The Power of Thanks and Gratitude

Expressing our thanks for donors and supporters goes beyond a tax acknowledgement. Learn more about the science and some techniques to help you say thanks.

Thank you for taking a moment to read this story.

In previous roles I’ve always sent a thank you email the week of Thanksgiving. Not necessarily mentioning Thanksgiving but it’s a good reminder that we should pause and say thank you. Why? It’s good manners of course… and its effective.

This type of blog post isn’t anything new, you can search ‘donor thank you research’ and find many results. But, I hope to offer a few innovative ideas around the concept of gratitude and how to thank your Supporters. Some are tested and some are just ideas. How you choose to thank Supporters isup to you, but should you? Let’s see.

The Data

Here are a couple of statistics to open our conversation from Guidestar.

  • Chances of an existing donor giving again – 60 percent to 70 percent
  • Chances of a lapsed donor giving – 20 percent to 40 percent
  • Chances of a prospect giving – < 2 percent

More than 60 percent of all nonprofits don’t thank donors properly – whether slow, impersonal or well, not at all. Learn more from Roger Craver here.

Research shows that a personal thank you received within 48 hours increases the likelihood of first-time donors giving again.

So… If I lose existing donors, I work a LOT harder getting new donors. But, If I keep my current donors happy they will give again. And, if I thank them personally and promptly – new or old – they are more likely to give again?

We know we should say thank you because it’s polite. So many times on the digital side of fundraising, I’ve been asked to set and forget the standard acknowledgement. Despite my offers to call people who set up a peer-to-peer campaign or made a unique contribution. No. That is Development’s job. So the organization’s digital donors are left with a generic ‘thanks and here’s your tax receipt’ and we have no idea what touch points they receive after that. Often in organizations, any gift under $250 (the US IRS requirement for a physical letter to be sent) get nothing after that impersonal gift acknowledgement – the same one every year. Maybe a post-card.

It’s ok if you fall into this category. I have some ideas you can implement on the digital side to make things more personal further on down. For now though we need to explore one more concept, gratitude.

Gratitude and the Power of Thanks

We know thanking is polite and should be done as a matter of protocol but there is actual science behind results of giving thanks. The power of gratititude is a popular concept these days. I’ve gifted more than one ‘Gratitude Journal’ to friends or family. I have my own gratitude app that reminds me to share a positive thought each day. Does it make me feel good? Yes. Especially to go back and re-read those thoughts. I’m a regular scientific case study.

There’s quite a bit of research out there on the power of gratitude but I found the content – much of it science driven – of The Greater Good Science Center at University of California Berkley’s, particularly helpful.

This video on the research of Robert Emmons is very interesting and powerful.

The basics are that Donors and Supporters receiving gratitude are more likely to engage with your cause in the future. Alternately, expressing gratitude has a positive impact on your organization. Interacting with a donor to express gratitude will improve the morale of staff – which is a gift that will keep giving as well.

Ideas for Expressing Gratitude

Acknowledgement Email

I know earlier I mentioned this being very generic but there are things you can do to dress up your donation acknowledgements.

  • Update your content quarterly to keep it fresh. If donors notice they got the exact same ‘thank you’ as they got a year ago it shows how much you care about thanking them.
  • Focus on the donor and the impact they have given to your cause. Use ‘you’ content and talk less about your cause. Tell them how their gift will help your work.
  • Make it personal. Use the personalization tools in your eCRM to add name content, transaction detail and more. By giving some thoughtful planning to personalizing your emails you can make it feel less like a tax acknowledgement and more like a genuine thank you.
Marketing Automation

Engaging Networks allows you to set up detailed action-based marketing automations. These emails can go out over the course of weeks or even months after a donation is made. Imaging this sequence happening automatically – or get more creative!

  1. A donor makes a gift of $50 – They are added to a marketing automation based on that gift and they receive their tax acknowledgement immediately.
  2. 36 hours later they receive a personal thank you email from the CEO.
  3. 2 weeks later they receive a thank you from a scientist in the field whose work was assisted by their gift.
  4. 3 weeks after that they get another thanks perhaps with a suggestion to become a recurring donor.

