Gratitude: It’s Critical for More Than Just Donor Relationships

Gratitude is an anchor that all of us at KDD Philanthropy feel is an imperative in our fundraising work. Affiliate Carol Spychalski does a beautiful job in outlining the importance of gratitude within organizations, our teams and with each other. I would be remiss in sharing Carol’s blog, if I didn’t share my immense gratitude to each of you who bring the fabric of the KDDP online community to life. We are incredibly grateful for your contributions, your support and your feedback. Thank you.

“Thank you. You matter.” This is the essence of the words I say, to those who support my organization, constantly. And if you, like me, are an advancement leader, you know why: because demonstrating gratitude is absolutely foundational to effective donor engagement.

We live and breathe gratitude for our donors in our work. Whether we plan events, process and acknowledge gifts, are major gift officers or any other role within our field, we regularly demonstrate our supporters’ impact and our appreciation. Thoughtful messages, milestone celebrations, customized gifts related to the cause, lunches with leadership … it’s nonstop!

We do this because it matters — and yet, somehow, we often forget that gratitude matters every bit as much for our teams and colleagues. We’re busy, or distracted, or mean well but just never get there. However, the internet is rife with articles about why leaders should regularly and actively thank employees for the value they bring: research has demonstrated that doing so increases productivity, retention, and morale.

As advancement leaders, then, one of the most important activities we can undertake is to apply the same intentionality we have for donors to our own teams:

  • We know that not every donor wants public recognition, or lunches with the dean. Every employee is different too. We should work to understand and honor their preferences.
  • We would never thank our impactful donors only through group messages. That’s why activities like telling the entire team at a staff meeting that they did great isn’t enough. Gratitude should also be individualized, shared one-on-one and specific.
  • Just like with supporters, milestones are an easy way to show an employee they matter. Whether it’s a birthday or work anniversary, something as simple as a note card can go a long way.
  • Gratitude is built into our language with donors: “Your gift makes a difference.” “Thank you for supporting us on Giving Tuesday!”

It should be as natural with team members: “Thanks for taking care of that.” “Great job on that presentation.” “That was a great meeting you ran.”

  • Impact is critical for our supporters. They want to know their gifts matter, and our field communicates that regularly.

Impact is important for team members too. “Your creativity in coming up with new engagement opportunities is really building momentum for this initiative.” “Your willingness to take on extra projects really makes it possible for a lot of things to move forward that wouldn’t otherwise.”

And let me be clear: We’re not going to be awesome at all of these. I haven’t celebrated an employee anniversary … ever. It’s just not how my brain works. (I’m sorry, team!) And I’m more comfortable sharing gratitude one-on-one rather than in front of a group. But if each of us is intentional in finding expressions of gratitude that do work for us, while honoring the styles of those we’re thanking, I’m positive that our teams and our cultures will be stronger for it.

For a deeper look at how to express appreciation to your gift officers, sign up to join us for KDD Philanthropy’s Leadership, Management, and Fundraising webinar series!

Five Things Gift Officers Need Right Now

Beginning this month, KDD Philanthropy is pleased to add another voice to our offerings. Our blog, “Five Things Gift Officers Need Right Now,” is the first from affiliate Carol Spychalski.

In her monthly writings, Carol will bring her perspective as an in-organization fundraiser and leader to the opportunities our field faces every day. She’s passionate about creating cultures that allow advancement professionals to do their best work, and believes strongly that an institution’s mission is best met when leadership, staff, and donors work together in mutual respect for the value of each role. (Learn more about Carol here.)

See what Carol identified as the top five needs for every gift officer today, and let us know what you would add to the list!

I’ve just returned to the office, and to seeing donors in person, for the first time in more than a year. And it’s a hard transition! Yes, I’ve spent 17 years doing this exact thing every day without questioning it. Yes, I love my organization, my role, and the people I work with. But still: it’s stressful!

Maybe you feel stress or out of sorts right now too. So many people I speak with are for wildly varying reasons. While some of us have long-since-returned to the office, some of us aren’t returning, and some have never left, recognizing this moment is critical for all of us as employees and as managers.

This moment is critical for fundraising teams for numerous reasons: A greater emphasis on portfolio diversification requires rethinking prospect identification and qualification. Greater attention on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion have raised the bar for employers to truly embrace these values. Those of us whose organizations experienced a “COVID boom” in giving are grappling with how to maintain momentum as we move past the urgency created by crisis — and those who didn’t must find a way to build back. And that’s just the beginning of what fundraisers are experiencing right now.

That’s why this is a critical time to re-invest in ensuring every gift officer has what they need to stay connected, motivated, and effective in five key ways.

1. Re-connection to the cause: If you work at a university, consider sitting in on a class. If you work at an animal welfare organization, walk the halls and visit with the animals. Or do whatever works for you — but what’s most important is that in the rush to get work done, your work is grounded in passion for the mission.

2. A clear vision in a post-COVID-crisis world: Institutions whose work have been directly or tangentially COVID-related will need to prepare for the inevitable waning of interest as COVID moves from peak crisis. Those whose work has not been impacted by COVID still face a public profoundly changed, and will need to be able to articulate their value in this new world, with the needs it exposed.

3. Clear giving opportunities that align with impact: The shared crises over the past year+ (COVID, social and racial injustice, etc.) created a sense of urgency, and giving was a clear way to help. Donors who felt a more-concrete-than-ever sense of “doing something” do not want to go backwards. The better you demonstrate the impact they can have through a gift of any amount, the better positioned you are to capture prospects’ passion and move them to action.

4. Engagement opportunities: Just like clear giving opportunities, donors are looking for ways to get involved in the communities around them. This nation’s experiences have inspired in many a greater sense of collective action and responsibility. Make sure you can provide an avenue for those desires.

5. Grace: It’s critical to remember that we are not “back to normal” — and that “normal” was still deeply flawed for many. The last few years have exposed deep fault lines across our society. Many lost family members and weren’t able to properly say goodbye due to COVID. Schools may be open, just to close again for quarantines. Whatever the details, real trauma was experienced. If you’re a manager, and you’re not making space for your team to be distracted sometimes, to struggle with coming back to the office or returning to in-person donor visits, to expect their workplace to demonstrate a greater commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (in practice, not principle), etc. — you’re missing the boat. And manager or not, each of us should be making space for ourselves. We can be our harshest critics, and we must give ourselves the grace we would ask of others.

For a deeper look at how to set gift officers up for success in today’s climate, sign up to join us for KDD Philanthropy’s Leadership, Management, and Fundraising webinar series!

What are you doing to prepare for a return to the office, or what did you do if you’ve already returned? Share your tips in the comments!