line of thinking implies that what they DID GIVE YOU is not good enough!? When you embrace that your job is to create an authentic relationship with your major donors, you are thankful for this gift. Period. It gives you the opportunity to say, “Thank you” and to stay in touch. Gratitude for the gift helps you create the experiences with the donor that fosters their gratitude to be part of your work and in their lives. You simply cannot create this experience if you somehow feel “cheated.”  This carries over with your spouse or kids. If you get a “yes” for ½ hour of help, do you suspect they would have done more?  “Rats!” you think? Wrong! Change that thinking. Relationships are life-long.  

2. “If only my board, (or CEO, or program staff, or family, or whomever) would help!” 

There’s probably nothing I hear more than this feeling that, “I do it all.” This is a victim mindset. Life happens TO you. You can’t control your circumstances. You would be more successful if others did their part. It is your choice to hold onto this belief. With a daily practice of gratitude, you thank them for their service, appreciate what they DO give or do NOW and get curious with them about how they see themselves doing more with you. This shifts your energy to actions that appreciates their fears, talents and perceptions and changes your experience with them, allowing you to focus your time on what they ARE able to do, and shoring up your fundraising with partners who can be of real help.

 3. “I have to get thank you calls (or thank you letters, or visits) done.”

Thanking can become such a chore – tasks on the list that weigh on your mind. “Is it too late to even do now?” It’s when you go beyond the obligation of thanks – to the action of gratitude – that you go deeper and these become actions you GET to do!

As my client Georgia Cumberland Academy crosses the finish line this December on their campaign – growing from a few hundred thousand to $20 million, we’re taking actions to help donors remember how far we have come. Honestly, it’s hard to even visualize what the place looked like before. Saying, “thank you” has been a continuous, but now fostering that deeper gratitude is inspiring continued connections.

Your “thank you” is acknowledging what someone has given you, and I’m sure you DO feel thankful. However gratitude goes deeper. It is a state of being where you are at peace with the world. Being thankful is the first step, and you need that initial feeling to build upon. Gratitude requires you to stay alert of the role of others in your life – beyond the act for which you are thankful.

Through gratitude, you get to credit your donors – and your loved ones – with the appreciation they deserve. It encompasses shared experiences, shared respect, shared love and an understanding that the universe is a positive place conspiring to keep us happy, and help us understand how connected we are to others.  Grateful for you – grateful you are connected to me.

Invest in JOY!


Veteran day quote

I want 2020 to be a good year for you! It’s never about the circumstances – it’s always about how we REACT to those circumstances – and that is ALWAYS our choice. Nelson Mandela thrived 27 years of unbroken incarceration by managing his thoughts. Period. You will get through 2020, and you will THRIVE! Period.

Now is the most important time for your major gift fundraising. No matter how you voted, or how you are feeling now, it’s November 11th and we are in the most important two months of your fundraising year. More than 30% of gifts are given during the month of December and 12% of those are given on the final 3 days of the year!  Last year, individual donors contributed$309.66 BILLION to US nonprofits – $92 BILLION in December and $37 BILLION during the last 3 days of the year.

My clients have experienced success with both special crisis campaigns and their on-going major gift needs. 2020 has been a good year for my clients.  They are taking action – having awkward but authentic and caring conversations – asking – and managing distractions.

I care about you and I want this year to be a success for you. May my observations on how successful major gift fundraisers are managing political conversation serve you for YOUR year-end success.

1. Spend some time to reflect on how much space you are going to give politics now, and in your life in general.  What priority does following the continuous drama of politics play in your personal and professional priorities?  What does “being informed” look like to you and what are your best sources of solid facts (if this exists) to meet this? Does being in this space take you away from genuine, loving deep relationship with others? Is it worth it?

2. Political and race conversations can quickly get emotionally charged and filled with fear and anger. There’s an inherent winner-loser feel to them that quickly puts you into the land of taking sides. The drama of these conversations is a distraction to your year-end fundraising work. Even if the conversation is “civil” the separation or hurt can linger unspoken, beneath the surface, long afterwards in a disappointing, “we just don’t agree,” feeling.

