In the last posting we considered what gratitude can do for us — that is the experience of gratitude when we are on the receiving end of a gift. But there is a different experience of gratitude that occurs when we are on the giving end. To put it another way, in the first case it is our own gratitude we experience but in the second case it is another’s.
What is it like to be thanked for a gift we have given? I’d say it’s . . . gratifying. It feels good to be thanked, to be acknowledged, to be recognized for what we have done. We don’t always give a gift with the expectation of being thanked (for example, anonymous gifts). But in the majority of cases there is a normal and entirely legitimate expectation that the recipient of our gift will say “thank you”. When thanks are not expressed, there is something incomplete about the experience of giving.
As children we are taught to say “please” and “thank you”. My mother tried valiantly to train me to sit down immediately after Christmas and my birthday and write thank-you notes to my distant aunts and uncles who had sent me a gift. It was simply good manners, she would say (even if I didn’t care much for the gift).
Cygnus Applied Research Inc., founded by an Ontario woman named Penelope Burk, has developed a philosophy it calls Donor-Centered Fundraising®. In the company’s landmark study on donor motivation, they found that “87% of Cygnus’ study respondents said they would give again the next time they were asked, 64% would make a larger gift, and 74% would continue to give indefinitely, if they received the following every time they made a gift:
- prompt, meaningful acknowledgment of their gifts
- reassurance that their gifts will be directed as donors intend
- meaningful results on their gifts at work, before they are asked for another contribution”
“This basic gesture automatically transforms fundraising from transactional, which values only the narrow activity of asking for money, to relational which expresses how much you appreciate your donors and demonstrates your willingness to be accountable to them for the contributions they have made.”
How often do we thank people in the church for their gifts of money, or service, or even their presence?
In my experience, it is a minority of congregations that even include a thank-you letter with the annual donation receipt handed out or mailed to donors each February. We should be looking for opportunities to thank people, beyond this bare minimum, for what they give . How many different ways could we find to express our gratitude to them if we started looking?
There are two barriers that might account for our reluctance to thank church members for their giving.
One is possibly a deep-seated attitude, resulting from years of exposure to the stewardship paradigm, that when people give they are just doing their job as stewards. Why should we thank people for doing what they have an obligation to do?
The other is a conundrum about who should do the thanking. It can feel awkward to thank each other, particularly in a small congregation.
In my view thanking donors is one of the responsibilities of the formal leadership — and that means Council chair and pastor(s). Why not have both of them sign letters, or jointly make public expressions of appreciation?
I know an Anglican priest, rector of a fairly large parish, who hand-writes a personal note on every thank-you letter that accompanies the annual donation receipt. The larger the donation, the longer the note (of course, he knows who gives how much). It takes time, yes, but he considers it a crucial part of his job.
Is there someone at your church who has made thanking people an important part of their job?