Create several gratitude journeys and test them!

Pick up the phone

I know this is hard but it works. This is the fastest way to cut through the clutter of a digital age – to go retro. Perhaps target your donors that are the best prospects to move up to Individual Giving and call them when you see a gift come through. In Engaging Networks, you can set staff notifications to come through based on very specific donation criteria.

Use Video

Video storytelling can be powerful and tied with a thank you explicitly stated in the video – it can change a donor’s perspective. Now you can’t personalize video content so you have to offer some context but you can build a beautiful video with general thanks. This can be a verbal thanks from your CEO worked in with field video and impact graphics – if you have the resources. Or, it can be as simple as beautiful videos, music and text overlays. This National Wildlife Federation Thank You Video (2015) is a good example. I’m a sucker for environmental causes but it made me want to give right now (you had me at snowy owl).

Make it a Team Effort

Sometimes its good to get the team together to give thanks – literally. Engaging Networks Accredited Partner, Raise the Roots, worked with Rethink Breast Cancer in 2018 to run an innovative Giving Tuesday Campaign. The team worked together to run a #GivingTuesday Give-a-thon. On that day, they put a united emphasis on their ‘Care Packages’ and sent Instastories, email and more pointing to custom donation forms. The team gathered together and worked tirelessly throughout the campaign to activley thank donors on social media as gifts came in. You can see the presentation from ENCC Toronto 2019 here. And keep an eye on Rethink Breast Cancer to see what they come up with this year!

Rethink Breast Cancer Team on Giving Tuesday 2018
New and Innovative

Just a thought on innovative ways to build a movement of gratitude. After thinking about the Rethink Breast Cancer campaign and my gratitude app, how beautiful would it be to send your thank you and encourage others to share (in a common place) what they are grateful for around your cause. Say you’re Oceana, you thank your donors in a well crafted email on a special day – before Thanksgiving or after the holidays. In that email you direct them to a landing page where they can complete a form to share what they are grateful for in the ocean. Those results are shared anonomously on a scrolling graphic via API or posted to social media to build a movement. Gratitude becomes gratitude.

I hope you find a good way to thank your Supporters and Donors – both are equally important. Thanking prospects for any support they give will only further build their affinity for your cause.

Again, I’m thankful that you read this post. And, I’m thankful for all you do to make our world a better place.

Chloe Green is a copywriter and digital campaigner with almost a decade of experience in the charity and political sectors. She’s delivered campaigns, copy and consultancy for a raft of good eggs including Anthony Nolan, the National Union of Students, St Mungo’s, and Hillary for America. She was Social Media Manager at the Labour Party between 2016–2019 and now she’s Head of Creative with the lovely team at Forward Action. She leads on fundraising emails, UX copy, and all creative facilitation. She’s an expert in email list growth, digital strategy, organic and paid-for social media, and digital mobilisation.

Rachel founded the specialist charity web agency, Rechord, in 1999. Between 1999 and 2012 they created hundreds of different web applications for organisations in the UK and internationally.
In 2013 she became the 'Donor Whisperer' and focused on helping small to medium-sized non-profits to reach new donors and activists and from there increase their income. She uses a unique process that combines the benefits of consultancy with capacity building.
Her clients include Traidcraft Exchange, the Overseas Development Institute, Jubilee Debt Coalition, the Leprosy Mission of England and Wales, Tax Justice UK, The Canary, Humanity and Inclusion, the Anti-Tribalism Movement, BRACE, New Family Social, Arseh Sevom - and that's just the last year.
She also feels weird writing about herself in the third person.

Ellen is Campaigns Manager overseeing national and local campaigning at the MS Society. She has worked at the MS Society for 2 and a half years, with roles at Scope and Guide Dogs prior to this.

Hannah is Senior Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, working on their local campaigning programme, Local Action for MS and also on social care and carers. She’s worked at the MS Society for a year and a half, and was previously at the MND Association and National Voices.