3. Remember, “People like people like themselves.”  We are hard-wired to be afraid of what is not like us. We are drawn to those we feel share our values and interests. Politicians generally build relationships on their re-election value. We choose our friends and mates based on having common interests and beliefs. Relationships fail when we “have nothing in common.” Focusing on safety, education, health, faith and love as core values quickly demonstrates how, at our core, we all want the same things. Build authentic, not manipulative/transactional relationships – your donors feel the difference


4. The number one reason people give (according to the great research of Penelope Burk and others) is they believe in your mission and want to make a difference, NOT because you share political views.  I’ve asked for and received 8 figure gifts from both parties – politics was never part of the conversation.

It remains vitally important to voice what the money does – REALLY does– beyond fund the scholarship, build the building, or fund the program. How does their giving impact other people? You may wish to revisit my post on how our values have changed since March 2020 here. One quick example….your conversations regarding a building or remodeling project is about having a space worthy of the life-changing work that happens within it much more than the size or “prestige” of the named space.  This is already well documented with the increasing number of anonymous major gifts and my clients are experiencing this in the successful capital campaigns I’m coaching right now.

5. Take care using labels to describe others.  Labels blame, judge, separate us, and conjure pre-existing perceptions. For example, forming A, B, and C groups to categories “faster” and “slower” learners has been proven to be harmful for children developing to their full capacity. Do the labels we apply for politics, race and wealth serve us in providing solutions or do they simply deepen the divide?

6. DO listen to signals of how your donors view their ability to make a major gift now. Again…I’m not talking about small annual gifts of $10-$500. Major gifts – those transforming gifts – are often made with appreciated assets. Here the important conversation is not politics, but if they feel markets will be impacted. Are they concerned for their investments? What is their perception of governmental regulations on the vitality of their business and/or other local businesses? These beliefs (and financial realities as we move forward) need to be addressed as you continue to find that project that brings your donor the JOY of giving. “How are you managing now?” should get this conversation started.

7.  Manage your drama and stress to stay well. This requires constant attention to our sub-conscious thinking. “We become what we think about” includes our propensity to get sick. The things we fear and focus on we make happen. Why people react so differently to the virus is still not clearly known. It is well know that stress, anxiety and fear make us sick. Simply put, notice what conversations give you knots in your stomach. If political conversations tie you in knots, drop them! Our communications in our brain interferes with our body’s ability to manage cortisol and other stress hormones. Here is a good article on natural ways to lower cortisol. 

8.  Have empathy for others. Love, don’t judge. It is beyond YOUR situation. Quit allowing political leaders to impact your judgement of how others behave during this time – you don’t know their situation. One of my clients shared that their senior residents have been alone in their rooms since March. Yes, they have a low rate of disease, but the loneliness is beyond comprehension. Families are choosing to keep their older family members home even if care would be better in a facility because they may never see them again if they take them to a facility. There are elderly people choosing to be with their families this holiday even if it may bring on illness. That’s hardly “reckless.”

young & lonely

We criticize young people for ignoring the dangers. Imagine being 20-30. You are single and living alone away from your family and friends with your new work. You loved being in the office and interacting with your work colleagues. You have been told you will be working remotely from now on. You can’t go to church or synagogue, you can’t play sports, you can’t go to a bar, etc. These are long days alone. I’m not debating mask or no-mask – I am simply saying that getting upset and judging others is bad for your health and your fundraising success.

Paulo Coelho quote

YOU are part of an amazing collection of non-profit professionals, donors and volunteers. YOU have a special opportunity, and powerful role to play in making this time one of deepening our understanding or others, embracing all, demonstrating patience and love for beliefs, traditions, and experiences different from ours. It’s exhausting and exhilarating work to daily and constantly see yourself as someone who can lift up your neighbor.  YOU WILL THRIVE NOW!


May you be well and stay well.  May our leaders make wise decisions. May you connect with your donors to unite to inspire the power and joy of generosity.  May you find the best way to unite over the upcoming holidays. Remember, a smile, kindness, hope and generosity are contagious too!  Catch them!


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