The Attitude of Gratitude

By: Jayson Morris

“Success in life is founded upon attention to the small things rather than to the large things…” 

Booker T. Washington

When I was a kid, my parents forced me to write thank you notes after every birthday and Christmas. I HATED doing it. I struggled to find something creative to say beyond “Thank you for the sweater. I can’t wait to wear it. Hope to see you soon.” [in reality, I was returning that so-not-cool sweater for a store credit anyway] And besides, my relatives were just going to glance at the note for a second and toss it in the garbage.  So what was the point of writing them in the first place. Thus, upon reaching adulthood, I became selectively inconsistent with writing thank you’s to my relatives. Sometimes I would “forget” to write them until months had passed and other times I would begrudgingly write them, lamenting the process the whole way through.

Fast forward to January 2, 2015 – day 1 at the Peery Foundation - when I was told that we prioritize writing hand written thank you notes as follow up to many of the meetings we have. I met this with some silent skepticism “hmm… I’m going to have a lot on my plate. Taking 15-30 minutes each week to write thank you’s doesn’t seem to be the most strategic use of my time.” But the desire to make a positive impression won out and I fell in line.  

Now seven months into the job, I’m blogging to confess that I couldn’t have been more wrong about the importance of this small gesture. I have received a dozen responses to my cards by grateful recipients who in turn wrote to acknowledge what my little card meant to them. Recently I received this response:

“Thanks for the wonderful thank you note that I received from you. In my more then 20 years working with funders this is the first one that I have ever received. Thanks for taking the time and thinking about the people sitting on the other side of the table….”

To be clear, my thank you’s still lack the creativity of Emily Dickinson and the excitement of JK Rowling. They are often merely a few simple sentences acknowledging the meeting and the topics covered with a promise to reconnect at the right time. And that’s enough!  I realized that the exact words don’t really matter. It’s the small, personal gesture of human connection that makes the difference!

There are weeks where the thank you’s pile up on my desk, and they are the last thing I want to do. But I recognize the value of the connection they create – even if it’s just for a few seconds – and the small measure of recognition they provide particularly for nonprofits who tirelessly implement programs while raising funds and often do not get the praise they deserve.

So think about taking the time to hand write a thank you. It’s worth it!

PS – I’m also back to consistently writing thank you’s to all my friends and relatives.