Giving Compass' Take:

• Vu Le explains how excessive gratitude toward funders compromises the work of nonprofits and prevents progress toward equity. 

• Are you asking for too much from nonprofits when it comes to gratitude? Are you giving to advance equity? 

• Read about good grantmaking practices to support nonprofits

If there’s one thing that’s been beaten into all of us in the sector, it is the concept of gratitude. Donors and funders should definitely be thanked, preferably throughout the year and in multiple forms: Handwritten note, phone calls, recognition events, maybe a swag mug. It should be as personal as possible so as to not seem routine. “You can never thank someone too much,” a development director colleague told me.

But here’s the issue. I definitely think you can thank someone too much. And as a sector, we have often been too appreciative, to the point where it has been harming our field and the people we serve in multiple ways. And because we’re so busy doing the work—and thanking people for helping us with the work—we don’t often stop to examine the subtle but insidious implications of our conditioned sense of gratitude and the damage it does:

It prevents us from examining unjust systems: Our gratitude to donors and funders often means we do not think about the unjust systems that make philanthropy and nonprofit necessary in the first place. Why do some foundations have so much funding? Why do some donors? Amazon donated 100M to Feeding America, a great organization whose work is even more critical during this pandemic. But Amazon pays no taxes, Jeff Bezos’s wealth grows by over $215Million PER DAY, and yet the company won’t provide their employees with sick leave or protective equipment. Its underpaid, overworked warehouse workers and package deliverers are probably using food pantries to survive. It would be way better if Amazon and other corporations just paid their taxes and compensate their employees decently instead of donating to nonprofits to fill in the gaps created by their self-interests.

It stops us from having critical conversations: We have all encountered donors, funders, board members, and volunteers who say racist, sexist, ableist, transphobic things. How many of us let horrible things slide because of an ingrained gratitude for someone’s contribution combined with fear that they might take it away?

It normalizes crappy philosophies and practices: We have just internalized that we need to be grateful to donors and funders for “supporting” our work to the point where we don’t see how insipid and harmful many of the things they require are. Excessive gratitude conditions us to put up with crap and feel bad when we don’t want to. It also conditions the people we are thankful to believe their crappy practices aren’t so bad.

It makes us hesitate to ask for more: We become thankful when a community foundation announces they are giving out $1M for COVID relief when we really should be saying, “Hey, you actually have 1B in assets. 1M is a start, thank you, but people are dying so you need to give out way more.”

It conditions people to have harmful or unrealistic expectations: Sure, let’s send out thank-you letters within a couple of days and try to call donors when we can. But our conditioning of people to expect certain things to be done a certain way often punishes others who do not operate the same way, often nonprofits led by marginalized communities who do not have a development staff to build relationships with donors.

Read the full article about gratitude by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.