It is always interesting to me how some managers approach the timing of a “thank you” when it comes to giving. It’s as if any kind of delay is acceptable. Let’s make this really personal and see how it feels to you.
You come into my office and give me a copy of a book you knew I really wanted. Yep. You went out and bought it, walked in and handed it to me. And when I received that book from your generous and gracious hands, I looked up from my computer and nodded then went back to the document I was working on.
How would you feel? I can imagine the nasty labels you would attach to me and my behavior.
Or, let’s say, you knew that I had just lost my job, and at coffee one morning I shared with you that I was short $500 to pay my mortgage this month. So you decided to give me the money. And you mailed me a check for $500 which I received and banked. But you didn’t hear from me for three weeks.
How would you feel? I think you might wonder if you should have given me the money. Or at least you might judge that I was a little short on thankfulness.
Well, these life-like situations bring the whole thanking activity closer to where we live. It gets personal very quickly. We can all agree that it is important not only to express thankfulness when people do things for us, but it is also important to express our thanks soon after we were given the gift. It’s like the value of our thanks diminishes the longer we wait. Or maybe the sincerity of the thanks seems to diminish. Either way, it’s not good. The giver is definitely affected by what appears to be an unthankful heart.
This whole timing thing came into sharp focus when I became aware of a giving situation that unfolded just a week ago. Here are the details:

  • A manager emails the MGO that “today, a donor who last year gave $1,000 just gave a generous $20,000!” The manager is very excited about this gift and can’t wait to tell her MGO.
  • The MGO writes back and wonders who the donor is and suggests that the donor should immediately be thanked, and a plan to steward the donor should be developed. The MGO also offers to call the donor up and thank her.
  • The manager writes back: “well, it will take some time for various departments to process the gift, and I will be out for 15 days, so thanking the donor will have to wait a bit until I come back.”

What is wrong with this story? It’s a manager who is more focused on the organization and its processes (and her personal needs) than she is on the donor. It’s pretty sad when a donor gives $20,000 and is made to wait for her thanks until the manager can “get around to it.”
Is this going on in your organization? Are your donors being abused by a system that grinds at its own pace with no regard for donors and their feelings? If so, you must try to stop it.
While I am on the subject of thanking donors, I want to share with you Jeff’s and my philosophy of thanking. It is essentially summed up in the phrase you can never thank a donor fast enough (timing) or enough (frequency).
This may sound basic, and it is. But we keep reading the writings of so-called fundraising gurus and strategists that suggest the opposite.
One said that for those donors who give monthly, you should consider thanking them every quarter, because it “costs too much” to thank them monthly. Another said you should limit your thanks to email instead of an actual letter, because the letter is so labor-intensive and “it will take time and cost a lot.”
Are you getting the sense that what matters to these people is what the organization will have to go through (or pay) in order to thank the donor, rather than what the donor deserves or wants? I am. And it is this kind of thinking that causes shabby donor treatment, which leads to high donor attrition.
To return to the main point: would you like to be thanked the way your organization thanks donors? If not, it’s time to re-tool attitudes and systems to match a version of the old adage: “thank others as you would like to be thanked.”