They are two of the most powerful words we can say. Yet so often we use them in such general ways. Someone holds a door for you and you whisk in, saying thanks without so much as glancing at the person. Someone allows you to merge into traffic this morning. You respond with a quick wave, mouthing thank you — and swoosh, you’re gone.

What about when it is really important? When someone helps a parish or the diocese meet its annual needs or transform itself, or perhaps when special needs must be addressed. How do you say thank you when it matters? Is your thank you a one-size-fits-all form letter? A message from the bishop that is read by a lay person during announcements at one Mass? Thank you builds a relationship, increases understanding, and invites continued education. And while an important step, it shouldn’t be confined to acknowledging a financial transaction. At the time the gift is made, the needs defined in the case statement are still a vision or are yet to be fulfilled.

This communication of gratitude outlines the needs and expectations; builds the understanding that gifts, joined together with support from others, creates a better response; and confirms the work to be done. But do you also thank them as the work is completed? As the vision and hope become reality – services are provided, needs are met, and issues are resolved – is the celebration limited to those who delivered the work, or do you invite all stakeholders to celebrate?

Complete the loop with donors – let them know what happened. Thanking donors once again reminds them of the gift they made, confirms that work was accomplished, and builds understanding and support for areas of specific interest. These thanks don’t need to be long, but must be specific. They also can be done frequently, assuming a broad appeal has multiple needs that are addressed at different times throughout the year, you can continue to share progress with each accomplishment.

At GP Catholic Services, we recognize that both the planning for a solicitation and how donors are treated following a gift are of equal importance. Together these actions speak to the relationship you are working to foster, the way in which you will steward the funds, and how you desire to advance the partnership with donors to address future needs.

Think of the “thank you” as a starting point, not the end.

Three questions to ask yourself before you express thanks:

1. Is it genuine? Although the comedian George Burns once said, “Sincerity: if you can fake that, you’ve got it made!,” there is no place for dishonesty in stewardship.

2. Are you clear? Is your communication focused on the message of thanks or is it mixed in with a number of other messages?

3. How specific are you? Do you explain what you are thankful for? Do you help the donor understand the impact their gift had on the campaign goals or how it changed a particular life?