7 Gratitude Tools To Use Now (Because Common Sense Is Not So Common)

Thanksgiving is a time of year that resonates with fundraisers. Development professionals walk within the realm of gratitude on a daily basis, which for me is one of the most enjoyable parts of our profession. In addition to securing philanthropic gifts that benefit our organizations and causes, we have the privilege of stewarding these contributions in a way that inspires donor trust while progressively building deeper relationships with our donors.

My husband is a management consultant and frequently travels by car and plane. Two days ago, after seeing a significant overcharge on a recent car rental, he conveyed the problem to the 1-800 customer service employee and was told that “someone would call him back shortly.” No call has come and consequently, this particular car rental company (a national one) is about to lose a long time customer. Ironically, it is the week of Thanksgiving. So I am wondering. What might happen if businesses and other professionals borrowed from the fundraiser’s toolbox in an effort to strengthen relationships with their constituents? Retained customers? Happier patients? More client referrals?

Communicate While it is true that it may not be possible to have one-on-one communication with every customer, technology and social media have made it easier to systematically communicate with the masses. Take the time to get to know social media platforms and their respective functions. Make it personal. What is appropriate for Facebook is different from what is appropriate for Twitter or LinkedIn. Hootsuite (https://hootsuite.com) is an excellent resource. Hire a freelancer. Reach out to a university career services office should you be lucky enough to have one close by.

Get Them Involved Brainstorm ways to further involve your clients in a way that builds affinity for your organization. Host casual focus groups with your clients and listen to what they want and then deliver. Let them know that their opinions matter. Choose a local nonprofit that does not conflict with your organizational mission and invite clients to partner at a fundraising event. The more local the focus, the greater likelihood for involvement.

Make Monthly Calls Calendar time to make phone calls to customers. Make it short, warm and professional. The primary goal is to express appreciation for their business. Period.

Appreciation Event An appreciation event does not have to break the bank. Think old-fashioned family picnic. A facility tour. A customer only appreciation tent at a public event. If your client base is not localized, get creative with a virtual appreciation event that offers a value-add for participating customers. If you do something like this, however, keep the intention pure. This should be about what you can do for your customers and not the other way around.

Profile Clients Feature profiles of extremely satisfied clients on your company website remembering to obtain a signed release first. Ask clients what differentiates your organization from others? Again, reach out to a freelancer if you do not have someone in-house to do the job well. Include profiles on your social media channels.

Be Thoughtful Sure, this is common sense but apparently common sense is not so common these days. Send the signed birthday card. Mail anniversary loyalty cards. Make customer service calls in a timely manner. Relate to those people who are keeping you in business.

Resolve Complaints Within 24 Hours Make impeccable customer service part of every employee’s performance plan. Train employees. Send them to workshops. Make the investment. It will pay off. A month ago I purchased a foosball table for my son’s playroom. Several days later I called the company to let them know that a) assembly instructions were laughable b) they failed to include two of the levelers and c) the experience had been so poor that I planned on writing a negative review on Amazon. I was grateful for the subsequent stellar customer service. I now have $100 more in my pocket, the two levelers arrived within two days and we will not need to buy foosballs for at least a year.

No negative review. Happy customer. Impeccable.

Labor Day Rules

I never wear white after Labor Day. It’s a thing that has followed me from childhood. Not sure who wrote this into official fashion law, but as a good, southern girl who cared (too much) about what others thought of me, well, I followed the rules. Sure, there was the semi-alternative “I want to be Molly Ringwald” phase that rounded out my college experience  but by the time my early to mid-twenties rolled around, I wore a most professional personae to match my Casual Corner “Dress for Success” wardrobe.

Then somewhere on into my 30’s, I lost the rule book. While most of my old friends were dealing with potty training and pot luck dinner clubs, I was on a different path partly by choice and partly by happenstance. Nevertheless, it was a time in my life where I explored the person I was both professionally and personally and began to get a clearer sense of the person I wanted to become as well as the person I did not want to be. It was an often unpredictable and exciting ride. For the most part, it was a series of hits and misses and a few course corrections. I made some good decisions. I made some poor decisions and they all bounced off each other like bumper cars.

Some years ago, I recall hearing a statement attributed to George W. Bush about feeling like he didn’t reach adulthood until around the age of 40. To some extent, I felt similarly, although for me it was not about reaching a specific age per se, but more about reaching the milestone of motherhood, which I did just nine months and one week after marrying my husband whom I met through (surprise!) Match.com which in 2002 was anything but mainstream.

