It was a crazy week - one of those weeks where I
started working at 5am every morning, and fell into bed exhausted at 11pm every
night, only to start at 5:00 the next morning.
As the founder of a tiny organization, when the
Executive Director (our only full time employee) resigned, it was left to me to
mind the store until a replacement could be found. So, for the
first time since founding the Diaper Bank some years ago, I had become its
Interim Executive Director. And as luck would have it, I stepped into the
position at the most hectic time of year - the celebration of our
10th Annual December Diaper Drive, a month-long series of events to
raise 1 million diapers for those in need.
With the turmoil of the EDs departure, we were 2
weeks late getting our annual mailing out. We were a week behind in arranging
for our Big Event. There was a grant deadline we had just learned about. And of
course, there were all the normal day-to-day things of running a nonprofit
Friday afternoon at 4:00, I finished the last
deadline. I let out the kind of breath that lets you know you havent
taken a real breath in quite some time.
With our part-time staff and our volunteers in the
other room putting the finishing touches on the mailing, I couldnt live
with myself if I simply said, Im exhausted. Im going
home! After all, they had been working just as hard as I had all week.
So I started to sort the stack of mail that had
accumulated on my desk during my week of insanity. Bills. Donations.
And it is the next thing I did that saved my whole
day, my whole week. It is that one simple action that I recommend to you - not
just because it is the right thing to do, but because it feels so good.
I went through that stack of donation envelopes, and I
called every person who gave, thanking them for their gift.
This is nothing new for me. Since stepping into this
position, as soon as a donation arrives, I have called to thank every donor, no
matter how small the gift. It takes a few minutes every day, and mostly I end
up leaving messages, but thats ok. Ive always felt its just
the right thing to do. If someone does something nice for you, you thank them.
If nothing else, its simply common courtesy.
It had been a whole week since Id touched the
mail - mail from our annual campaign. The stack was high. I started dialing.
Because the Diaper Drive gets a lot of publicity here
in Tucson, many of the checks were for $5 and $10. You could tell from the
names on the checks - Ella, Gertrude, Olivia - and from the shaky writing, that
these checks were from elderly folks, probably on fixed incomes. I know their
$5 is dear to them, and they are usually the first ones I call.
I had made a number of calls before I got to Mrs.
Fontaine. Her phone rang and rang. When she finally picked up, it was clear she
was having trouble breathing. I pictured her struggling to get to the phone,
and I thought to myself, Oh great. She has taken all her energy, thinking
this is an important call, and its just me calling to say thank
you. I felt guilty for bothering her.
Is this Mrs. Fontaine? I said.
Mrs. Fontaine, this is Hildy from the Diaper
Bank. We received your donation, and I just wanted to thank you.
Mrs. Fontaine was not happy. Clearly she thought I was
calling to solicit her, probably to ask for more money. I dont blame her
- thats probably how I would react if any charity I ever gave to thought
to call and thank me. (Hint - no charity I have ever given to has EVER called
to thank me. Not one.)
I continued. Your gift means a lot to us, and I
really just wanted you to know that it will help a lot of people.
But I only sent you $5! I could hear her
move from anger to confusion, but clearly she was softening up.
But every penny counts! I told her.
We just really appreciate your helping out, and I just wanted you to know
Now her voice was positively warm, surprised, happy.
Well thank you. Really it is so nice of you to call. How very very
nice! They say you can hear a smile over the phone, and I heard hers,
loud and clear.
Mrs. Fontaine put me on a roll. I dialed with a fever.
I forgot about the week behind me, a week where the sheer size of the mountain
of work had overshadowed the reasons we were doing the work in the first place.
I listened to donor after donor tell me what amazing things we are doing, and
how they wish they could give us more. I heard THEM thanking ME, telling me how
they appreciated what we do, encouraging us to keep it up, telling me how
important it is.
Finally, the last call - a $200 VISA charge. From the
sound of the voice at the other end of the phone, this was a professional woman
my own age. And from the moment I started the call, she acted as if she had
been chosen for the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes! I
cant believe you are calling me! This is so nice, so unexpected! You have
a wonderful weekend! she told me over and over in the short time of the
I left the office with a smile on my face. Yes, I was
exhausted, and yes, my bed felt great.
But I had found a joy I never expected as I thought
about clearing my desk. It wasnt the joy of finishing the job, or getting
through the pile. It wasnt even the joy of remembering why we do the work
It was the joyful sound a Thank You makes when it
for the sake of your own organizations
and for the sake of finding a bit of joy in your
pick up the phone.
Say Thank You.
And listen to the sound that Thank You makes
when it lands in your donors heart.
Tony Silbert, a strategic funding
consultant in Los Angeles, is on the board of The Harmony Project, an
organization that serves the cultural and artistic needs of underprivileged
children in the Los Angeles area.
Founded in 2001, Harmony Project
board members have been the primary fundraisers, until a recent article in
People Magazine brought new, primarily small donors to this great organization.
In the past, gifts were always personally acknowledged, as they had been
solicited individually by those board members. But now, there was a new group
of donors - individuals who believed in what they read in the magazine and
wanted to help.
Tony handed this article - The Sound
a "Thank You" Makes - to the ED of Harmony Project, and urged him to call all
those first-time donors, to thank them personally. With the massive impact of
their People Magazine publicity, it was no wonder the ED was feeling
overwhelmed, and Tony admits the ED was not enthusiastic about this added
chore. Finally, though, the calls were done, most of them simply voice messages
to say, "Thanks!"
As luck would have it, though, one
of those small, first-time donors had some connections to several local
foundations. He had been so impressed with the fact that Harmony Project had
called to thank even a "relatively small" donation, that he connected the group
up with one of those foundations. And the end of the story? The group received
a $25,000 gift!
You Can Start Building
Your Army of Friends Today.
Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising but Love Making
by Hildy Gottlieb
That donor was one who had received
just a voice message. He later told Tony that that simple message not only gave
him a sense of the ED's charisma, but it gave him the confidence that the group
would handle money responsibly. When he spoke to the foundation president, he
was able to speak on behalf of the Harmony Project as if he really knew them,
conveying his confidence in their management.
We have been touched that Tony has
shared this story with us. And he has also been quick to mention that the
effect goes beyond just the money. It has to do with building those
relationships, one at a time. We never know what relationships, what wisdom,
what experience - what value - any of our supporters has until we make that
connection, one on one.