Ten Tips for Thoughtful Thanks

by Marcy Heim on March 2, 2017

There is joy in Giving Header

The great thing about gratitude is that it is really never too late to say, “Thank you” or “I appreciate you.”  But too often, we pay lip service to stewardship – all those things that happen AFTER the gift is made. We have terrific intentions to write that note, make a call, or share an update. This is Part 2 of my thankful series.  (You can read Part 1 here if you missed it.) You can make magic here, and YOU will be lifted up as you do! Here are Ten Tips to help you. Pick one or two—you over-achievers you – not all of them!

Marcy’s 10 Tips for Thoughtful Thanks

1. The Power of One

I always start with you.  Let’s hear it, “I create my life!” So your culture has low/no credit for stewardship calls? The main vibe is “ask and close?” Leadership wants to see the money? It is always YOUR choice. YOU can be grateful.  It begins with you – pausing to reflect that someone said, ‘Yes,’ to you, to your mission with their gift. No one HAS to give. Feel grateful. That’s the first step to authentically providing thoughtful thanks.

2. Make it fun 

We get so serious. Perhaps our mission is heavy – abuse, poverty, illness, death, hunger, loneliness, fear – the results of investments into these causes are the light and bright side of this. We are encouraged to tell dramatic stories that pull on the heartstrings. Well ok, but there is JOY in giving and change for the better! For those happier missions, the arts, education, faith, there is the joy in multiplying those who experience the positive benefits. Chocolate chip cookies, bubble wands, funny stories, happy results, toasting success, children, puppies, ice cream.  My stuffiest “stuffed-shirt” old-school men love my confetti wands.

3. Brainstorm on meaningful actions

The golden rule says, “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s great if everyone is exactly like YOU. If not, the platinum rule says, “Do unto others how they want you to do unto them.” And how do you know?  Ask them! Every call or gathering of givers and prospective givers can include the question, “How can we best show you and givers like you how much we sincerely appreciate their giving and the impact it has?”  Then listen. Then do.

4. Engage partners to make the touch

“There is just no time for stewardship.” Lame. As you ask others about their suggestions…SOME (not all!) may be perfect to say, “Would you be open to helping me say thanks as you suggested?” It will take some time THE FIRST TIME, but you can grow a ‘gratitude team’ of donors, other staff, recipients, board members, and on and on, who helped create the idea, have done it a few times and need little of your time to make it happen, and inspire others and themselves in the process.

5. Quarterly touches as part of RAPs  

One of the many benefits of creating Relationship Action Plans for your most MAJOR DONORS – the very top 10-20 folks, is that you PLAN thoughtful touches ahead for each quarter, so you DO  this MOST important part of the Giving Cycle.  If you use a RAP for a group of donors – say a mid-level group, creating a group appreciation touch helps assure you get it done for this group, not just ‘hope’ to do it.

6. Communication style they like or stands out for them

This may seem contradictory. If they prefer email – sure, say thanks in an email where they are comfortable.  BUT, also say thanks by phone or written note something OUTSIDE of the norm sometimes.  It will stand out to them.

7. Create a System – 3 X 3, Gratitude Bowl, Filler times

Create YOUR SYSTEM for gratitude. Three examples – 3X3 – 3 personal notes, 3 emails, 3 phone calls 3 times a week. Make this work for you.  A gratitude bowl – or file or box – some place you toss a business card, program, news story, scrap of paper – then create appreciation touches at a specific time each week. Finally, filler times, use times waiting in the airport, waiting at school for the kids to come out, with the ½ hour you have between meetings to take a gratitude action. This is a SHIFT in how we use bits of time.

8. Group touches work/specific or organization-wide

Thank you events, thank you post cards, board/faculty member/volunteer hosted small gatherings and more that are only limited by your creativity. I’d ask one faculty chair to talk about an appreciation touch he/she had made as part of our development work at every monthly Chair meeting.  And…I could also thank THEM for doing it and talk about how this inspires giving. The same thing can happen at your Board meetings.  The point is one at a time.  ALL the chairs, ALL the board members – too much. Overwhelming.

9. Must be genuine

You can feel a fake a mile away. Enough said. However, you can BEGIN by faking it just a bit and sometimes you will become grateful…the act of doing it will bring out those feelings of sincerity.


When I do feasibility studies, I take the time with key donors to also explore how we as development professionals can better interact with them. SO many say, “Don’t say thank you with your hand out for more.” Ok…I get that, but digging deeper, even lines like, “Thank you, and we hope you will continue to be part of our XYZ family.”  Or, “Thank you, and we look forward to our continued relationship with you” feel like an ask to them.  While we might no way mean this as a soft ask, that’s how it is heard!  “Thank you” and shut up for your first response to a gift.

Ok! Thank you for the work you do, for letting me help and for the fun we have together! 

Invest in Joy!

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