Supporter engagement

Gratitude for nonprofits: Make it a weekly, not seasonal, practice

As Thanksgiving approaches, gratitude is making its annual appearance in headlines and maybe even your mailbox. We don’t mind jumping on this bandwagon because, this year especially, we all need the good feelings that gratitude inspires.

The season of Thanksgiving does bring out the best in us. But we know you appreciate your volunteers, donors, revenue partners, and other good-deed-doers throughout the year, not only in November. Yet, the nonprofit life has a tendency to get in the way of good intentions. How can you cultivate a habit of organizational gratitude throughout the year?

Let us remind you about the power of gratitude

It feels good to be thanked for something you’ve done and to know your efforts are appreciated. Just think, someone made time during their busy day to thank you and let you know that they don’t take you for granted.

For the person who’s being thanked, gratitude is motivating. They’re more likely to continue doing the rewarded behavior—and to share their good experience with others. We know this intuitively but research supports this gut feeling. “Recipients of gratitude experienced enhanced levels of life satisfaction and happiness.”

The person expressing gratitude also benefits. Gratitude allows you to focus in the moment on what you appreciate. Science says feeling gratitude is associated with better sleep, reduced anxiety and depression, increased energy, and a more positive outlook.

Gratitude is especially important right now

Everyone could sure use more gratitude in their lives—both receiving and giving thanks. These days, we find ourselves naturally and inevitably focusing too much on the negatives swirling around us. We’re facing new challenges and dealing with uncertainty. We can’t help comparing the present to better times in the past, and grieving for our old lives.

I say this with kindness: snap out of it! We can’t wallow in negatives. Grab onto gratitude—it will help you develop and sustain a positive attitude. Gratitude helps us cope with anxiety and uncertainty by focusing on what we value, what’s in our control. Expressing gratitude is energizing and psychologically healing. It builds hope and resilience—and that’s a fact.

How to express your gratitude to members, volunteers, revenue partners (sponsors) and donors

Like any good habit, gratitude takes practice, but it’s so much easier than squats and lunges.

A good thank you has three parts:

  1. Be specific about what you’re thanking your good-deed-doer for.
  2. Acknowledge the effort involved.
  3. Describe the impact their efforts made

That last one is important. Your volunteer knows what they did and the effort it took, but they may not realize the entire impact.

Now’s a good time to ramp up the intensity level of your gratitude. Acknowledge the stressful times we’re in, and how, despite that, this person gave their time and contributed their talent. When so many are focused on self-care, they cared about something or someone else. Talk about the impact their contribution made—this will inspire them to keep volunteering.

Two approaches to gratitude: scalable and/or personal

Good intentions only go so far. Here are some ideas for making a habit of organizational gratitude.

Make gratitude scalable

It may at first sound demeaning to talk about automating gratitude, but there is a time and place for doing just that, and there is a time and place for making it personal.

Consider all the occasions when a simple thank you or acknowledgement will go a long way. Can you think of a time when you volunteered, showed up, gave something, or contributed something and never received an acknowledgement from the organization? I bet we all can, but this should never ever happen.

Prevent these lapses in manners by putting your technology to work. Set up an automated process that triggers an email or staff notification whenever someone joins, renews, donates money, or contributes time and talent. If you use Pardot, you can take advantage of Engagement Studio to send these triggered, personalized emails.

Give gratitude the personal touch

You don’t need sophisticated technology to cultivate a gratitude habit. You need good intentions plus a doable plan.

Shoutouts. Schedule a daily thanks or kudos for one of your volunteers, donors, or revenue partners on your social media accounts and in your online community. Give them the spotlight on your website’s home page. Feature a few of them in each newsletter. Consider grouping them by like task and adding information about similar volunteering opportunities in case anyone else is interested.

Thankful Thursdays. On Thursdays, everyone starts their day by writing a thank you card—you can set up a Salesforce task reminder for this. Whom to thank? If you’re not pulling a list from your CRM/AMS, you can follow our practice here at Fíonta. Every week in Fíonta’s executive leadership meeting, we are asked, “Is there anyone we need to appreciate this week?” and that person gets a call or a Slack from our CEO thanking them for whatever they did that was above and beyond.

Share the gratitude list with everyone ahead of time so you can assign names to staff who actually know them. Otherwise, provide background information and sample scripts.

If your team is working remotely, mail a stock of cards and stamps to everyone, so they’re ready to go when they spot a kind act. Teach everyone how to record this task in your CRM/AMS.

Letter to employer. Imagine how someone will feel when you send their employer a letter about the impact the volunteer has made on the organization, community, and/or industry.

Letter of recommendation. If the volunteer is looking for a job, and many people are right now, they could sure use a letter of recommendation from your organization—either the CEO or board president. Don’t stop there, give them a LinkedIn endorsement or recommendation too.

Go beyond the standard thank you

A verbal or written thank you is sufficient, but some volunteers deserve more. You can use Salesforce behavior scoring to identify these MVPs.

Free or discounted products. Give them a promo code for free or heavily discounted webinar, conference, or online course registration, or for a publication or other product that would interest them.

Raffle. Hold a weekly or monthly raffle that randomly rewards a volunteer with a gift bag or something else of value.

Consult them. People love to be experts. We all want to be listened to and have our voice heard. Arrange a call or online meeting with a volunteer or donor to get their feedback and ask for their opinions.

Exclusive invitation. Invite them to an exclusive event. Options may be limited during the pandemic but you can still give them special access to online leadership training (valuable for any professional), VIP sessions at virtual conferences, or special virtual meetups for volunteers. If you’re inviting volunteers to a virtual meetup, consider sending out a party box beforehand.

Board invitation. Invite volunteers to a board meeting where they can contribute insight. This meeting gives your board the opportunity to get acquainted with volunteers, listen to their ideas, and acknowledge their contribution.

Start a gratitude habit yourself

If you can get in the habit of personally practicing gratitude, those thank you cards at work will get written more regularly.

Here’s one way to start. Consider sharing it with your team. For two weeks, at the end of each day, write down three things—tiny or significant—that you’re thankful for. Really think about them as you write them down. If there are activities that went well, describe your role in the outcome. You could also do this at the beginning of each day. Research published this year by the Center for Healthcare Safety & Quality says this will significantly improve your well-being because it builds resilience and promotes positive thinking.

A habit of gratitude helps us—as well as our volunteers, donors, and revenue partners—build the psychological resilience we need to cope with challenging times and spread positive messages to others in our community.

From Us to You

We couldn’t conclude a blog about gratitude without expressing ours—we are grateful every day for the opportunity to work with nonprofits and associations who are doing such important work. We see you, we salute you, we thank you.