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The Turkey Doesn’t Make the Meal: Giving Thanks All Year Round

Few artists are so consistently associated with the American experience more often than Norman Rockwell. The iconic painting, “Freedom from Want,” shows people gathered around a table filled with food and empty plates, as the turkey is lowered onto its place on the table. This image continues to be used to express and comment on American values (I recommend the parodies that add iPhones or replace the people with comic-book characters).


Look up the image when you have a chance. What most people notice is the turkey.  What strikes me about this image is that, despite the turkey's placement in the center of the painting, the people around the table aren't focused on it. Instead, more eyes are focused on the people around the table.
Strong relationships are rarely formed over one meal. Learning about one another, identifying shared interests and values, and just having fun together takes time. Being grateful can remind you to build your relationship with funders throughout the year, not just when an application or report is due. In all expressions of gratitude, don't forget what you learned about the funder. Communicate using the method and frequency that they prefer.
Gratitude for Successes
All grant-funded projects and programs have moments of success. Grant professionals need to develop effective communication methods with the program staff, CEO, and others to hear those successes. Then, these stories can be communicated with the funder. This can happen simply via a post-it note on the front of a newsletter, drawing the funder's attention to an article about a project that they helped fund. Gratitude can also be expressed via a short email or phone call. It can be easy to remember that success was made possible by staff and strategy, but funding doesn't usually stare you in the face during a meeting, so donors may be easily forgotten.
Gratitude for Opportunities
Funders sometimes support organizations via more than funding. They might invite grantees to their events, notify them of other grant opportunities, bring attention to organizations doing work similar to their grantees, or forward event announcements. Gratitude for these opportunities can be shown by simply acknowledging the offer of support, or by taking advantage of the opportunity and then following up to let the funder know how the organization benefited from the opportunity.
Gratitude for Challenges
There can be challenges throughout the lifecycle of a grant. Some of these are well-known and expected as part of implementing the program. Others are unexpected or fall outside of what is normally expected. These are the moments that present opportunities to show appreciation of your funder's expertise and experience. For example, one organization that I worked with was funded for a program that had been successfully operating for more than twenty years. However, laws changed that severely impacted the feasibility of the program. As a result, the organization had to evaluate whether the program was worth continuing, or if there were strategies that could be implemented to address the guidelines established by the new law. That organization decided to pick up the phone to discuss the challenges with the funder. The staff hung up with some ideas and insight that they would not have had otherwise; Chances are, the funder hung up the phone feeling valued.  
Rockwell's “Freedom from Want” captures one moment in the course of a year. However, it is sometimes referred to using a different name: “I'll Be Home for Christmas.” This name focuses on relationships and ongoing opportunities to be thankful for one another. Grant professionals' relationships with funders similarly rely on ongoing gratefulness.
Think of an example of when you reached out to a funder outside of the official process. What motivated it? How can you build a habit of looking for opportunities to be grateful?

Jen Hurst, M.A. has served nonprofits since middle school, when she and a few friends started their philanthropic work by raising $150 for the local animal shelter.

GPC Competency: 08. Funder Relationships