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Showing Up for Your Grantees: The Power of Gratitude and Volunteerism

No doubt your grantees appear on your grateful list—not just in November but year-round—for their critical and tireless work. But how is your organization thanking your nonprofit partners besides writing grant checks?

If you are looking for creative ways to acknowledge and support your grantees beyond the check, read about the following unique, heartwarming, and impactful ways Amy Nossaman, grants program manager at Ottumwa Legacy Foundation (Legacy), and the Legacy team have thanked nonprofits for making a difference in their community. Gain ideas and inspiration from their activities—ranging from simple acts of kindness to streamlining their grant application process:

  1. Hand Deliver Your Grant Checks
  2. Establish an Unrestricted Nonprofit Support Fund
  3. Commit Acts of Gratitude
  4. Volunteer With Local Nonprofits
  5. Create a Common Application with Fellow Funders

Hand Deliver Your Grant Checks

Hand-delivering checks provides an invaluable opportunity to connect with your grantees.

Amy explains, “One thing that's made a big difference is hand-delivering our checks. I really like to meet with grantees and talk about what's going on in their lives.”

When she delivered a grant check to American Home Finding Association (AHFA), she had an opportunity to talk with their executive director, Tracy Boxx-Vass. It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and AHFA was feeling the strain of increasing needs and staffing shortages. Tracy shared her concerns about finding and retaining employees that were feeling the stress of managing two 24-hour residential facilities for youth, along with providing other services to “nurture and improve the quality of life for children and families.”

The conversation was a lightbulb moment for Amy.

“This was the day I committed to really show up for my nonprofit partners, going beyond the check to share our time, talent, and treasure.”

In this case, Amy and her Legacy teammates decided to recognize and appreciate AHFA’s employees with a surprise pizza lunch.

“We spent a couple of hundred dollars on pizza and a little bit of our time. It wasn't a big commitment. But showing up to thank those staff and say, ‘We see you, we hear you, and we'll be here for you,’ really does make a difference in the lives of those individuals and the people they serve.”

Establish an Unrestricted Nonprofit Support Fund

Following her conversations with AHFA, Amy and her Legacy teammates also set up a Pandemic Support Fund, distributing $103,000 in unrestricted funds to nonprofit organizations. AHFA used the funds to purchase gift cards for their hard-working employees, and the Food Bank of Iowa purchased equipment to ease the burden of work on volunteers.

This type of unrestricted funding—whether it’s used for employee gifts to support staff retention, tech investments to help build capacity, or other general operating expenses—can be a game-changer for nonprofit organizations.

Commit Acts of Gratitude

Using a national appreciation day calendar for inspiration, Amy’s team selected several opportunities to creatively show thanks to local nonprofits and public agencies, including:

  • Delivering pizza to AHFA on Pepperoni Pizza Day (September 20)
  • Delivering cookies to the Ottumwa Police Department on Law Enforcement Appreciate Day (January 9)
  • Delivering donuts to Southern Iowa Mental Health on World Mental Health Day (October 10)
  • Donating $100 to a local coffee shop (that serves as a warming center for people experiencing homelessness) so that baristas could distribute free coffee on Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17)

Legacy’s additional acts of gratitude have included delivering pizzas to hundreds of teachers and school administrators at the start of a new school year and providing a surprise check to the group that coordinates more than 280 volunteer hours a year to beautify their downtown.

Amy emphasizes that staff doesn’t need to take sole responsibility for these efforts. Get your board and other stakeholders involved in the fun. For example, Legacy’s Youth Alliance members were motivated by concern for their peers’ mental health challenges to spearhead the effort to support Southern Iowa Mental Health.

Volunteer with Local Nonprofits

Volunteering is a great way to get to know nonprofits and deepen community connections.

Amy and the Legacy team have volunteered at the Food Bank of Iowa’s distribution center and even showed up on a cold, rainy day to help at one of their monthly distribution events.

“Knowing we can count on Amy and Legacy, not only for funding but also for taking the time to get to know what we do in the community and for putting in their time, is very important to us,” said Bergetta Beardsley, vice president of philanthropy at Food Bank of Iowa.

Amy’s crew also made a surprise visit to the Heartland Humane Society to volunteer. While they have not grant-funded the organization for several years, they appreciate the organization’s important work and showed up prepared to do anything.

The Legacy team has also participated in their local United Way’s Day of Caring.

Volunteering has enabled Legacy’s team to put themselves in their grantees’ shoes and better understand all they do to serve their communities. Amy appreciates this shift of power in the typical funder/grantee relationship and the opportunity to uplift their nonprofit partners.

Create a Common Application with Fellow Funders

Inspired by GrantAdvisor’s #FixTheForm initiative, Amy reached out to Ali Wilson, executive director at United Way of Wapello County, about collaborating on a common application. The two organizations often fund the same projects and see each other on project budgets. When they compared their applications, they confirmed they were asking many of the same questions.

Ali explained, “When Amy approached me, the idea of a common application made so much sense to our board and me. It aligned with discussions we'd been having about making things easier and more streamlined for our nonprofits. We wanted to value their time and the work they do over any particular attachment we may have had to a form, a question, or a way of doing something just because we've been doing it that way for 15 years, 20 years, or longer. It just made perfect sense.”

Amy continued, “It’s not about us. It’s about what’s best for the nonprofits.”

Julie Meeker, AHFA’s chief financial officer, emphasized how helpful this has been, “We have so many funding streams. Any opportunity to streamline the process is appreciated. We are so pressed for time—this is huge for us.”

The common application didn’t just benefit nonprofit applicants. The new process also improved the reviewer and administrator experience. Grant reviewers have raved about the simplicity of the online system, and Ali appreciates the efficiency of being able to export all applications in the same format.

The Power of Gratitude and Volunteerism

When Amy joined Legacy’s team, she wanted to be more than just a person on the phone and was determined to take time out of her day personally meet with grantees and participate in their events. This ultimately led to her commitment to finding creative ways to thank her nonprofit partners. While providing hard-working nonprofit and public employees with well-earned and much-appreciated recognition, Amy and her Legacy teammates have also experienced the benefits of showing gratitude. Furthermore, through these activities, Legacy has built lasting relationships with its grantees and helped create meaningful connections across the community.

Watch our on-demand webinar, Creating Connections Through Gratitude, to learn more about how Legacy shows up for their grantees and find ideas for your own organization.

About the Author

Foundant Technologies has specialized in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through innovative software solutions and exceptional client experiences since 2007. Passionate about philanthropy, our team is dedicated to meeting the unique needs of grantmakers, scholarship providers, community foundations, and nonprofits to enable change-makers to make the world a better place for all.

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