13/100 Things we’ve learned: Build a culture of gratitude

When did you last receive a sincere expression of gratitude for a gift?

My friend and colleague Janet Hedrick, CFRE, writes about gratitude in her book, Effective Donor Relations.

Gratitude is sincere. It is being truly thankful. It embodies a deep human connection.

Last night, my bedtime reading was the May edition of Inc. Magazine. The magazine isn’t typically a place where I expect to be inspired by articles about gratitude.

But the article Everybody Loves Zappos in the May 2009 issue of Inc. Magazine had an amazing story about gratitude and deep human connection.

In the article, CEO Tony Hsieh tells one of those legend-making tales about extraordinary customer connections.

In the story, a customer service rep was handling a return of boots from a woman who had ordered them for her husband. She was returning the boots as her husband died in a car accident before he received them. Without asking permission, the call center rep ordered flowers charged to Zappos and had them sent to the woman for her loss. Hsieh says “not only was she a customer for life, but so were those 30 or 40 people at the funeral.”

I think the story struck me so strongly because just hours before I was having a discussion with the students in my class at Simmons College that seemed so contrary to the Zappos example.

All semester, my students have been working on graduate service learning projects. Their teams have developed communications plans to support organizational changes for seven nonprofit partners.

One group has been working on a project for an arts nonprofit. The organization had recently made a number of changes to its volunteer programs. In particular, volunteers were now required to pay membership dues before they could participate in various tasks. Most of those volunteers were over 60, most fairly well-off, and a number had been volunteering for the organization for many years.

A lively discussion centered around the reason for this change. Even though the organization had seen shrinking revenues, was it a good strategic decision to reward years of volunteer service this way? How did the short term need balance against long term good will and volunteer loyalty?

Fortunately, my students designed a communications plan that really emphasized ways the organization could express sincere gratitude to their volunteers.

How would you rate yourself on the gratitude scale? What could your organization do today to increase its donor gratitude quotient? What have you done? I’d love to hear your stories.

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