Like many others, I’ve made my fair share of donations over the years. One gift stands out from all the others. The amount was rather unremarkable – $200. Typically, I like to give an amount that is meaningful to me, in that I believe (or hope) will have some impact. I made it over the Christmas break, a time of year when many charities realize nearly 30 per cent of their annual gifts.
What made this gift stand out from all the others was the letter of thanks I received less than two weeks later. It was hand-written and substantial. What I didn’t read was a rehashing of worn-out phrases and platitudes. It was authentic, thoughtful and real. In addition to being thanked, I was told exactly how my gift would be used, why it was important, and how I could get more information if I wished. The note was simple and sincere, and it stands out as the best thank-you letter I have ever received.
The fact that someone took the time to pen a hand-written note for what is arguably an average donation is noteworthy. That it was sent so efficiently at the busiest time of the year is commendable. This tells me that the recipient takes the act of giving seriously and the act of thanking even more so; this charity values relationship, wants to be credible in the use of the money it receives, and treats each gift – however small – as important.
The act of saying thanks is an invitation to give more. That my gift warranted such personal treatment inclines me to take notice of this charity’s work, and to support it again and again.
As Church, there are little things we can do to impress on people that their contributions of time, talent and treasure are appreciated and make a difference. Think of all the opportunities that exist to say thanks but are overlooked: announcement time at church, the issuing of tax receipts, special events, website announcements, etc.
I want to suggest five things that parish leaders can start doing tomorrow that might seem small but will mean a lot to the people involved:
- Begin acknowledging during the service an individual or parish group that does important work each week. Identify them and thank them. Make this a weekly occurrence.
- Invite someone from the congregation to come forward and share their story – explaining why they worship here and why this place is important. Personal testimony is powerful and will be noticed by newcomers. Invite someone new every couple of weeks or so.
- Each month in the parish bulletin, thank anyone and everyone who did something special. People notice being identified in public.
- When your church sends out tax receipts, include a post-it note from the incumbent, with a message of thanks. The gift amount is irrelevant. Send a letter of thanks even to those who didn’t give of their treasure. Their time and talent are important and should honoured.
- Once a year, organize a team of volunteers to call every household on your parish list with the sole purpose of saying thanks. Thank them for their financial support, their volunteerism and their presence at church. Let them know that the church family thinks about them and prays for them.
Saying thanks is not only an act of courtesy, it is an act of genuine hospitality. In his book, The Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen says that to be asked to give is a privilege. It is a declaration that “we have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you – your energy, your prayers and your money – in this work which God has called us.” If we believe that the act of giving is honourable, then we should invest equal energy in the act of saying thanks.
What if we gave saying thank-you the same amount of attention as we gave to asking? Could a thank-you be even more important than the ask? We all have so many things to be thankful for: the people in our lives; acts of kindness; opportunities to engage in new experiences; friendships; and the very experience of life itself. Maybe before we ask we should say thanks instead.