Inspire Your Members by Saying “Thank You”

When was the last time you received a personal thank-you note in your mailbox?

I was reminded of the impact saying thank you can have during last week’s Lake Institute on Faith and Giving’s 12th Annual Thomas H. Lake Lecture.  Dr. Christian Smith of Notre Dame presented some of the findings of his Science of Generosity Initiative (Sci-Gen for short). During the panel discussion following his lecture, he reminded the audience of Penelope Burk’s research on the power of the thank-you note.

Before I mention the phenomenal work that Burk has done, though, I remind you that sending a thank-you note is simply the right thing to do.

In addition, a well-written thank-you note can inspire a church member to engage even more fully with their faith and their commitment to their own calling as a child of God.

A decade ago, Burk demonstrated the power of a simple, personal thank you letter to donors. Her findings were included in her book, Donor-Centered Fundraising. Here’s a summary – organizations that sent timely, personal thank you letters to donors realized greater gifts in the future.

Her work suggests to me that something very important is happening when we receive a thank-you note. Our souls are stirred, waves of positive emotion flow over us, not to mention beneficial chemicals in our brains. All of this conspires to increase our motivations to do even more of what we were thanked for. That may mean more donations, more time, more thought – whatever it is, a thank-you note will redouble our enthusiasm.

And that’s not all – even the act of writing a thank-you note has personal benefits for the writer. Dr P Murali Doraiswamy, of Duke University, discovered that saying “Thank You” releases the “reward” chemicals in our brains – dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin – and reduces stress hormones like cortisol. In other words, saying “Thank You” actually makes you happier!

The primary objection I hear from pastors on writing thank-you notes is that it takes time away from a busy schedule. Yes it does – it is a habit that is very difficult to incorporate into one’s schedule. Here is a simple system I’ve found that works for me:

  • Keep a running list in my calendar of people I want to thank.
  • Every Friday morning, write to them.
  • With practice, you can write ten notes (well-written) within an hour’s time.

Maybe it’s worth an experiment. Can you devote 30 minutes a week for one month to writing thank-you notes? Let me know how it goes.