OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Gratbox: Thank Outside the Inbox

A web-based tool that provides templates for building office communications to help managers and employees express gratitude.

Photo of Katie Mancher
7 8

Written by

Gratbox provides a platform for managers, employees and coworkers to recognize one another’s contributions and facilitates the expression and reception of gratitude in the workplace. It is a web-based tool that collects user-submitted expressions of gratitude and makes it simple for a member of the team to build a newsletter, email, or other office communication to share the gratitude with the office community. 

Organization members will visit Gratbox’s website to submit their thank yous, and the site will provide a prompt to help them express their gratitude in a way that is specific and meaningful. Another member of the organization (the “editor”) can then log into the site and see what other employees have submitted. They can select the type of communication they would like to create, and drag the submissions into a provided template. The editor will also have the opportunity to add additional content that will be fun and interesting for the workplace community, such as employee profiles, movie or music recommendations, or a featured pet. When the editor is done assembling the communication, it can be downloaded as a PDF for printing or exported as an email blast. 

Key components and values of Gratbox include:

  • Inclusion of prompts that encourage employees and managers to think about the importance of gratitude. Prompts will be included on the gratitude submission page and on the editing page (encouraging editors to consider team members who may be overlooked for thanks). 

  • Leadership by individual(s) within the office who serve as editor.

  • Participation of management, and focus on their gratitude for team members.

  • Inclusion of content that reflects a workplace’s culture and fosters relationships and engagement across the community.

  • Customization so workplaces can send the type of communication with the frequency and prompts that is right for them.

Gratbox’s tagline is “Thank outside the inbox.” Ultimately, the goal of this tool is for workplace members to be more inclined to express and more receptive to gratitude beyond the newsletter and email. They may thank someone they would not have thought to otherwise or develop a deeper relationship with their coworkers who they otherwise would not have gotten to know. Another positive outcome of this initiative is that managers will be able to to see their employees’ contributions and their positive impact within the work environment. This may ultimately lead to managers considering their employees more for advancement and opportunities to grow within the organization.

Idea Title


How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

Guided by Gratbox’s prompts, employees must put their thanks into words, encouraging a deeper expression. The public distribution of the newsletter will further inspire the experience of gratitude in the workplace. Reading expressions of gratitude will remind other colleagues of how those people and others in the office have helped them and encourages them to express their gratitude more often, either in the newsletter or in person, and people who are recognized will feel pride for their work.

Who are you innovating for?

We are innovating for nonprofit organization employees. They are mission-driven but have demanding workloads and lower salaries than in other industries. We found that these employees want their contributions to be acknowledged by managers, to be allowed agency and shown trust, and have the opportunity to grow within the organization. These goals are more likely to happen within a culture of gratitude that Gratbox will help to establish. Our platform would also work in a range of organizations.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

We are innovating for small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations, who often have limited financial resources and a small, busy staff. Resources are primarily directed towards the organization’s mission rather than benefits for employees. It is particularly important for employers to make sure employees feel valued and able to grow. A gratitude program would therefore be highly impactful, creating a more positive working culture where employees are able to thrive and contribute to the mission.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

Upon signing up for Gratbox’s service, a manager and/or employee editor will set up their organization’s preferences and add employees to the site directory. They will then create a communication starting with a template, and will gather content that is relevant and of interest to the workplace. In the first issue, they will set an example for expressing gratitude and also invite other employees to contribute. Though people might not all start submitting thanks right away, it is important that the process isn’t forced. We believe once they begin to see their colleagues’ gratitude published, more employees will begin to contribute.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

Getting buy-in from managers and employees who may see this type of initiative as taking too much time and being burdensome. While some time investment is necessary for implementation, the template platform will be easy to use. It is also important for management to be involved and active from the beginning. By taking the time to implement Gratbox, managers will demonstrate that showing gratitude and fostering a positive culture within the workplace is something they believe to be important.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

Gratbox will be tested by our studio members and in another small workplace (such as a nonprofit). It will be tested for a month and interviews will then be conducted with users about their experience. Employees’ feedback will help us improve the UI and UX to make sure the tool is easy and intuitive to use. We are interested in seeing how people respond to prompts and how they feel about giving and receiving gratitude, and the effect on the workplace community and culture as a whole.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

Our next steps will be building a functioning prototype of the site and conducting user tests. The award would allow us to work with developers in order to bring the prototype to life, and help us widen our test user audience. The opportunity to work with a mentoring organization will help us refine the experience of giving and receiving gratitude through Gratbox.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Our idea emerged from a student collaboration, personal experience and research, and a workshop with the social impact design studio Hyperakt.