Fast forward to ten years later.  On most days that pendulum of life can be found balanced in all of the predictable and yes, conventional spaces that go along with an 11 year marriage and a 10 year old son. Life is not as exciting as it was a decade ago. But it is more grounded, more authentic and certainly more meaningful. The ride in the dark thrill ride has been replaced with a carousel that becomes more nostalgic and endearing with each passing year. And if you look closely, you realize that while the carousel does keep turning around and around and around, the scenery seldom stays the same. That’s enough excitement for me.

From the Edge of 2012: Happy New Year

I have been awake for a few hours now, since 4:45 a.m., sitting in our den, wrapped in the yummy wool blanket my husband brought back from Ireland some years ago. I seldom actively seek such an opportunity to observe the morning. I am not – never have been – a morning person. It is usually an all out dash to get the household going, my son to school and me to work. This morning was different. Instead of fighting for another hour or two of sleep, I rolled from the bed and made a strong cup of coffee. I sat. I thought. I listened. I sat some more. I heard morning’s earliest bird break into song precisely at 6:50 a.m. while a whistle of a distant train sounded ten minutes later. Seemingly on cue, an avian symphony came alive with its chirping woodwinds and melodic tunes.  I closed my eyes, enjoyed the evergreen scent of our nearby Christmas tree and turned on its multi-colored lights. So pretty. I  broke off a twig and enjoyed some spontaneous aromatherapy. Just before sugar plum visions began their dance, my trance was interrupted by the beep of our alarm system being disarmed, creaking floors from above and my husband’s footsteps on the stairs. A new day had begun.

I have long been a fan of new beginnings and possibilities. Corny as it may seem, the start of a New Year invokes the kind of giddiness and wonder I used to feel as a school girl entering the next grade with a fresh mix of faces. Inspired. Receptive. Hopeful. I still feel the same way. Only more so.  Likely from a heightened awareness of how fleeting life truly is, as well as a natural inclination for learning and a desire to get better at being better.

A few years into our marriage, my husband and I participated in a life enhancing opportunity which helped bring to light our values and hopes for both ourselves and our family. We delved deep into the art and science of life mapping, essentially a creative planning process for defining and articulating values, vision, mission and goals for ourselves individually, as a couple, and our family. It was intensive and intense in the best possible way. Despite the frightening emergency (near crash) landing on the flight to Colorado, (no, we did not miss the irony there) it was a magically wonderful experience.

Our new found insight helped guide a few critically important decisions that would impact our lives forever. We knew that doing what we believed was the right thing for our family would not necessarily mean that our chosen path would be easy. We agreed to live with whatever consequences might come our way… of which there have been good ones and not so good ones. Last night we watched the movie, The Words. For me, an average movie with a poignant quote. “We all make choices. The hard thing is to live with them, and there ain’t nobody that can help you with that.” I played with editorial rights to create my own version which I like much better. “We all make choices. The hard thing is to make value-based decisions, live with them, and only your heart there ain’t nobody that can help you with that.”

As the New Year ball rocks and rolls along the not-so-distant horizon, I will once again try my hand at painting next year’s canvas while considering the multitude of twinkling, multi-colored possibilities. Understanding that planning alone is of limited value without disciplined execution and God’s blessing. Hoping and praying that when the big ball drops, it will sprinkle the brightest of outcomes throughout 2013 upon our family, our friends and our nation. Happy New Year.

My Encounters With A Terrestrial Gastroid Mollusk

A few nights ago as I was running back and forth between washing dishes and reviewing Jack’s pre-algebra homework, I zipped into the laundry room to quickly slop the animals (dog, guinea pig, dwarf hamster). As I was hurriedly cramming Timothy Hay into Scampers’ buffet wheel, something caught my eye. It was on the wall in front of me, several feet above my head. It was dark. It was gross. It was a slug. After realizing what it was exactly, I just stood there…staring at the oozing blob. Disgusting. It was huge. Super sized. How did it even get inside?  It had climbed so high up the wall, a good six or seven feet. How the heck? The timing of this unpleasant discovery was not meshing well into my already jam-packed first hour home from work routine. Doorbell starts ringing, dog starts barking, child starts yelling. It was at that moment I decided the slug could wait for a few minutes while I dealt with the FedEx guy at the front door.

Fast forward to several hours later. I am finally in my bed. Lights are out. Mentally ticking through my list. Sleepy. School uniform pressed. House alarm activated. Car keys on the counter. Test folder signed. Animals fed. Mmmm, the sheets smell nice. Then I remembered the thing I had forgotten. The slug. I whip back the covers and dash down the stairs. Laundry door opens. Light switch up. No slug. Anywhere. I looked. So as Jake, the Schnauzer, sat there squinting at me, clearly annoyed with the interruption,
I silently chastised myself for letting the slug get away. The opportunity had been mine to lose, and that’s exactly what I did.

