Thanking vs. Appreciating

Mechanized thank you’s.

I’ve been thinking that, perhaps, too many organizations have turned thanking into an automated obligation. They realize it’s something they’re supposed to do. So, they do it as cost-efficiently as possible.

As a result, for many, their thank you’s have become one dimensional and aloof.

That led me to wonder… should we really be thanking donors after all?

What if they don’t want to be thanked?

What if we’ve got this thanking business all wrong?

What if what they really want is simply to be appreciated? Not just thanked.

If that’s the case (and I believe it is), then why are we running in circles trying to thank donors in the way we currently do?

And, if showing appreciation is truly the name of the game, how can we change the way we engage with donors after they’ve donated or volunteered so they get what they want and deserve?… APPRECIATION!

I’ll ponder this some more and try to come up with some tactical ideas.

In the meantime, I’m curious… how do you thank donors and convey appreciation?


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4 years ago

I would agree that thank you letters have become mechanical. While I send out a thank letter for each gift on behalf of my organization, I make a point to hand write some short conveyance of appreciation and thanks on each letter. I try to make it specific to the person making the gift. Is it time consuming? YES – but worth the effort! I have had supporters tell me they appreciate the fact that I took time to hand write a personal note on the letter.

Joel Weiss
4 years ago

In addition to the traditional thank you letter, that I still believe most donors expect and want, and which need to be VERY personal ( with hand written post scripts/personal thank you), appreciation can be expressed in a variety of ways. Having the beneficiaries of our programs and services supported by our donors, send their personal thank you is always well received. At the nursing home I recently worked in, we had residents design cards and art work that were used as gifts and acknowledgment of the support of donors. Sometimes framed, sometimes crafted into something that might be displayed in another way, again personalized. We have also produced thank you videos from the beneficiaries of our programs and services. The videos were sent to the donor and are posted on our website. Over the years I have had our staff and volunteer leadership design and produce program and service appropriate “gifts” ( medals with inscriptions, to be sent to donors with personal notes, functional gifts for use at home or office like, personalized Post It Notes, with their name imprinted on it along with our organization’s name, etc.). We have created giving societies with premiums attached to them (discounts at gift shops; free admission to certain events sponsored by our organization, etc.). I have worked with my teams in the past to establish donor walls, paver/brick programs, tangible and virtual ( on our website) as ways of . showing appreciation.

In my years in the not for profit community I found and still do find, that donors prefer a “proper”, personalized and sincerely written thank you letter, over a gift or other tangible token of appreciation. As I often say to my colleagues and team members, “it isn’t what you say, but how you say it,” that really matters. And as with all things, sometimes the answer to a question like this is “it depends.” Depends on the donor, her/his needs and expectations, resources available to properly thank and show appreciation, etc.

Larry Foster
4 years ago

We, our College, sends out the standard typed thank you tax receipt with a hand written P.S. note inscribed after the signature. Separately the Annual Giving Officer and myself, Major Gifts Officer, hand write personalized notes to each of our donors. Each of donor is different; with individual cares and concerns, programs and athletic teams to support. Every donor receives a letter telling them how amazing they are and how their support makes a difference. My notes are both, thanking them for their generosity and philanthropy then demonstrating how much their gift is appreciated by letting them know what their gift accomplished. We all want to be thanked for providing a gift, even if it is a one-on-one personal thank you to a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. More importantly is informing the donor how much impact their gift made. Depending on the gift, the appreciation may be included in the thank you letter or sent as a second letter after the purpose or event has transpired. In the end, a hand written note is very much appreciated.

Claire Axelrad
4 years ago

A ‘thank you note’ is ONE form of appreciation. It’s the bare minimum, and a starting point for showing someone (1) you received their gift, (2) you appreciated their gift, and (3) you’ll put it to work/use it exactly as you know they intended. The more prompt and personal and powerfully demonstrative of impact, the better. Less is not more in the gratitude business however, so once you’ve sent an initial thank you it’s imperative you show continued appreciation throughout the year. At least if you want to continue your relationship/connection/engagement with this donor. It’s no different than in your personal life. Saying a one-time ‘thanks for taking me for a b’day dinner last night,’ and then failing to appreciate this person until a full year later when you ask if they’d like to take you out for your birthday dinner again, is not going to build a strong bond. You’ll get an annual transaction at best. More likely, they’ll turn you down the second time. 😉

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