Tell us about yourself

Jake Baylor, Chris Corey, Katie Mancher and Kimmy Tsai are MFA candidates in graphic design at Maryland Institute College of Art.

Where are you / your team located?

We are located in Baltimore, MD.

Tell us about your experience

Our team members have backgrounds in graphic design, nonprofit administration and scientific research.

Please describe, in detail, how you will test and get feedback on your concept.

In the refinement phase, we began testing a prototype of our product in our own studio. For the first prototyping round, we chose to the focus on people’s experience of being prompted to submit an expression of gratitude, and their reaction to the newsletter itself. We wrote several prompts ranging from simple and general to detailed and specific. We emailed our colleagues a link to an online form where we asked them to select a prompt and write an expression of gratitude based on it. The form was similar to how we see content being gathered for our product, and we were able to further gauge which prompts got the most responses and the most meaningful responses. We then used these responses to create a newsletter which we distributed around the studio. After everyone had a chance to view their colleagues’ responses in the newsletter, a survey was sent out regarding the experience.

Please describe specifically how you plan to scale your idea. What are the key next steps you will take, and how will those steps inform the evolution and growth of your concept?

First, we would like to go through several more prototyping rounds, both within our own workspace and in partnership with other organizations to get more of a diversity of feedback. We learned a lot from our first round of prototyping, and we plan to revise our prompts based on people’s responses and the feedback we received in the survey. However we believe this is an idea that will really build over time. How will people respond if they are asked to submit another expression of thanks a couple of weeks later? Can this exercise become a habit? How will it start to impact the community at large? It will also be important to develop a working digital prototype, especially so we can test the backend functionality of the product. One aspect of the product that is very important is its ease of use, so generating a newsletter or email doesn’t feel like a burden on anyone. This will take some digital prototyping and testing to be able to refine. With a digital prototype, we will have more opportunities to partner and user test with a variety of organizations, to see how the product integrates with their organization structure, how they respond to the giving and receiving of feedback and creating newsletters and emails, and how Gratbox can be responsive to their existing culture. Finally, we would like to develop a "toolkit" of best practices for organizations that want to implement Gratbox, so they make the most effective use of the service and best serve their communities.

As we have seen in the Challenge, there is a tension between authentic expressions of gratitude and mandatory gratitude. How does your idea inspire truly authentic expressions of gratitude versus mandated ones?

When we shared our prototype, there was no requirement for people to submit (we also sent it at a very busy time, and expected not to get many responses because of that). Still, when our colleagues saw the email with link for submitting gratitude, it reminded them of people they wanted to thank, and the process was simple enough so they felt at ease using the tool. The prompts also helped people express gratitude in their own way. (A prompt that was more form-like actually got fewer responses.)

Gratitude often thrives when opportunities for connection are created. How will your concept create new opportunities for human connection?

In the feedback we received, people said the newsletter made them see the studio as more of a family, it made them think of others they would want to thank, and they believed the effects could be exponential over time. When the newsletter was distributed, people talked to one another about it. Going forward, we would also like to include sections like office events and pet of the month, to build up a community and strength human connection through knowing colleagues in a different way.

Who (specifically) will benefit from your concept, and how they will interact with it? What design considerations have you included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions? 

The workplace as a whole will benefit from the increase in gratitude culture in the workplace created by Gratbox, but especially lower-level employees whose work often goes unrecognized. The concept operates at a few different levels of interaction. The first is submitting expressions of gratitude. A prompt will be emailed to members of a workplace, which they will be able to simply respond to, and their responses will be populated in the platform. The second interaction is using these responses to create a newsletter or email blast. We plan to create a system in which an individual can drag and drop responses into a premade communication template. This system will make it quick and easy for non-designers to create a beautiful, attention-grabbing newsletters. Finally, there is the distribution of the communication: the communication will be able to be easily exported to a PDF format for printing or turned into an email for sharing with the workplace.

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

Our prize funding will largely go toward development of our digital product. We will seek out a developer who can help us implement our designs and the functionality of our idea for a digital prototype. The funding will also allow us to identify partner organizations to pilot Gratbox, and continue to asses the platform’s functionality as well as the expression and experience of gratitude. We would also like to conduct more research in order to develop a toolkit for organizations.
View more

Attachments (2)

GratBox Template MICA.pdf

Prototype newsletter. We asked our colleagues to respond to prompts to submit their gratitude. Their responses were placed in this newsletter and distributed to our whole community.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Abir Chowdhury

Prototyped an idea similar to this, and I really like the process behind your idea. One thing I found when prototyping was that some users might have trouble initially learning how to use a tool like this, but in the end I think the learning curve is well worth it!

View all comments