Many donors give from the heart without any expectations. Their contribution is an investment in the future—to improve the lives of others, to strengthen an academic institution, or to ensure that quality healthcare is accessible in their communities. The act of giving brings them joy.

“It’s a huge privilege, you know? Be it great or small, it’s done from the heart of people who want to give. It’s an expression of not only gratitude, but a need to help. I’m blessed beyond my wildest dreams in being able to give back.”


Many advancement teams work diligently to provide Return on Philanthropic Investment for their donors; some organizations even have whole teams devoted to stewardship. But development professionals should never underestimate the power that a simple, hand-written note has in demonstrating the impact of a contribution.

Personalize the relationship with your institution

A donor we recently interviewed told the tale of two similar contributions he had made. The region where he lived had suffered a natural disaster, and the resulting damage had displaced the football teams of two universities, forcing them to find alternative practice venues. When the donor heard of their plight, he sent a contribution to each of the football programs. Because these contributions were unsolicited, he had no expectations for stewardship. He was just happy to help.

However, that’s where the similarities between the contributions ended. He never heard back from the first football program until their athletic department sent out a mass mailing to entice new members to join their booster club. The coach of the other program took the time to write a personal note of thanks.

“I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. Not that one of them appreciated my contribution more than the other. But one of them took the time to sit down and write. That made me feel good about how that money was spent—the guarantee that the money went to some kid or kids who needed it.”


Kindle the philanthropic fire in future generations

One academic institution leverages the power of gratitude to educate their student body about philanthropy by hosting a “gratitude day.” Development and academic colleagues work together to identify anything in their department that was made possible through philanthropy—infrastructure, programs, professors. “We put a bow around anything in the building that we can that’s related to philanthropy,” says an academic leader, “and we ask students to write notes to our donors to thank them.” It’s a simple, cost-effective, win-win event that has profound effects. Donors get handwritten notes from students describing the personal impact of the contribution on their academic—and, ultimately—professional careers. More importantly, students are exposed to how deeply philanthropy is ingrained in their university experience, kindling the desire to give back, to have an impact, in a future generation.

“We educate them about all the things in the building, all their experiences, that are somehow connected to philanthropy, so they see the importance. This program that they love or this professor who holds an endowed chair—and we are able to retain her—philanthropy enables that.  We are trying to make sure that future generations understand that philanthropy is a vital piece of what makes our school great and maintains our place in education.”

—Academic Leader


Ask and Act:

  • In what ways can you facilitate your academic colleagues’ ability to write personal notes to donors? Would it be appropriate to have a regular time set aside in which you work together to pen personal notes to donors? Keep a running list of donors to thank and have addresses, stationery, and stamps at the ready.
  • Is it feasible for your department to hold a “gratitude day?” In what other ways could you inspire future generations to appreciate the power of philanthropy and kindle the desire to give back?
  • What other forms of media can you use to send a personalized thank-you to a donor? How can you harness video or social media to steward with a personal touch?


Your academic partner is a valuable member of your institution’s philanthropy team. Encourage them to gain and strengthen their fundraising skills by attending a public offering of Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders. Advancement Resources stands ready to help you invigorate the culture of philanthropy at your institution—start a conversation with us today to see how we can partner in that effort.


Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders

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