When we think of thanking donors, we usually think of holidays. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, donors are flooded by ‘thank you’ cards and gala dinner invitations.
However, thanking and recognizing your donors is an all year round activity. It is important to embed the spirit of gratitude in the very fabric of your organization. After all, what is more, important than appreciating people who go out of their way to support the mission of your nonprofit?
When you are raising funds for a mission close to your heart, the support you receive from your donors can make a world of difference.
As we discussed in our Thanksgiving Fundraising Ideas or our How to Turn Social Media Followers into Donors, thanking donors not only encourages the existing donors to keep giving but it shows you care about your supporters.
And to help you do that, we’ve come up with a list of ten ways to thank your donors for their gifts. This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it is a way to take a little bit of the guesswork out of showing your gratitude.
10 Donor Recognition Ideas for Nonprofits
1. Call your donors
This is a simple, yet effective, donor recognition idea. Hearing a real voice over the phone helps build connections and establish trust.
To make this idea happen, try mobilizing volunteers to call donors.
For an even more impactful approach, get your board members to place the calls. Be mindful of your Board members’ schedules and only have them do this once or twice per year, calling 15-20 donors each.
Do this no later than two months after your donors have donated or pledged.
Call as many donors as possible, if not all, regardless of the size of their gift. To make this process as efficient and as smooth as possible, schedule some donor thank you phone calls into your team’s calendar every week or organize a thank-a-thon, an office “donor calling” event where you can spend a whole day calling donors to thank them.
2. Create a “thank you” video
Nonprofits usually associate this donor appreciation idea with the end of the year. However, videos are impactful in a way that emails and letters aren’t. They help donors connect to the volunteers/staff/beneficiaries in a more powerful way.
Furthermore, videos are generally quite shareable, which helps with distributing them and publicly appraising your donors (if that’s what you intend to do).
Chances are, you have someone on your team in possession of a good quality camera (in fact, some phone cameras will do the trick) and someone who has basic video editing knowledge.
The options with this idea are endless. Get your creative juices flowing! The only “must” is to thank your donors. The rest is optional.
You can opt for an animated video such as this one. or a video like this one in which you feature staff members, volunteers, and/or beneficiaries. The second one might involve more individuals, but is generally easier to edit.
3. Write a “thank you” letter
Although videos and phone calls generally create a more personal connection between your nonprofit and your donors, sometimes letters are preferable or more achievable given the size of your nonprofit’s donor base.
Handwritten letters add a more personal touch to your donor appreciation, especially in today’s digital age, but sometimes handwriting all of your letters simply isn’t feasible. In case you’re running against the clock, work on creating a heartfelt email “thank you”.
If you’re a small nonprofit, or just starting one, consider the handwritten “thank you” letters now that your donor base is likely small and you need to grow it.
An interesting twist to this idea is sending postcards, especially if a lot of your donors live abroad.
4. Highlight donors on social media
It’s impossible to ignore the ever-increasingly important role of social media. Most nonprofits don’t have a clear or documented social media strategy, and social media management responsibility typically falls to only one employee (or no one at all).
If used right, social media can help your nonprofit raise funds, establish its brand presence, and yes – thank and appreciate your donors.
Everyone feels good when they are recognized and appreciated. Social media allows for a low cost, public acknowledgment of your followers and donors.
Make sure you have your donors’ social media handles and feature them on your social media accounts by thanking them publicly. Tag them in photos, repost and retweet their content, use hashtags (e.g. #FollowFriday or #ThankfulThursday).
Use social media to build authentic connections with your audience and remember to share stories and invite people to be part of them.
You can either thank your donors in a more general way and address them as a group (a technique often used by larger nonprofits – in this case, you might want to highlight significant contributors) or highlight donors regularly regardless of the gift size (more appropriate for a smaller nonprofit).
5. Send photos and stories
Photos and stories are powerful carriers for your nonprofit’s mission. Regularly inform your donors about the current state of your project, the progress you have made so far and your future plans.
Photos and video can be used to make your posts more attractive.
Your donors should see the impact that their donation has. Send out a status update when you’ve hit 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%! This builds credibility and trust and could encourage further donations.
Furthermore, every donor receives an automated thank you email once their donation is processed, but you should thank them again once the campaign is over.
Send or post photos of the projects or beneficiaries the donations helped. Use countdowns and charts to track progress.
6. Send gifts or tokens
Donors appreciate having physical tokens of their support to display.
You can design a variety of free customized items — from calendars to mugs and stickers. The simplest of free goodies can be great donor appreciation gifts. Send those out together with thank you notes.
You can also send out books or framed pictures of your programs in action.
