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  • Debra A. Gill

The Thriving Spirit of Gratitude

Leading with our thankful hearts.


Whether you’ve been in philanthropy for a year, a decade, or an entire career as I have, one constant is the unyielding spirit of gratitude. Gratitude from staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, and importantly from donors who are grateful for the opportunity to make an impact with their charitable giving.


While gratefulness is a year-round priority, November is the month most not-for-profit organizations double down on expressing their appreciation, and appropriately so. There are so many creative and thoughtful ways to say thank you. I’ve always believed that the more customized the communication is, the better.


Handwritten notes are at risk of becoming obsolete in our digital age and yet they are among the most meaningful methods of conveying appreciativeness. Whether it’s after receipt of a contribution or months later with a “just thinking of the impact your gift made” note, taking the time to hand write a thoughtful card is worth every minute. Even a note written at the bottom of a form letter elevates the level of personalization.


Calling donors upon receipt of a gift, regardless of the size, is a wonderful chance to say thanks and often opens the door to a deeper conversation about what inspired the donation. Ideally the call will result in plans for an in-person conversation, tour, or other engaging move. Phone calls shouldn’t be limited to gift acknowledgement, however. There are countless reasons throughout the year to call donors (vastly more effective than emails and texts) and bring them up to speed on progress, share insider news, or tell a story.


Increasingly board members are seeking clarity on their roles, wanting to maximize the results of their efforts. While most will admit that they lack comfort directly asking for gifts, a simple phone call campaign around the holidays can bolster their confidence while nurturing essential relationships. Ideally, well coached board members can conduct these calls and create opportunities for future engagement within their comfort zone.


Organizations that have specific written stewardship strategies are often ahead of the game when it comes to consistent, scalable, methods of conveying appreciation. This tool defines the steps to be taken with each donor based on the characteristics of their gift. Much like a sizing chart, specific tactics that are unique to the organization are defined for various giving levels. These often start with the standard thank you letter and outline incrementally more meaningful touches as gift levels increase, including direct interaction with leaders, exclusive invitations, and tailored experiences. While tokens and trinkets are still appropriate in some instances, most donors prefer that organizations put their funds toward the mission.


Birthday and special occasion cards are well received by donors along with acknowledgment of personal accomplishments or family announcements. In my former role as a chief development officer, we sent laminated newspaper clippings to donors and prospects with our business cards on the back – and a hand written note of course. I can’t tell you how many people kept those clippings and commented years later about this thoughtful gesture.


One rule of thumb is to say thank you in seven different ways before our next solicitation. Not seven thank you notes but seven individualized touches that are creative, distinctive, and most of all, memorable. What a great way to spend some time, thinking of ways to be more grateful.


When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect towards others … Dalai Lama

Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their missions.

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