Taped on the inside of the restroom door on the top floor of Piggly Wiggly's corporate offices is a handwritten note saying “Find Somebody To Thank.” The power of “thank you” is easy to underestimate until you test it out. For the past year I have made a conscious effort to write a thank you note to a different person each day — to write to someone who does not expect one but deserves one anyway. I usually stop to write them at the end of the day when I should be hurrying to get home. Note writing gets pushed to the end of my day because everything else seems more important. I am telling you this not to illustrate my good manners or my poor judgment, but rather to give you a sense of how I have struggled to learn what I am about to tell you.
I am sure you are aware that getting a thank you, a well-deserved thank you, is a great motivator. That is probably why the restroom graffiti at Piggly Wiggly was written, or at least that is what I thought until I started my daily regimen of trying to give meaningful thanks.
There is much to be thankful for during Thanksgiving that it is easy to forget the first rule of giving thanks.
Rule No. 1: Be specific. I have grown impatient with the “thanks for all you do” kind of thank yous. Other irritants include the “thanks for asking, ” the “thanks for taking my call,” and in this season of charitable giving, the “thanks for your support.” While the thought is nice, the execution lacks punch.
We have so many debts of gratitude this Thanksgiving that the easy way out, the shotgun approach, leads us towards thoughtlessly thin thank you's.
Rule No. 2: Thank the right people. I do not mean thank your superiors (although that is probably a good idea when they really deserve it) but rather target your thanks. Once I thanked someone for working to successfully transition the company from one software platform to another when in fact that person was resistant to the change and not helpful in the process. One poorly targeted “thanks” and all your other “thank yous” suffer from deflation, forever. I had to leave that job to regain my thanking prowess.
I did not learn these two rules from the hundreds of thank you notes I wrote. Those notes taught me something more profound that sprang from these two rules.
Many times, after sending off a note I would get a response back. Often thankees told me that my note lifted their spirits on a particularly bad day. For some, they saw the timing of the note as an act of God.
I did not expect that. A well-placed thank you pulls you through tough times. A thank you can be miraculous.
What affected me most deeply, however, was what saying thanks did to me. By stopping to say “thanks” every day, even when I was rushed to do other things, I became more aware of how much I depend on those around me. I realized that I too depend on our collective generosity. I became more generous.
This, Nov. 12-18, is Philanthropy Week in the Lowcountry when we pause to thank all of those who have given generously.
Philanthropy Week is more than just saying thank you. It is specific (Rule One), targeted (Rule Two), and can be inspirational if we let it. Philanthropy Week reminds us that by giving thanks to those who inspire us we can inspire ourselves.
You can find out more about Philanthropy Week in the Lowcountry at www.philanthropyweek.org.
George Stevens is president and CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina.