Tips for perfecting your thank you

Recent days have brought a flurry of articles through my in-box that praise the power of a simple thank you. An appreciative word is good for business, we’re told. “Thank you” leads to reciprocal generosity. It’s a tough cookie who’s immune to the motivating effects of acknowledgement and thanks, researchers report.

The take-away for fundraisers? Forget the plaques, the chotskis, and the doo-dads. Instead, double down on thank you and prepare to be amazed. 

applause_text_anim_500_clr_6942NOTES ON SAYING THANK YOU

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Robert Eckert, former chairman and CEO of the Mattel Corporation, offers the following tips to would-be thankers:

  • Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work [and generous gifts].
  • Hand write thank-you notes when you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age.
  • Make your thank you prompt and specific.
  • Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance [and donor retention].

In a similar vein, executive consultant Mark Goulston advocates  a three-pronged “power thank you.” Here’s how it works.

  • Thank the person for something she did that was above the call of duty. (Per fundraising, an increased gift, an extra gift, a gift resulting from the individual’s referral.)
  • Acknowledge the extraordinary effort or personal sacrifice that the person made in doing the specific something. (Per fundraising, acknowledging that there are myriad good causes to which the individual could have given, but they chose your cause.)
  • Tell the person what their gift of time, talent, or treasure meant to you personally. (Per fundraising, let the donor know that their gift lifted your heart and encouraged your own generosity.)

In other words, forget the off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all, and organization-focused thank you letter sitting in your file. A power thank you is specific, donor focused, and heart-felt. All the more so when fundraising is understood as ministry.

While it’s necessary to bring in the gifts — that is, after all, why you were hired — the work of fundraisers of faith entails more. In the asking and in the thanking (and everything in between), the fundraiser’s purpose must include encouraging hearts toward God.

As the writer of Proverbs reminds us, “a word of encouragement does wonders.” If you want to be a channel through which God’s love and joy flow, a great place to start is with your thank you.

For more on this topic, see:

What part of thank you don’t you understand?

Reflections from a generous giver on asking, thanking, and growing donors’ hearts

Why a warm welcome to first-time donors matters

Forget the stuff, give ’em information


  1. Kevin King says:

    After receiving many small gifts from a donor I picked up the phone and wanted to personally thank her. No answer. After several attemps I finally left a voice mail message saying thank-you ( I never mention the amount on the messages). Weeks later the donor called back and said she saved that message on her answering machine and plays it back often. In all her years of donating to many agencies – I was the first to call.

    • Thank you, Kevin, for sharing this lovely illustration of how important and precious a “thank you” can be. I hope your good words will encourage others to pick up the phone today and call a donor or two.

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