An excellent way to mix things up is to arrange for perks for your major donors. For example, you can get a good deal with a local theatre company and invite some of your donors to go with you to a show or performance.
Be careful with gifting though! An interesting study by the Yale researchers George Newman and Jeremy Shen showed that the prospect of receiving a gift activated a feeling of selfishness which, in turn, reduced altruism and hence cut the average donation.
Try to avoid this, try reframing the gifting context (e.g. by having your mug on display, your colleagues will see it and donate too”) or surprising the donors by sending a gift after a donation.
7. Be thoughtful
If possible, make notes of personal details you hear in conversation with donors.
For a smaller nonprofit, it might be feasible to remember personal details of many donors.
If Molly tells you her daughter is celebrating her 6th birthday this weekend? Ask how the party was the next time you talk to her. People will always appreciate the fact that they were heard. You can also pay close attention on social media for birthdays, weddings, engagements, births, and other important milestones. Send cards or make a phone call for these. That way, your donor will know that they’re on the top of your mind.
If your nonprofit is larger, this might not be possible. Luckily, there are many other ways you can appreciate your donors by being thoughtful.
Acknowledge every donor’s donor anniversary. Make a point to do this regardless of whether someone has been giving for 1 year or they’re celebrating their 10th anniversary. This is a great donor recognition idea because most likely, your donors will be surprised to get a card celebrating this occasion.
8. Design memorable experiences
For something more unique, think of interesting and memorable experiences your donors might want to engage in.
Does your nonprofit help animals? Let donors choose an image of a paw print and write their name on it.
You could give your donor a personalized tour of the organization or the project.
Another idea is to organize a Q&A session about your nonprofit. Every few months, invite a couple of donors to your offices after working hours and have a general question and answer session about what you’re doing and the impact you’re making.
Providing opportunities for engagement is a great way to allow donors to get to know your nonprofit on a more personal and intimate level.
If tours and Q&A sessions aren’t your thing, run a ‘lunch & learn’ session or invite a couple of donors to some board meetings.
9. Organize an event
Events are a good way to meet some of your donors face-to-face and foster personal relationships.
Naturally, you could go all in and organize a gala evening (especially towards the end of the year), but organizing a simple cocktail party or a wine tasting event, or even a beach day or a picnic in the park – depending on the culture and mission of your nonprofit.
E.g. If your nonprofit is an animal rescue organization, you could organize a day at an animal shelter.
It’s generally a good idea to treat your event like a get together: make conversations a central point, taking care to strike a balance between socializing and promoting your nonprofit. Don’t make your donors feel that they took time out of their own schedule just to hear the same things in person that they do in their emails.
It’s also a good idea to invite a mix of high-profile donors and cold prospects to your events.
10. Welcome the new and cultivate the old
Both existing and new donors are crucial to your nonprofit’s growth. In order to welcome the new donors, create donor welcome packages.
A thoughtful onboarding campaign to welcome new donors to your nonprofit teaches them your values and makes them aware of your needs. The presence of an onboarding process is not only helpful in showing people who you are, but it also keeps your new donors plugged in and reminded of your mission.
The welcome pack could include, but not limited to:
- A hand-signed thank you/welcome letter from the executive director, telling the donor the difference their donation is going to make;
- An overview of member benefits;
- A listing of upcoming tours and events;
- The most recent newsletter;
- A brief invitation to volunteer with a couple of specific, ultra-short-term opportunities.
To cultivate the existing donors, beyond the ideas presented above, it is helpful to design a “Stewardship Matrix”. The Matrix helps your team understand different activities your nonprofit will undertake at different levels of gifting (e.g. $20, $50, $100 etc.).
This tiered system allows for grouping of your donors (e.g. if your organization is focused on the environment, you may want to set up donations tiers where $20 = Friend of the Forest, $50 = Tree Hugger, etc.)
Do’s and don’ts when thanking your donors:
- Focus on the donor, not the donation.
- Stay transparent with where the donations go.
- Show you’re excited and you care.
- Send a thank-you fast.
- Keep donors informed and updated.
- Immediately ask for a new donation.
- Use generic language.
- Speak in jargon.
- Put the focus on yourself. It’s about them.
- Leave it at “thank you”. Offer the next step.
Right about now, many nonprofit organizations are busy preparing for 2018. The holiday daze is over. Most nonprofits have already sent a variety of year-end campaign appeals, thank you emails or greeting cards.
However, we firmly believe that a good relationship with donors is essential for a nonprofit’s survival. And a good relationship can’t happen with gratitude.
While we’re sure that some of these ideas may have already been a part of your repertoire, we hope this inspires you to put them into action or try out a few you haven’t considered before.