To Give or Not to Give

We have officially entered the season of thanksgiving. In American culture, we show gratitude through gifts. We bring flowers to the hostess of the dinner party. We give goodie bags to 6-year-olds at the birthday party. We hand out favors at weddings, baby showers, and fundraising events.

So, it is no wonder that nonprofits struggle with appropriate ways to thank their most loyal donors and volunteers at this time of year.  

Let’s start with the obvious. YES, you should say a special thank you to those who have invested their time, talents, and resources in unusual ways in your organization. How to do that may not be so obvious. Is it appropriate to buy and give gifts to donors and volunteers?  

Here are seven considerations:

  1. Gratitude must match your culture. If you are an organization where board members pay for their own lunches at meetings, you probably should not give each board member a $100 gift card to the best steakhouse in town—even if the cards are donated.  
  2. The best gifts are mission-focused. If your organization runs a thrift shop, consider a gift from your inventory that can be customized for your lead volunteer or donor.
  3. A direct thank you from those who benefit from your mission often means more than any gift. One of the most meaningful gifts a multi-million-dollar donor received from her local YMCA was a construction paper booklet tied with ribbon. Inside were 21 individual pages of first graders completing the sentence “I love the Y because . . .” and drawing a picture to illustrate.  
  4. Sometimes it is not what you say, but who hears it. Consider thanking a volunteer at his workplace or in front of her congregation or when their children are home for the holidays. Or put a thank you sign in the yard, a balloon on the mailbox, or decorate his office or parking space with a thank you note.
  5. Sometimes it is what you say. Take time to write a very personal thank you that lets your donor know that this message is just for them and is not a form letter. Explain how you see your volunteer living your organizational values through her gifts of time. Or ask a fellow volunteer, a program staff member, or a board member to write a personal note of gratitude. Only ask them to write 1 or 2 to ensure the messages are very personalized.
  6. Celebrate your volunteer or donor with a gift to another nonprofit he loves. It is okay to take the budget you have for gifts and simply make a donation to your volunteer’s alma mater, synagogue, or another organization that is meaningful to him. It is not the amount that is important, but the thought.
  7. A picture can say it all. Consider a thank you photograph that is unique to her—maybe it is the group of children she tutors every Wednesday afternoon or the usual Thursday crowd at the soup kitchen. Or consider a custom video thank you. With a camera—still and video—in every pocket, personalized media is simple. Send it directly to your donor or post to social media. You know what will be most meaningful to her.

Clearly there are many ways to show gratitude. Choose the one that best matches your mission and core values. And, while we are at it . . . thank YOU for the many ways you strengthen our community through your investment in our nonprofit sector. Please know how much the Armstrong McGuire team appreciates the many ways you #DoGreatThings. Thank you!

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