Nell Edgington on Misplaced Nonprofit Gratitude

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September 30, 2014; Social Velocity

Nonprofits must be the most appreciative organizations in society. We’re always sending out thank-you letters to donors large and small; we’re always acknowledging the “generous” foundations sending us grants; heck, for nonprofits, it’s always Thanksgiving. The insightful Nell Edgington suggests in her Social Velocity blog that being grateful isn’t always warranted. Edgington’s examples of “misplaced gratitude, or gratitude for acts that are actually NOT helpful” include these:

  • Being thankful for “board members who aren’t thrilled to serve,” particularly those who make it obvious that they resent the responsibilities incumbent with their board service
  • Gratitude for “donors who don’t fund real costs,” presumably institutional funders that do not appreciate that the cost of program delivery includes overhead as well as program
  • Being thankful for “superfluous in-kind gifts” that make nonprofits “the dumping ground for the things companies want to get rid of while they enjoy a fat tax write-off”
  • Thanking the board for authorizing the recruitment and hiring of underpaid and consequently inexperienced fundraisers

Nonprofit Quarterly readers could easily expand Edgington’s list of examples of misplaced—and counterproductive—nonprofit gratitude, and they should. Nonprofits are central players in addressing and solving America’s social problems. Cicero called gratitude “the greatest of virtues,” but when it is overused when not warranted or needed, it cheapens the times when it is really called for. Ben Franklin had it right in Poor Richard’s Almanack: “Don’t overload Gratitude; if you do, she’ll kick.”—Rick Cohen