Hello, everyone! I’m just back from a riotous time in Huron, South Dakota, at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo. That weeklong road trip was preceded by the statewide nonprofit conference, Collective Voices. The week before that was filled with 33 graduated eighth-graders at CampFIRE, the CVC’s youth leadership camp at YMCA of the Bighorns. Tired yet? Not me! I’m just deeply grateful.

Gratitude walks hand-in-hand with optimism in my life. Those are two personality traits I lean into wholeheartedly. 

As a nonprofit director, what’s known as “donor cultivation” is a critical piece of our work. Obviously, without generous individuals and foundations, the CVC would not be in existence. To attract and maintain donors, we must make sure they understand how important they are to us and how much we value their gifts. This can be done well in myriad ways but my favorite option is the old-fashioned, hand-written thank you note.

At CampFIRE, we have campers create their own custom thank you message to the donors who make it possible for them to be there at no cost. In the past, campers have produced a video, made words out of their bodies for a photo, created a message out of Play-Doh, etc. It’s a great exercise and allows the students to creatively express themselves in their own inimitable way.

Speakers who come up during the week of camp to talk about subjects like conflict resolution, assumptions, servant leadership, identity, perspective and influence all receive thank you notes as well. Campers put at least one line about how the speaker affected their experience and then sign their name on a big poster. The recipients are so touched and love seeing the impression they’ve made on the kids.

Writing thank you notes is my jam. I love telling people how grateful I am for a gift, an experience, a thoughtful remark. The best notes are the unexpected ones. Sharing how an interaction made my day is big fun. For example, I just wrote a letter to the editor of the Huron Daily Plainsman newspaper, singing the praises of the residents of his town and its fairgrounds, all of which made our recent rodeo experience so outstanding.

I am something of a thank you note connoisseur and militant. This means that when it comes to writing thank you notes (or instructing my children to do so), I have very specific standards for the content of said notes. Obviously, there is the “Dear ___” salutation. Then you might open with a newsy line about life or the weather, or you can go right to a specific “thank you so much for the ___.” From there, a smooth transition is made with at least two lines about what the specific gift means to you and/or what you’ll be using it for. Finally, there could be a line or two in closing inquiring after the recipient’s life, a quick update on yours and/or a reiteration of sincere gratitude. If that sounds canned, it’s really not. It’s just a template, can be added to, and obviously is always customizable.

Receiving a thank you is almost as satisfying. I say almost because this is where the militancy comes out. Before you get all snarky and explain to me that either a) any show of gratitude is better than nothing, or b) I shouldn’t give a gift/money/something with the expectation of gratitude, I should just be doing it selflessly, I have a rebuttal to both.

You’re sort of right on both counts. If I don’t receive a thank you note, email or phone call, or if it’s two lines and doesn’t even mention by name what the gratitude is for, it’s not the end of the world. But it does annoy me. There are caveats to this — new moms, small children, grieving families, etc. But newlyweds, graduates and teenage relatives better have a really good reason for not at least emailing or calling with a grateful acknowledgement. I struggle with people who declare they only give a gift for the warm glow it bestows. Everyone appreciates being acknowledged for their time, effort and thought.

I get it. We’re all busy. Stamps are expensive. You have strong suspicions the item you received was a re-gift. Addresses are no longer as easy to find as picking up a phone book. All legitimate reasons not to send a note. I am of the opinion that a thank you note has no statute of limitations. Who cares if your birthday was eight months ago? It’s still OK to send a thoughtful note, albeit acknowledging the delay. Think about how nice it is to feel appreciated. How unexpected and exciting it is to receive a piece of mail with your name and address written on it by a real, live human. Gratitude, whether it comes in the form of a paper note, a phone call, an email or a hug in the grocery aisle, has no expiration date and just keeps giving.

 

Amy Albrecht is executive director of Center for a Vital Community.