Let me tell you a story.

My great aunt lives in a retirement community and remembers everyones’ birthdays, and always has a kind word to say to everyone, even though life has dealt her some pretty harsh blows. She has a debilitating disease which has made it impossible for her to ever learn to drive. She retired from her job ten years ago, now has to walk with two canes, and has to depend on others for everything.  She doesn’t complain. She lives happily in her little condo in an assisted living community. She loves movies, and always has something to say about great actors and actresses.

The first half of my life I laughed at my great aunt. She always remembers all of us nieces and nephews at birthdays and christmas and sends us ten dollar checks. She sends thank you notes for everything. My mom had to say, ‘No, seriously, write her a thank you note’ and I could never figure out why. I’m Gen Y! I mean, come on. Thank you notes are so last century mom!

But after I got into fundraising I realized the power of thank you notes. I saw that when you thank someone for something, it makes them feel happy, and it makes them want to give again.

“Thank you” is one of the most powerful phrases in the English language.


Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in trying to survive that we forget how much thank you can mean to someone. Consider that a lot of people who give to your nonprofit are elderly women like my aunt. The little thank you note you send to them means so much to them. It may be one of the few personal pieces of mail they get that week.

This March my mom and I took my great aunt out to the movies. We saw The King’s Speech. Then we went out to eat. It was fun. She sent me a thank you note afterwards.

Because my aunt likes to talk, and because she can’t drive, people don’t often go out of their way to see her.

This was the first movie she’d seen in a theater in awhile.

In quite awhile.

No one had bothered to take her out to the movies in twenty years.


I imagined if I had her life, how I would feel about this fact.

I wrote her a thank you note.



Luckily this wasn’t my only opportunity to show her that I cared. I hope this holiday season, when I go back, that we can go to the movies again.

Each moment we have with people who love us is so precious. And we take so much for granted. Imagine if you had to wait for other people to have the idea to take you to the movies. Imagine you never learned to drive. Imagine your life getting smaller and smaller, but at least you reach out to the outside world through little cards at holidays and birthdays and giving a little to a nonprofit. Who writes you back? Who comes to see you? Who cares about your happiness?

Your call to your donor may be the nicest phonecall she’s gotten in months.

Pay attention.

Thank your donors now.

You will create a little more happiness in the world. Isn’t that worth it, in itself?