Proven Strategies

Woman with brown hair in black coat holding black dog in blue coat

Leading with Gratitude

Planning for Successful End-of-Year Fundraising  

The great poet and writer Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

We're lucky, because convincing people that they are supporting a noble cause is not a heavy lift for anyone in the animal care field. Nobility is the core of what we do. In a year of so much loss, what better service can we offer to our fellow human beings than the opportunity to play a part in saving lives every day? And our genuine gratitude—expressed repeatedly, creatively and authentically—is the best way to do that. 

Investing in the personal touch  

Co-founder Gabriel de Peyer, has been making personal phone thank-you calls to donors for years—no matter the size of their donation. People are genuinely touched that he takes the time to do so. Not to mention, they feel like they’ve been part of our work in a direct way.  

With the onset of COVID, we have had staff making such calls as well and the response continues to be enthusiastic. Recently, we received this message from a donor that captures how we are following Dr. Angelou’s advice to make people feel good about their support: 

"I’m just calling to let you know how much I appreciate your message and how much I care for Best Friends Animal Society. This is my 95th birthday, so the message couldn't have come at a better time. I love animals and as long as I'm still here on this Earth, I will be trying to help as much as possible. Love you all for what you're doing and love all the animals. I'm so glad so many are being taken care of. Thank you again, and God bless you for your work. Amen." 

For a more permanent expression of gratitude, consider dedicating some of the space inside or outside of your facility to recognizing your supporters. At the sanctuary, co-founders Anne and Cyrus Mejia created the Gratitude Garden and Labyrinth to show our thanks to our hardworking staff, volunteers and partners.  

“Being in the sacredness of the canyon is an oasis for contemplation, is restorative for the heart and soul, and makes the depth of our gratitude into something very tangible,” Anne says. 

Making the connection in Texas 

The leadership at the Humane Society of Harlingen (HSH) in Texas has internalized this philosophy in building rapport with their community through a variety of communication channels. Community engagement coordinator Sarah Cano and executive director Luis Quintanilla both joined the organization at the beginning of this year, and they inherited a shelter that really hadn’t been able to establish a consistent and proactive community outreach/development team. Now, they are working hard to establish a culture of gratitude in all their interactions and seeing positive change and increased engagement as a result.  

“We didn’t want HSH to just be a shelter that saved lives; we wanted it to be a community resource center,” Luis says. “Every animal we save is a win for Harlingen, and it’s important to show our community and our supporters that every life we save is because of their help. We make sure to always reflect HSH’s immense gratitude in every interaction, especially in thank-you letters and calls.” 

“Everything we’ve been doing has been focused on creating a family outside of the shelter,” Sarah adds. “And in terms of community response, we now have residents calling us and asking things like, ‘My dog is acting unusual, what do you think I should do?’ When we give them advice, they feel good about taking proactive steps to help their pet. People trust us now when perhaps they didn’t previously, and that has led to all sorts of support, from financial donations to donations of food or supplies.” 

“People are not only happy to help, but the community never knew they could be a direct part of the solution,” Luis says. “We’ve turned a lot of people into volunteer shelter workers without them even knowing it!” 

Involving the public in your success 

The greatest experience I ever had as a donor was standing in my office around 3 a.m., staring out at the darkness, waiting for the phone to connect so I could speak to the young woman thousands of miles away whose college education I had helped to fund. That made me feel connected, and I think "connected" is just one of the goals we should be striving for with our end-of-year fundraising.  

Fundraiser extraordinaire Jerry Panas once said, “When a person makes a gift to your organization, it causes a ripple effect. It makes things happen. It touches lives, that touch other lives, that still touch others…” 

And in his ten lessons of successful fundraising, Panas summed it up perfectly: “Here’s one thing I know. Once you start asking, once you feel the exhilaration of inviting a person to join you in a noble cause, you’ll never be able to stop. It’s in your blood, it’s the most fulfilling and rewarding thing you’ve ever done.” 

For more information about upping your fundraising game, watch the town hall Rock Solid Fundraising: Strengthening Your Financial Foothold or listen to the podcast Pivot on a Dime to Make a Buck. You can also find all sorts of funding resources in the Network Lifesaving Library or take our 11-lesson course on Fundraising Fundamentals. For tips on virtual fundraising ideas, check out this editorial.  

Patricia Tolbert  
Network Partner Development Strategist 
Best Friends Animal Society 

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