That Odd Comment At The Grants Award Reception

Going through the buffet line, somewhere between the pistachio studded chicken salad sandwiches and the beef tenderloin and watercress sliders on brioche, she struck up the conversation. “Joe, we are absolutely thrilled to continue our grant support of the programs. So appreciate how you all have kept us updated through the years and, by the way, we love, love those ‘Thank you’ letters. Your organization is one of the only organizations that still sends those nowadays. Keep them coming.”

What did she just say? Did I hear her correctly?

Our Executive Director and I had been invited to the grants award reception of the well-known national sorority. Once again, its philanthropic committee had selected our nonprofit as a recipient of a generous donation. Minutes earlier we stood in front of the group, side-by-side with this year’s other grant recipients. Included in the line-up were nonprofits much larger and more established than ours.

Each nonprofit was given a minute or two to make brief remarks and thank the sorority members for the awarded grant. When it was our turn, we expressed gratitude for the long-standing relationship we had with them and the support they had given our organization since its inception. “Please know that we don’t take today’s gift or your funding partnership over the years for granted.” With that said, we went back to our place in the line-up.

But were we really one of the only organizations at the reception that still sent “Thank you” letters? The sorority member had said such. She was now engaged in another conversation with other grant recipients in the buffet line. Placing a final selection of an endive leaf with pimento mascarpone cheese on my plate, I retreated to a quite corner in the crowded room. For a brief pause. A perfect vantage point from which to watch the multiple dialogues, trialogues and quadrilogues going on in the room.

Call it a courteous response, a socially acceptable practice of gratitude or just plain good manners. Sending a “Thank you” letter is all this and more. Every nonprofit organization in this room was more than capable of writing one.

Which made it even more puzzling.

Yes, there are sequences of days when nonprofit executive management is ambushed with the unexpected. While writing “Thank you” letters to scores of donors may be at the top of the morning’s list, it will have to wait until the ambush is addressed. Then another ambush follows, and the to-do list is put on hold. Brushed aside temporarily. Then overlooked. Indefinitely. It happens.

Yes, each nonprofit has a unique relationship with a grant maker. Perhaps the nonprofits at this reception have a more informal rapport with the sorority’s philanthropic committee, and they express their gratitude in a different way. “Thank you” letters might seem too official, too formal, too contrived a response coming from them. Who am I to judge?

Yes, “Thank you” letters---the personal kind our organization preferred to write, often with a handwritten postscript---are a bit old fashioned. Probably very labor intensive for those more evolved, streamlined nonprofits. Especially in light of sophisticated donor data systems and technologies that now generate mass correspondence to expedite the essential receipting step in gift stewardship.

I sure hope I misunderstood that odd comment in the buffet line. But she said her sorority sisters “love, love” our “Thank you” letters. To keep them coming. Which, of course, we will. Now, where’s our Executive Director? We need to get back to the office. To write the “Thank you” letter and mail it today. That endive with pimento mascarpone cheese was exceptional.

Maybe just one more before we leave.

Follow @JoeMazzu3 on Twitter and Instagram. Visit to learn more about his business serving nonprofits.

#DonorStewardship #SmallCourtesies #DonorRelations #BestPractices

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