Creating an Attitude of Gratitude at Your Y

by Elizabeth Minehart on August 31, 2017

“Tell Your Story.” I think I hear this at every NAYDO conference, every AFP Meeting and every time I talk with someone about our Annual Campaign. But I don’t think I really understood how easy this could be until this year. Our Y declared 2017 to be a year with an Attitude of Gratitude!  So, I set out to help our members and donors know that we appreciate them and that they are what makes our Y great. 

Let me start with our team. Two years ago, after returning from NAYDO and being inspired by the YMCA of Austin, we brought together key Annual Campaign staff from each of our branches and created a Philanthropy Team.  We gather monthly to help each other keep stewardship and fundraising on the right track.  With so many initial ideas for our year of gratitude, we decided to start small. Little did we know, “keep it small” would be our biggest lesson learned! 

We started with our thank you note.  As part of our Attitude of Gratitude efforts, our CEO mandated all donors receive a handwritten thank you note within 48 hours of each gift. Great idea, but we envisioned this would be a challenge for directors of a key summer program, Bright Beginnings. Through Bright Beginnings, we take hundreds of kids back-to-school shopping in August. Leadership not only runs this large program, but also their regular program area(s). How might they find time each day to write five to 10 thank you notes? 

Our solution: a prewritten thank you card (seen here).  We conducted a contest to collect past participants’ stories and choose one to feature in the letter. Each director only needs to add a quick note of thanks. This note makes it fast and easy to thank donors quickly during a very busy season. This small adjustment to our acknowledgement efforts still provides donors with a personal touch and a letter from a child impacted by the program, but is efficient.


Our next idea focused on showing gratitude to members and staff. We created a monthly poster featuring a member story which are featured at all our branches. The stories changed each month. The stories serve a second purpose - we combine the posters into a quarterly e-newsletter (seen here) sent to all members and donors. In the e-newsletter, we ask our members to share their stories. We’ve received inspiring stories submitted in response to each newsletter! We sent our February impact e-mail (seen here) on Valentine’s Day and showed our donors and members how they have “Spread the Love” this past year. We included the number of people they helped, giving them hard facts in addition to our stories.


I wear two hats in our Association. In addition to leading our Annual Campaign, I also spearhead our e-communications, including our social media. We changed our social media strategy this year from securing donations to stewardship. We’ve always struggled with securing donations via social media, so our 2017 approach is to inspire our followers. Each week we feature a Y member, staff or volunteer. We celebrate our heroes, tell uplifting tales of triumph, and share why our staff love their jobs! These are our most interacted with posts each week with frequent shares, comments encouraging each other and celebrating members’ favorite Y staffer.

I’ve loved our Attitude of Gratitude year so far. I always left the “Tell Your Story” sessions and webinars thinking, how can I do that? We serve so many people in so many ways, the breadth and depth of the Y can’t be summed up into a one-page case. I’ve learned this year that it’s not as hard as I thought! Keep the stories simple, short, and genuine, and not a four-page essay. It can be as simple as one of our recently featured stories: “Coaching youth basketball is the highlight of my week! I’m so proud of my kiddos.” Our members and donors recognize they are in a special place when they are part of the Y. Let’s make sure they know how truly special it is by telling their stories.


Elizabeth Minehart is the Director of Annual Campaigns and E-Communication for the YMCA of Greensboro.  She has been with the YMCA for over 12 years and found her passion for fundraising 7 years ago and will just not stop telling people how awesome the Y is.  She is also an avid sewer and half marathon runner.

YMCA Stewardship Week is August 28-September 1. Read the blog to be inspired by some of the best-in-class samples submitted by fellow Y development professionals. Follow us on Twitter where we’ll be sharing even more resources and ideas on donor relations best practices, gratitude, and engagement with our donors – search #YGratitude to find us. And finally, visit the Stewardship Gallery on Exchange and check out the new sample additions.