What Can Your Nonprofit Learn from a Fortune Cookie?

Have you ever had a Thai fortune cookie?

Until recently, I never even knew they existed. Over the years, I’ve eaten more than my share of Chinese fortune cookies. However, I had never experienced the Thai variety.

Thai Fortune CookieBefore anyone comments below, let me just say that I’m completely aware that Chinese fortune cookies are not really Chinese. They’re Chinese-American with possible Japanese roots. As for Thai fortune cookies, I have no idea where they were invented. But, they’re certainly tasty. They’re crunchy, flaky, light as air, toasted coconut goodness in the form of a little tube wrapped around a parchment-like fortune.

Anyway, my wife brought some Thai fortune cookies home one evening. While I was enjoying one of the cookies, I read the fortune it had contained:

Feeling gratitude without expressing it, is like wrapping a gift without giving it.” 

I immediately recognized that my cookie contained a valuable lesson for all nonprofit organizations. If we want to build strong relationships and secure passionate philanthropic support for our  organizations, we must thank our supporters and show gratitude.

I know you’re grateful when someone gives your organization money. But, beyond a simple thank you letter, do you do anything to show your gratitude?

Henri Frederic Amiel, a 19th century philosopher and poet, commented on the difference between thankfulness and gratitude:

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”

Some nonprofit organizations do a better job than others when it comes to expressing gratitude. Unfortunately, as a sector, we have a long way to go. We can and should be doing much more.

For example, consider how we express gratitude to planned gift donors. As I describe in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, only 25 percent of planned gift donors who had informed a nonprofit organization of their bequest intention reported being treated any differently as a result, according to The NCPG Survey of Donors. However, a majority of charity supporters believe that it is appropriate for an organization to provide recognition to donors who make a legacy pledge, according to research conducted by Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay.

So, if a majority of donors thinks recognition is appropriate, why aren’t a majority of nonprofit organizations providing it? I don’t understand it. However, what I do know is that those organizations that do provide such donors with special recognition have a clear advantage over organizations that do not.

I’m not suggesting all planned giving donors will want a T-shirt that says, “I’m dying to give!” Instead, what I am saying is that organizations need to develop a solid, appropriate recognition program for all gifts, including planned gifts.

Reconsider how you thank donors. Re-examine how you express gratitude to donors.

A post I published about a year ago provides oodles of useful, practical tips for thanking donors and expressing gratitude: “Stewardship: More than a Thank-You.” It’s worth taking a moment to checkout.

As my Thai fortune cookie suggests, if a supporter has done something for which you are grateful, make sure you show that gratitude. It will be like a gift you are giving to your donor. 

Solid stewardship is just as essential to the development process as the ask. Those who do not practice heartfelt stewardship are beggars, not development professionals.

Thank you for reading, commenting on, and sharing my articles. I invite you to comment below to share some of the ways your organization expresses gratitude. We can all learn from each other.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

5 Responses to “What Can Your Nonprofit Learn from a Fortune Cookie?”

  1. Hi! I have been volunteering for a charity and have been expressing this concern to them that as a donor you need to know more than what you are told and get a real feel of how the money they have donated is being used. Liked your article. It’s bang on!

    • Vrisha, thank you for your comment. You’re right. Many donors want more information about the impact their gifts have. One way to show gratitude is to provide donors with the information they want without forcing them to ask for it. By the way, this will be the subject of an upcoming post. So, be sure to check back or to subscribe (in the right hand column) so you’ll get the email notice with new post information.


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