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Gratitude: Philosophy and Practice

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Woman expressing gratitude


September 21 is World Gratitude Day.

Conceived in 1965 by spiritual teacher and leader Sri Chinmoy while celebrating Thanksgiving at the United Nations, the first World Gratitude Day was celebrated in 1966. Chinmoy asked the participants at the dinner to return to their home country and do something to celebrate gratitude the following year.  

The Roman philosopher Seneca (4 BCE to 65 CE) was one of the first western philosophers to write about the idea of gratitude.  

He devoted an entire treatise to the question of how one should give to others, and how one should receive a gift of any kind, writing, “nothing I can mention is more disgraceful than the fact that we do not know how either to give or to receive benefits… Nor is it surprising that among all our many and great vices, none is so common as ingratitude.”

Brene Brown is, according to her website, “researcher and storyteller who's spent two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy” and has written six number one New York Times bestselling books, showed an evolution of the concept, citing the personal wellness benefits of feeling and exhibiting gratitude. She says in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, that “Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude.” 

Philanthropy Daily, published by the Centre for Civil Society, which has written along with hundreds of other fundraising journals and how-to books defines gratitude as a “tool.”  

“As a fundraiser, gratitude–both well-expressed and sincere–is one of the most important tools you have, says Philanthropy Daily. “It’s good for you and your donor.”

“By implementing donor appreciation strategies that resonate with your supporters, you can foster stronger relationships and encourage a deeper commitment to your cause,” said Derrick Spitler in an AFP Daily article in 2021. “Donor appreciation should be one of the cornerstones of your fundraising strategy. Since the cost of acquiring a new donor is much higher than holding onto an existing one, donor retention is a vital priority to keep your budget on track.”

“As members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, we understand that gratitude is the fuel that ignites the spirit of giving,” says Sabrina Ali, chair of the AFP Foundation for the Philanthropy—Canada stewardship committee. “Celebrating World Gratitude Day on September 21 reminds us that in our pursuit of philanthropic goals, acknowledging the generosity of our donors is not just a gesture, it's the cornerstone of a thriving and compassionate fundraising sector.”

“Donors represent the spirit of philanthropy,” echoes Lori Gusdorf, CAE, executive vice president, AFP Foundations for Philanthropy, “but so do our fundraisers and many volunteers who make charitable work possible and, indeed, make the work of the AFP Foundation for the Philanthropy - Canada, AFP Canada, and our AFP chapters possible. We ask so much of our board and committee volunteers and are inspired by their leadership and commitment.”

“Gratitude not only strengthens the bonds between givers and receivers but also ensures that our noble mission continues to make a meaningful impact on the world,” adds Ali. 

What can you do for World Gratitude Day?  

Three suggestions that you can easily incorporate for Gratitude Day this year are: 

1. Write and send thank you notes: Write letters, cards, or emails to important people in your life. You can write about anything that comes to mind—your favorite memories together, what they taught you, how much they mean to you. 

2. Show gratitude to everyone: Show gratitude to everybody you meet today. Appreciate the people who contribute to your life in different ways.

3. Appreciate yourself: You're not perfect, but you can be thankful for the good things about yourself. Write down all your good traits or actions. They don't have to be big things. They can be simple or complex.

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