The next morning while driving to work, I thought about that slug. I thought about the other slugs, figuratively of course, that we allow to pass us by because of  momentary distractions, small inconveniences, procrastination or as my Pop Henderson might have said, “because of pure, T, laziness.”

Beyond those most obvious examples of  missed opportunities-the unreturned calls and emails, unexecuted best intentions or simply not doing what we say we will do-exist those subtle opportunities, close cousins of serendipity, happenstance and luck. These can be life’s real game changers. These are opportunities, that when taken, set up the dominos, cue the eight ball and seemingly place us at the right place at the right time…automagically. I call these opportunities, “opportunities in waiting,” and I believe they  surround us regularly. Before we can act upon these opportunities in waiting, however, we must attune ourselves to recognizing them when they appear. Those seemingly flukey observations we blow off as coincidences rather than signs. The nugget of eerily insightful advice from a stranger. That inner whisper that encourages us to say something or do something far beyond our comfort zone, even it it scares us to death.

I have learned that the “act now window” for these kinds of opportunities is often a small one. They do not always align with our cerebrally constructed life map. They do not function as wish granting genies, but more like our personal North Stars, leading us to where we are meant to be. Much like the three wise men, we must trust the star that shines to lead us.

As I was about to leave for work yesterday morning, I heard the faint whirring of the motor in Jake’s water fountain bowl signaling for a refill. Not convenient. I was about to be late for a meeting and rationalized that my husband would be down shortly. He would refill it. Keys in hand, I opened the front door, stepped, stopped and went back inside. Disgruntled, I flung my handbag, briefcase and keys onto the foyer settee’ and marched into the laundry room. Huff puff. Huff puff. Filled the water tank. Slopped the animals and then something caught my eye, there by the doggie door. It was dark. It was gross. It was a slug. Opportunity knocks. Sometimes even twice.

Thirty Days Until Christmas?

Now that the last week of November is here, I know I must guard against my tendency to slip into pre-holiday panic mode.That frenzied state, which I do my best to avoid, has the power to send me zooming like a crazed Christmas mouse in pursuit of what? Why, the perfect holiday season, of course. Much like Spencer Johnson’s “Hem” and his magical cheese, holiday perfection eludes me.

I married in my late thirties and our son was born within the following year. Until then, the month of December was a relaxing time for me–single and childless–as I observed my friends, busy moms and dads, whirl themselves into delirium … all in the name of making it a happy holiday season. And then somewhere between my single girl zen and my son’s first birthday, I sipped the eggnog.

For our first five married years, I tried my darndest to channel me some Martha. It did not work out so well. Double decker (lopsided) gingerbread houses. International holiday cuisine with names I could not pronounce and no one else would eat. Holiday decor that took weeks to get into place and months to get out-of-place.  And then there were the gifts. Gifts, gifts, gifts, for the sake of giving lots of gifts. Big gifts. Little gifts. Junk gifts. Stuffer gifts. Prank gifts. Edible gifts. BOGO gifts. One time use gifts. No time use gifts. Case in point, I still have a telescope in my house that is so complicated, it has never been used. I became an unglued seasonal mess in a (cute) Christmas sweater. Then, when my son became old enough to really understand the meaning of Christmas, the holiday cheese moved again.

I busied myself for the next two holiday seasons doing everything I could to make sure my son’s Christmas memories were both wondrous and meaningful. I even went so far as to make an actual calendar of each day’s Christmas readings, activities and/or events. Honestly. Elf on the Shelf got the party started with his carefully planned December 1 arrival. From there, we would follow a daily schedule of Bible readings, classic stories or movies and a Christmas craft that I would inevitably end up doing by myself because, News Flash, the patience of a typical seven-year-old boy is not that great.  Weekends would be filled with tree farms, elf farms, Santa pictures, Santa calls, Christmas pageants, Christmas tours, Christmas trains, Zoo Lights. Yard Lights. My car even donned a red nose and antlers last year. But I realized that my efforts felt more about control than the true joy of the season. The more I tried to schedule my son’s holiday memory making, the more contrived and disingenuous my efforts began to feel. So was I really doing all of this for his benefit? Or was it more about trying to prove something to myself or others? Not exactly the real joy I was hoping for. I vowed last year not to do things the same way next year. It is now next year.