Executive Director of C6 Digital, London based agency

Emily has worked at Guide Dogs for the Blind Association since 2019, working on a range of campaign areas to empower people with vision impairments to live the life they choose. Prior to this, Emily working in parliament and severed as a borough councillor.

Brani Milosevic ia a digital consultant and coach at
She helps individuals, teams and organisations to learn how to seize the opportunities offered by digital and navigate its challenges.
Brani set up the Digital Leadership Forum, is an NCVO trainer, a CharityComms mentor and a qualified executive coach.

Rhiannan Sullivan is the Vice President of strategy and partnerships of social action network, Over the past 10+ years, she has worked with hundreds of UK and EU charities helping them grow and develop their digital fundraising programmes. Prior to working for Care2, Rhiannan worked at then political campaigning agency Blue State Digital, a global leading digital strategy agency who has helped many organisations build and engage online communities, clients included political and advocacy campaigns, non-­‐profit organisations, cultural institutions and global consumer brands.

Calum manages social, email and some digital campaigns at CPRE, and is CPRE’s expert Engaging Networks user, working on development and helping other teams make the most of the platform. Happiest working on campaigns for change or rambling around in the countryside.

Brandon Fuller is Engaging Networks alumni and owner of Raise the Roots, a digital agency that has supported over two dozen organizations on Engaging Networks - helping them to maximize their digital engagement using this powerful platform. He previously managed global online advocacy campaigns for the Pew Charitable Trusts and has worked in the nonprofit community for nearly two decades.

I joined the Woodland Trust in 2018 and now lead on policy and engagement campaigns working to improve protection, restoration and high quality creation of woods and trees. Prior to campaigning for trees, I worked in Peterborough, tackling fuel poverty in the community. I care deeply about the climate and nature crises and the many, intersectional impacts and solutions. Endlessly inspired and energised by the dedication and passion of our supporters and the public who take action time and time again.

Hannah Mudge is Digital Innovation Manager at The Leprosy Mission England and Wales and has had the privilege of seeing the 147-year-old international development charity evolve over the last decade, from sending out its first online fundraising appeal to achieving record levels of income despite the challenges faced since the start of the pandemic. She is based in Peterborough and enjoys running, cooking and reading in her limited spare time when not parenting two lively boys. During 2020 she added ‘homeschooling’ to her skillset although what Ofsted rating she would achieve is probably best left to the imagination.

I am a campaigner in the Woods Under Threat team at the Woodland Trust. My role is to help protect ancient woods and trees from damaging developments across the UK. Ancient woods and trees are irreplaceable, so we work hard to stop any further loss of these precious habitats and ensure they are protected for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Matt Strong is the Campaigns and Engagement Officer for the Ramblers.

He has recently run campaigns on increasing the number of new green walking routes in some of our biggest cities, including London and Manchester. He has also been leading on the Ramblers’ campaigns work around the Environment Bill. Matt has a background in politics after spending a decade as an elected councillor on Manchester City Council and having previously worked for two Members of Parliament and a political party.

Claire Warner is a former charity Fundraising Director & Senior Leader, turned Culture & Wellbeing consultant.

It was in trying to throw herself back into her beloved Fundraising Director role after 12 months' treatment for aggressive breast cancer, that Claire realised the focus & memory loss and heart condition side effects she'd been left with after her treatment, plus the life-changing experience of the illness itself, meant (guttingly!) a 300% commitment, 50+hours a week Fundraising Director role was no longer an option.

On looking into what others do in this situation, Claire discovered the field of workplace wellbeing, the research work of Prof Cary Cooper, the Gallup Organisation and Simon Sinek, and hasn't looked back since.

In 2018, Claire created her own piece of research into the wellbeing of fundraisers and when it concluded in 2019, over 700 fundraisers had taken part. The results of the research were used to further inform and refine the work Claire does with organisations and individuals in the charity sector.

In 2020 Claire won the Best Digital Leader Award at the Social CEO Awards and in 2021 curated the first Charity Wellbeing Summit.

