Episode aired April 29, 2020: Gratitude Attitude

Beth Ann Locke knows that having a gratitude attitude is critical to the success of every nonprofit. Over the last 25 years she has been a donor champion and raised millions of dollars for small and large shops in North America. 

In this episode, Beth Ann will tell you

  • why it’s important to remove the transaction from a donation
  • how to improve your thank you letters to donors
  • why handwritten notes and cards are so important and
  • why fundraisers need to possess grit, grace and gratitude.

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.


Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. Today I’m thrilled to have one of my besties, Beth Ann Locke, as my guest. Beth how are you doing?

Beth: I’m great. How are you?

Ephraim: I’m doing okay. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers. Beth Ann has more than 25 years experience as a fundraiser in the U.S. and Canada as a donor champion. She’s raised millions of dollars across the healthcare, higher ed, human services, arts and international sectors for both large and small shops. Beth Ann is currently the chief spark at The Fundraiser Coach. She coaches ambitious fundraisers to successfully raise more money by discovering their best selves learning tested and science-based strategies and understanding the art of fundraising more deeply. She also works with nimble nonprofits and offers coaching for fundraising teams and boards as well as strategy development and planning. Beth is here to talk with us today about one of her favorite topics, having a gratitude attitude. So Beth let’s dive right in.

Beth: Let’s go.

Ephraim: Why is having a gratitude attitude so critical to the overall success of a nonprofit?

Beth: So here’s the deal. Sending out your thank-you letter even in a timely manner is the absolute lowest bar for you to meet. What we want to be doing is actually really appreciating and thanking donors for their… for them making the change in the world. We often ask donors, you know, something like you know can you help us help the dogs, the orphans, whatever. It’s not about doing that. It’s actually connecting the donor to the challenge problem so they can step in and be the solution. The way we’re going to encourage more enthusiasm from them is through gratitude. We want… they’re so excited when they make a gift to us, to be able to be part of that solution, we need to be reflecting back that joy that they first have and when we do that we’re going to be able to do something very important for the bottom line which is to increase the retention. It’s going to increase engagement and it’s going to help bring in more gifts and bringing in more gifts is really what’s helping us address the problem right away. I feel so passionate about this because we just can’t do crummy fundraising anymore.

Ephraim: 100% agreed. So to help them become the solution, give us the actionable item, three to five things nonprofits can do today to improve their donation thank you letters.

Beth: Okay okay so when I think about sort of five things that people can do right away is… I mean it is basic but what is your donor thank you letter system. How is that going and I don’t mean just you know is somebody entering the gift and a thank you letter pops up. Does the letter have appreciation? Does it connect the donor to the problem you told them that they’re going to be solving? Is it done in a timely manner and yes 48 hours is what you want to do but honestly I don’t know a lot of charities that do that because one of the holdups is who’s signing it.

Please God…oops, shouldn’t call God but please do not use a fake signature all the time. The worst thing I see is it looks as if it was not touched by human hands. So look at your thanking process right there. The very first thing that they get. Now this can be for your thank-you letters but also can be for your electronic donations. I literally got one the other day that said thank you…no, here’s your receipt for your gift. It’s so alienating and it’s easy to feel like these are transactions and in some ways there is a credit card transaction but they need the gratitude.

Second of all, how much are you automating and where can you inject some human component into it? So one of the things that I think a lot about is monthly donors. So monthly donors often either get a thank you for every transaction that runs with their credit card or they get the end-of-the-year thing so there it’s sort of either all or nothing. When you send it monthly whenever they have a credit card transaction then it feels very transactional, reminds them there’s the transaction all the time. If you do it once a year sometimes they just don’t hear from you very often. Maybe you have a newsletter going out but maybe you don’t, so do something like schedule one every quarter that you’re either doing something for everybody who’s a monthly donor or maybe just a quarter of them so they’re getting something that’s a lot more personal a few times a year.  That helps take it away from the transactional nature of monthly donors and helps them feel more connected in that friendly way. Handwritten notes you know I love those but pick up the phone. Even sending an email.

Third of all I think one thing you can do is set aside time. For me I need to calendar everything and if you’ve got a busy development office like so many of us do, you need to calendar sort of half an hour at the end of every day to call to donors that may be more time than you need or may not be enough time, depending on who you call. If you can do that twice a day, so sort of say 11:00 and 4:00 if you can do that you’ll be calling you know something like an extra of five hundred to a thousand donors a year with absolutely personal contact. I know you and I have spoken about the calls we’ve been getting recently and you know even if it’s a quickie, it’s great. And please have your head in the game when you’re making the call. I want to say ‘don’t phone it in’ but get the person’s name right. I know that seems basic. Understand who might live at the home so that if the man that we usually have in the database doesn’t answer we can say oh you know, if Bob’s not there, then I just hang up? No. And leave a gracious message if they screen the calls and you don’t get them. That’s an easy thing to do.

Here’s one other crazy thing you can do: You can start having some gratitude that you pass around with your colleagues. I think a lot of times we forget the people we work with also need some gratitude from us.  When you’re the fundraiser and you’re on the front lines, you’re hearing all these great stories, you’re seeing how things are happening. It’s great to share that information with other people in your office or frontline workers. You know our donors feel so good about what we’re doing, they’re so glad we’re here. Send those out! Send them to your Board. I know a lot of times we’re like “board members” they’re literally making me crazy but in fact, they’re also very important and they usually feel important but sometimes we don’t give them the gratitude either. So I think it’s most important to send gratitude out to our donors, it connects them more deeply to our organization but we need to think about our internal teams as well.