I was stunned today to hear someone proclaim taunt, that “Christmas is just 30 days away!” Her tone was similar to a small child teasing “Nanny nanny boo boo!”  I feel certain she must be one of those whose shopping and trimming wrapped up weeks ago. Perhaps her name is Martha. I, however, have done nothing, have done nothing, have done nothing. My stomach just fluttered.

As much respect as I have for our nation’s history, I believe it was an absolute mistake to schedule Thanksgiving in the latter part of November. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress in 1941 to move Thanksgiving Day from November’s last Thursday to its third Thursday. My vote would have been for the first Thursday. Then we would be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before e-a-s-i-n-g into the Christmas season instead of feeling as if we are launched from the cornucopia before our pumpkin pie has digested.

For the first time in ten years I have no holiday game plan. I am thinking that may not be such a bad thing. Game plans produce expectations, and expectations are tricky. I wonder what it would feel like to free fall through the holidays for a change? Just let them lead me and not the other way around.  Makes me recall my skydiving experience from two years ago. The free fall was my favorite part. I will never forget that awe-inspiring view as we tumbled into the clouds. Simultaneously exhilarating and peaceful. Exhilarating… and peaceful. One, two, three, jump.


Thanksgiving Campfires

This will be my first Thanksgiving without my dad. He died five months ago. While we were not especially close in my younger years, we were involved in each other’s lives as we both grew older and wiser. Daddy was diabetic. A year before he died, his physician confided to me that daddy was in the early stage of Alzheimer’s and that the following year would be marked by a rapid degeneration. He died from hypoglycemia, a result of his dwindling ability to manage his self care. It appeared that he went peacefully during his sleep.

In the first few months that followed, I felt relieved that daddy would not have to endure the horrific wrath of advanced Alzheimer’s. I also felt a selfish sense of relief that I would not have to witness his decline. It had, in fact, become a challenge to help manage his well-being along with my career, marriage and young son. My brother and I devised a system where he would make daily phone calls to daddy and if he could not reach him, he would let me know. I cannot count the number of times I left the office to check on him only to realize he had just forgetten to charge his phone-until that one summer morning, June 27, when everything changed.

I have thought of him frequently during these past few weeks. He loved this time of year. Gamecock football. Oyster season. Thanksgiving. How he loved Thanksgiving. It has become a family tradition to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving Day at my brother’s house in Charleston before camping out with family and friends in the tiny town of Cottageville for our own festive “Cottagepalooza.” I videotaped daddy last year by the campfire entertaining his three grandsons with fireside tales. He loved being there.

The unpredictable swells of emotion I have experienced over these past few weeks have caught me by surprise. I could rationalize some possible triggers, his recently installed gravestone or the message I found from him on an old answering machine. Yet I think the real reason is quite simply, I miss him… much more than I ever thought I could.  Though there are things I do not miss–the middle of the night nonsensical phone calls, soiled sofa cushions and interupted work schedules–all seem inconsequential now and are overshadowed by a grown daughter’s longing to have her father back in the world again.

While I am glad to have captured video of his last Thanksgiving, I do wish I had been more deliberate about letting him know how grateful I was to have him in my life. If I could do it over again, my memory of last Thanksgiving would be one of us recalling memories of Thanksgivings  past. I would have asked him about his childhood memories of  Thanksgiving and any others he would have shared. I would have looked him in the eye and told him that I loved him although I always did not understand him and that I appreciated him although I did not always tell him.  I would have let him know that even though our relationship had its ups and downs, I was grateful to have him in my life. I would have given him a long hug and allowed myself to sit in the stillness of that vulnerable and potentially transformational space for as long as it could have lingered. Who knows how he would have responded, but that really isn’t the point now, is it?

So what would have happened, I wonder, if I had envisioned that scenario before  Thanksgiving Day 2011 and had created an intention to see it through? Might that memory be different today? As we head into this season of gratitude, it may benefit us all to spend a few minutes considering the memories we hope to have this time next year and spending the same effort making those memories, as we do making the turkey and dressing. To be deliberate about saying those things to those people who mean the very most. All the while remembering that our own peace comes from what we cast out into the universe and not from what we receive.  The self talk can be tempting. “Oh, they know how I feel” or “We just don’t open up that way.” I assure you that when they are gone, the recollections of words unspoken will offer little comfort.

Had I known last year that it would be  my last Thanksgiving with my father, I absolutely would have done some things differently. I would have been truly present with him instead of being conveniently distracted by the “goings on.” Will we continue to accept hindsight’s regret? Or would we all be better served by embracing a new family recipe, which for starters, could be as simple as casting fear aside and putting down the camera?