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Thanking Donors: It’s Not Manners, It’s Science


By Allison Gauss

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

A study by Dr. Monica Bartlett of Gonzaga University and Dr. Lisa Williams of the University of South Wales suggests that simply thanking someone may make them perceive you as more “warm” and feel more willing to continue interacting with you. The findings will be published in Emotion, a psychology journal that features original research, case studies, and theoretical discussion. The study supports what many development professionals already know: saying “thank you” is a simple but vital step in fundraising.

The researchers performed an experiment with 70 Gonzaga students. After mentoring high school students, all 70 participants received a handwritten note from their mentee, but only 30 of the notes included the phrase “Thank you SO much.” Afterwards, the participants were asked about a series of questions about the experience. The Gonzaga Bulletin reported, “Participants who received the thank you notes not only viewed their mentees as warmer people; they were also more willing to continue their relationship with their mentee.”

Dr. Bartlett has been researching the impact of emotion and gratitude in behavior for years. Her past research has shown that feelings of gratitude can influence to make more prosocial decisions. In other words, when people are feeling grateful, they share more resources with others. This kind of behavioral research suggests that people may be more willing to donate to a prosocial cause if they are primed to feel gratitude.

Gratitude and Charitable Giving

Dr. Bartlett’s research on positive psychology and the effects of gratitude on behavior may have important implications for nonprofit fundraising. The most recent study, in which students who were thanked gave more positive responses about their mentee, affirms that saying “thank you” to donors could make them feel more positive about their relationship with the organization. Like the Gonzaga students who were more willing to stay in contact with their mentee, donors who are thanked may be more willing to give in the future.

Bartlett’s previous findings that feeling grateful may make people more giving suggests that asking donors to consider what they are thankful and grateful for may influence them to give more. An important point in this study was that experiencing gratitude didn’t just make participants more giving to those they were grateful to. Participants were more likely to be generous to an unrelated third party. So asking a potential donor to think of how friends and family have helped them could make them more likely to help your cause.

Creating a Grateful Mindset

Obviously you should thank your donors and fundraisers for investing time and money in your cause but you should also try to incorporate gratitude into communications with your staff and supporters. Research has found that spending a few minutes each day acknowledging things you are grateful for can lead to greater overall well-being.

There is increasing evidence that expressing and experiencing gratitude is beneficial to our professional and personal lives. And since gratitude promotes generosity, it makes sense for us to be generous with our gratitude.

Win the Hearts and Minds of Donors


Image Credit: Steven De Polo

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