Powerful Words

by David Cleaver-Bartholomew, Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations for the Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ

Growing up, I remember my parents teaching us the poem, “Five Little Words.”

There are five little words, I would have you to know;
They are “Pardon me,” “Thank you,” and “Please.”
Oh, use them quite often wherever you go,
There are few words more useful as these.

These five little words have a power
That fortune or fame cannot give.
So commit them to memory this very hour
And please use them as long as you live. Thank you!

Perhaps you have a childhood memory of your parent(s) teaching you the importance of saying thank you for a gift received or a kindness shown? Or perhaps as an adult you’ve witnessed another adult teaching a child to say thank you when that child received a gift, a favor, or a gracious act from someone else? What are your memories and experiences with regard to teaching the importance of saying thank you on the one hand and of being thanked on the other?

The powerful, positive affect saying thank you has is widely known; therefore, it isn’t surprising that it is also widely encouraged and taught.

If saying thank you is so important and has such an impact, why is it so difficult and why is it not done more frequently? In my experience with congregations, four reasons immediately come to mind: 1) people are too busy; 2) no one is responsible for thanking people and/or writing thank you notes, so no one does it; 3) church life is hectic, so it simply falls through the cracks; and 4) the attitude that members contributing their time, talent, and treasure are just doing what they are supposed to do as members and hence don’t need to be thanked.

This last point is especially problematic in today’s religious fundraising environment as people’s senses of obligation to and responsibility for supporting the local church with their contributions of time, talent, and treasure has waned dramatically the last few decades. One might even say it has all but vanished.

While I have heard some people say they don’t expect or want to be thanked for their contribution(s), I have generally found that it isn’t that they truly don’t want to be thanked, but that they don’t want to be thanked publicly or be the object of attention. Rather, they are just fine with, and in fact appreciate, a personal, non-public, ‘quiet’ thank you.

Gratitude, or thankfulness, and generosity go hand in hand and are two sides of the same coin. Saying ‘Thank you’ promptly and regularly is one of the most straightforward and effective practices a congregation can do to reinforce a sense of gratitude and enhance generosity. When people are thanked quickly and regularly, they feel appreciated, valued, useful, and needed. This in turn makes them more inclined to be generous when it comes to supporting the church’s ministry with additional contributions and assistance.

Developing a strategy for thanking people is important for the above reasons. In developing such a strategy at least two types of thanking should be considered: general and personal. General thanking is thanking groups of people or the entire congregation at the same time. Personal thanking is thanking another person, either orally or in writing, and can be done publicly or privately.

A comprehensive stewardship program includes a strategy for consistently thanking donors at important times – when someone makes their first contribution, makes or fulfills a pledge, when giving statements are mailed out, or when a special gift, such as a memorial or legacy gift, is made – and in appropriate ways and a timely fashion.

A well-thought out practice of thanking others considers your context and is realistic. Two options may be: 1) the pastor, pastoral staff, stewardship committee, or a group of volunteers setting aside time on a weekly or monthly basis to write and send off a batch of thank you notes or make thank you phone calls; and 2) hosting an annual appreciation event or ‘Thank-athon’ that does not morph into an occasion for an ‘ask.’

A plan that is too complicated, requires many resources, or is difficult to set up and execute, will not succeed. Design a system that fits your situation so that it can be implemented and lead to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. A well-conceived thank you strategy and system develops gratitude and reinforces generosity without being overly taxing.

Now, as you send out your church’s annual contribution statements, may be an opportune time to begin or more fully develop your church’s thank you program. Congregations that want to cultivate generosity and inspire giving thank their givers often and meaningfully. They invite or ask people to give, they tell what impact their gifts have had or will have, and they thank people for their gifts.

Pardon me, but if you don’t already have one, please consider developing a thank you strategy and system in your church and implementing it in 2022. Thank you!

© Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ | 2023