The Simple Art of Thank You

If somebody comes to your house on your birthday and gives you a gift, what do you say? Do you say “thank you” or do you ignore the person and not utter a word?

Unless you’re an automaton, you smile and say “thank you.”

It’s that simple, right?

How is it that so many nonprofit professionals miss this basic rule of civility? When someone gives you a gift, you say thank you.

This comes to mind because I came into the office this Saturday morning to clean up a bit and do some filing. Digging through the piles on my desk, I uncovered two pieces of paper that elucidate this issue.

The first was a table-top tent card (now smooshed under the weight of some books) from an event I attended in April. It was “dine out” event for HIV/AIDS, part of a national series of such events.

A friend invited a group of us to a participating restaurant (and unexpectedly paid for the entire meal). The benefitting organization had smartly placed gift envelopes and pens on the table, and the development director even came to our table to say hello.

Since we didn’t have to pay for our meal, my husband and I gave $100 to the organization. We were happy to do it.

The other piece of paper was a note card from the Miami City Ballet, one of the top 10 ballet companies in the world. The company is a client, and because I like to support my clients (and love the artistry of Miami City Ballet), we purchased two subscriptions for the upcoming season.

These two pieces of paper were a stark reminder of how so many nonprofits get things so wrong.

For my $100 gift to the HIV/AIDS organization, I received nothing by way of a thank you. Not an email, not a note, not a call. Nothing.

IMG_3571Conversely, the card from the ballet was personalized and hand-signed, and thanked us for our subscription. It wasn’t a gift, so they had no obligation to send any sort of acknowledgment.

You can guess which organization will never receive anything from me again.

There are so many reasons to acknowledge all donors — no matter the size of their gift. Not the least of these reasons is pragmatic: it costs far less to renew a donor than it does to acquire one. And of course, there are IRS obligations to consider.

So why does this happen?

Well, I think a lot of people in this profession see donors as walking ATM machines. We get so caught up in the getting of dollars, we don’t think about the people actually giving the dollars.

A number of years ago while working for a college, we sent a year-end solicitation to alumni. Shortly thereafter, we received a return envelope. In it was a $10 bill, with a Posts-It note saying, “I am unemployed right now and this is all I am able to give.”

My gift processing coordinator, wonderful soul that she is, flagged this for me. I took the money and the note walked down to the college president’s office. As I expected, he took one look at it and said, “Please give me a blank note card and the gentleman’s address.” (Of course, I had the card and the addressed and stamped envelope with me). Right then and there, the president wrote a note. It was sent the very day we got the gift.

So what’s my point? We have to stop thinking of the people who give as donors. Giving is very personal. We have to think of the people who give as friends.

And what do we say when a friend gives us a gift?

Glenn is a fundraising strategist who loves working with small- to mid-size organizations that want to innovate and grow. Check out his website at, and to find out how he can help you, email him at You can follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. He’s also the author of the forthcoming House Party: How to Turn a Home Into a Powerful Fundraising Tool.

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