Ephraim: Fantastic! I love that about sharing the gratitude around the office or nowadays around Zoom. You have a website where you sell cards designed by a fundraiser that exude gratitude for donors. Why are you such a big fan of handwritten cards and notes? What extra value do they provide?

Beth: How much time we got? Okay first of all for people who are older, older donors, these are how they communicated. So when my grandma died, she had saved every single letter. I mean every single letter any of us had ever sent her but especially ones from the war. She had thank-you letters from nonprofits and I think for people who are not from that generation, it’s sort of novel to get something in the mail that isn’t a bill or… actually you don’t even get bills in the mail. A piece of government information or an ad. You know it feels personal, it’s tangible, it’s something you can hold on to and it feels very meaningful. The reason I designed these cards is because a lot of times I’ve heard fundraisers say I just don’t know what to write. These have something on the outside that talks about the gratitude or you know ‘your spark ignited something big.’ Something like that. That gets you started and then you can write your personal note on the inside. I think that for me that’s why I started giveXthanks is just so we could multiply that gratitude.

Ephraim: Fantastic, love it. Grit, grace and gratitude. You strongly believe that fundraisers need to possess all three. Why?

Beth: Grit is about resilience and you know you don’t bat a thousand in this job. You just don’t. Sometimes you make a mistake, sometimes you don’t make a mistake and the donors are still cross with you. So I think you need to have that resilience. I think you need to think outside the box sometimes to do a good fundraising. Grace- well I think you have to be gracious with donors, with your colleagues. I think sometimes situations mean that you have to act very gracefully to get through sort of a sticky wicket situation. Sometimes you don’t get a response that you want in a call if you’re doing major donor gifts. Sometimes something really messes up. I had one time they didn’t send back, oh my god, they forgot to include the response envelope in one of my mailings. It’s easy to want to swear in those situations. And gratitude we’ve already talked about. I think gratitude is important. I mean there’s a lot of benefits having a daily practice of gratitude for yourself and being appreciative and noticing things around you. But in the work that we’re doing which I think is absolutely noble, gratitude helps the donors feel connected, appreciated and you’re distinguishing your own nonprofit from others that are not practicing that because they’re in too much of a hurry and doing too much transactional work. So yes, grit, grace, gratitude, they’re all important to make a well-rounded fundraiser.

Ephraim: Fantastic. Alright, we will move on to a lightning round. We’re going to learn a little bit more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Beth: I was working at the University, it was my first full-time job. I was a secretary right out of college. And these fundraisers were in part of… I was in the dean’s office at the College of Engineering at the University of Washington, my alma mater and they were doing this really interesting stuff. So I got to know one of them and when the associate director went to a hospital, Harborview Medical Center, just started the fundraising office there, I was like ‘Can I apply for a job?’ I had been on maternity leave for six or seven weeks and came back, applied for the job, got it. We started a little three-person office and oh man did I learn so much. I was in gifts, doing Annual Giving. It was the best. I… I loved it. It was a calling. It’s a calling for me. I just really feel like I was called to this profession.

Ephraim: Fantastic. If you could shake up one thing in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Beth: Hierarchy.

Ephraim: A good one! Okay, your favorite proverb or saying that really resonates with you?

Beth: I forget the exact thing but it’s the one where the dog has a bone and is hanging on to it and looking at the water and then he goes to grab the other dog’s bone but it’s his own reflection and he loses it. I think a lot of us operate… sometimes nonprofits operate in a sense of scarcity and I think you can’t do that. There’s as much money to go around as you have a good story and a good problem that has the solution that interests the donor. I honestly believe that and the giving in downturns and tough times proves that.

Ephraim: Fantastic. Last lightning round question: What’s your favorite part of living in the northwest?

Beth: As you know I’ve lived in both Seattle and now I’m living in Vancouver. First of all I love the mountains. I love a long spring. We don’t always get hot summers but I like the seasons we have here. I love the beauty. I like being able to do lots of things, whether it’s sort of in a mountain or on a trail or in a forest or by the sea. I love living near the sea. So maybe that’s the best part. Living near the sea and not boiling up or having too much humidity.

Ephraim: Yeah I could live with that. Alright, so lastly we’re gonna turn the tables and now you’re gonna ask me a question, a surprise question that I don’t know about yet. Go ahead.

Beth: So Ephraim, you and I both lived in Toronto for a short time. What was your favorite thing  New York is somewhat easy but still,

Toronto was so north-south-east-west and

Ephraim: Favorite thing about Toronto. First of all, I love Toronto. I love going back there to visit. I try to go back every summer when I can travel. Favorite thing? I think was it was such… first of all it was a clean city when I was there and the second thing was it’s so easy to navigate. Because if you’ve lived in Boston and know that that city is just a mess and New York is somewhat easy but still, Toronto was so north-south-east-west and very very easy to get around with the bus and subway. I love that. So that was one of my favorite things about living in Toronto. Shoutout to Toronto, one of my favorite cities. Love it, love it.

Beth: We have to meet there one time. One time. Not in Seattle and not in Jersey.

Ephraim: Yeah we’ve already done those. Alright thank you very very much for appearing on the podcast. I really really appreciate it. I hope  everybody has learned about having a gratitude attitude at your organization. Beth Ann, have a wonderful day!