Today, Claire works on organisational culture and wellbeing projects with charities and offers coaching and mentoring programmes to sector professionals.

Becky has spent the last decade building people power and people-powered movements to hold the most powerful to account for a fairer, more just, and cleaner future.
She helped build 38 Degrees UK into a movement of over 1 million citizens and led many of the biggest campaigns. As part of OPEN’s senior team, she helped build and sustain a network across 19 different countries, by supporting, coaching, and building fast-growing digitally facilitated organisations.

She's currently Senior Strategist at The Sunrise Project leading the Global Banks Program and building grassroots activism on finance around the world. She’s on the board of Skiftet, Sweden’s biggest online campaign community and Left Foot Forward in the UK.

Andrew Taylor-Dawson is Development Manager at Liberty, where he leads on member and support engagement. He has been in fundraising for around 13 years. In this time he has worked in the human rights, homelessness and social justice sectors as well as having been a freelance consultant.

He has held board positions with Global Justice Now and the adoption support organisation We Are family.

Rebecca is a Digital Project Manager, who recently led the redesign and redevelopment of The Children's Society's website.

Rebecca worked closely with senior stakeholders, subject matter experts, and digital agencies to create a new platform that demonstrates the organisation's refreshed vision, mission and brand. There has already been astounding results in the 6-months since launch.

I have worked as a web developer for about 20 years and for Which? since 2015, primarily on their WordPress sites. This has involved integration with a variety of different APIs, most recently the Engaging Networks API, along with the creation of APIs to allow sites to talk to one another.

Glyn Thomas is a digital strategist and web developer. He built his first website in 1997 and has been working in digital communications since 2002.

For the past 12 years, Glyn has almost exclusively worked with charities and non-profit organisations. Almost all the projects he works on are focused around campaigning, fundraising or supporter recruitment, and often a mixture of all three.

Now based in Berlin, Glyn works with organisations in the UK, Europe and North America.

Rhian is the Strategic Programme Manager for Physical Activity at Versus Arthritis. Alongside Sport England under the Richmond Group ‘Movement for All’ programme, Rhian is co-developing a long-term, sustainable programme to support those living with Musculoskeletal conditions to increase their physical activity levels and improve their quality of life. Rhian has over 15 years’ experience of supporting people with long term health conditions to become more active. She is passionate about prevention, working in partnership and using an effective knowledge base to create impactful change at scale.

Having gotten his start organizing with anti-war veterans and working as Sala Labs, Sales Engineer, and Partner Manager, Bryan now brings his expertise to non-profit and mission-driven clients as 4Site Studios Director of Digital Strategy. Specializing in challenging and complex projects, Bryan works with each client to craft holistic approaches tailored to goals, budget, and outcomes.

Mary Margaret Callahan is the Chief Mission Officer for Pet Partners, where she is responsible for leading mission delivery including the therapy animal program and grassroots advocacy program. She joined Pet Partners in 2013 and has worked to establish the organization as both an influencer and a resource within the animal-assisted intervention (AAI) and human-animal bond (HAB) community. In 2018 she was named one of PetAge Magazine’s Women of Influence. Mary Margaret lives on a small farm outside Seattle with her husband, daughter and menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, chickens, goats and miniature donkeys.

Joe Derry Hall is a freelancer working on creative digital and communications. His interests include tech innovation, upending power and reimagining different futures. Joe has been the winner of a Mozilla Creative Media Award and the joint winner of a BAFTA digital award. He was previously in-house in campaigning and communications roles at Amnesty International, the Climate Coalition, the Ecocide campaign, Save the Children, Scope and others. He is one of the initiators of Right Way Up, an experiment to create a radical, practical new vision for the social change sector.

Anna Chowcat is the Digital Manager at Refuge and oversees the charity’s digital function and output. Since joining Refuge, Anna has been instrumental in introducing a number of digital engagement programmes including digital campaigns, bespoke email supporter journeys and user friendly donate/campaign pages. Before joining Refuge, she has worked in digital engagement and campaign roles at The Labour Party and Leonard Cheshire Disability.