Too much gratitude?
A few weeks ago, my friend Vu Le posted another of his thought-provoking pieces, Is there such a thing as too much gratitude? Yes, and it’s been harmful to our work.
I want to be clear: I mean both friend and thought-provoking with zero snark. I think Vu is a treasure!
But… in this case, I disagree with him. Here’s why.
Vu begins with a story about a corporate donor looking for public recognition. And anyone who has run a small development shop or managed corporate relations will be familiar with that call. But what they’re looking for isn’t gratitude. What they’re looking for is marketing reach and brand polishing. And for many smaller organizations, chasing down those $1,000 corporate gifts and fulfilling all their recognition needs is not the best use of time.
So let’s set aside corporate and even foundation giving here. Because gratitude isn’t supposed to be a transaction. Gratitude is a genuine emotion, to be shared with people (not companies) who care enough about your mission to help fund it.
Fixing an unjust society
Next, Vu presents another interesting argument. Gratitude, he says, “prevents us from examining unjust systems: Our gratitude to donors and funders often means we do not think about the unjust systems that make philanthropy and nonprofit necessary in the first place.”
Now, I’m all there with our society’s over-reliance on charity to carry out the work our government ought to be doing. Too often, rather than spending government funds (and government is the collective “us”), important societal needs are tossed off to charity. Really, that’s only saying “someone else should take care of this”.
Many of our organizations would be thrilled to put themselves out of business. No more need for food banks? Or shelters? No more disease or hunger or violence? Yes, please!
But here’s the problem: the donors who support your charity are the ones who aren’t passing off the problem. They’re doing something about it. They’re on your side. If uncomfortable conversations need to be had – and they do – these are just the people who will help you spread that message. They’re inside the tent already.
And for that, we certainly should be grateful.
I also agree with Vu that foundations need to start spending down more of their amassed funds. If not now, when?
Treat people like people
Individual donors are the backbone of many of our organizations – and of many of our missions. And individuals who care – and who give (time or money) are your representatives in the community. They may also be the people best positioned to encourage your community foundation to spend more.
Small organizations without development staff may indeed find it hard to keep up with good donor stewardship. But may I gently suggest that without the ability to care for donors, there’s not much point in acquiring them? What about your board? How hard would it be to use the next meeting to send out thanks? And don’t overlook volunteer help, either.
Fundraising needs to be part of your mission
A solid fundraising plan goes well beyond the ask. Not making a thank you letter into an appeal isn’t a burden if you know you’ll be sending a newsletter soon – full to the brim with gratitude, reporting, and opportunities to give again.
The problem here isn’t so much gratitude as an organizational plan that’s not sustainable. I’ve managed fundraising for an organization with a big heart and an ever-growing need to act on every problem in the community. It wasn’t possible.
Focus. Hire staff to manage fundraising. Plan. Fundraising is not a drain on your mission – it’s absolutely necessary for it to thrive. Invest in it.
Gratitude is good for us all
Gratitude is also nourishing to those who express it. Exhausted? Spend just a few minutes considering why someone just gave away their money or time to help you.
Gratitude works for both the person expressing and receiving it. Grateful people are happier, healthier, and more empathetic. This world needs a lot more of it, not less. Even the act of expressing gratitude makes you happier and healthier.
Finally, let me say I agree with Vu here with my whole heart:
It includes shifting gratitude to those we have been underappreciating: Volunteers, frontline staff members who are often underpaid and overworked, our clients for being vulnerable and sharing their stories that we use to fundraise, and “non-major” donors who are often unacknowledged and who often expect no thanks at all.”
Gratitude isn’t a transaction, given for the proper size financial gift. Gratitude is a way of looking at what we do as nonprofits. It’s a welcome sign on our missions.
The problem isn’t that we’re too grateful. The problems we need to tackle require smarts and passion… and gratitude, to all who are ready to help.