Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

Classic and Contemporary Ways To Thank Your Donors

Saying thank you has always been a part of the human experience since time immemorial. In today’s world, the ways in which we should our gratitude have changed with today’s technology. With all of these shifts, the relationships nonprofits should have with their donors should remain unchanged. However, the ways in which nonprofits can show their thanks have now become more fun, creative, and modern. Below, we’ve outlined a few thank you approaches your nonprofit can use to engage with your donor and set yourself apart from all of the rest. While we’re sure that some of these may already be a part of your repertoire, we offer a few best practices in putting them into action and maybe a few you haven’t considered before.

Invite them over.

As part of your thank you, give your donors an open invitation. We don’t mean making another appeal for more donations; rather, show them other ways that can connect or contribute to your nonprofit and to the cause. Invite your donors to follow your nonprofit on social media, sign up for your newsletter or email list, or to check out your website if they want to learn more to check out some photo galleries and success stories. Encourage them to participate in or go to any upcoming events and fundraisers.  

Invite them to the field so they can see their donations in action, their impact. Let your donors connect with your cause in a more tangible way by taking them to ground zero through encouraging them to volunteer, taking them on tours around your headquarters or other important sites, or maybe even letting them sit in on a board meeting. This is the time when their memory and enthusiasm will be fresh; take advantage of that altruism and offer them other opportunities to contribute aside from monetarily.

Write to them.

Consider sending out a Thank You via direct mail in the form of either a handwritten note or letter. With all of the automated emails and templates, these would be a strong way to set you apart from other nonprofits, especially through a handwritten note. A handwritten note is a good opportunity to be more personal and expressive with your donors. Although its counterpart the thank you letter is also effective, your nonprofit can use handwritten notes to up the ante in saying thank you, should your resources allow. Receiving a note that is handwritten will give donors the feeling that your nonprofit really took the time out of its own schedule to sit down and take a moment to thank them. A thank you letter also has the potential to be just as effective, though we have a few pointers that apply to both methods:

  • Make your note straightforward, relatable, and packed with feeling.
  • Avoid using complicated or flowery language. The key to making your thank yous personal does not lie with trying to sound like textbook. Remember, you’re writing these notes for everyday people with everyday lives.
  • Your thank you letter/note should fit the donation, with recognition of what they have given and a nod towards previous contributions, if applicable. It is important to note here that the language of your thank you should also shift depending on if donors were giving generally to the cause en masse or if they were giving to specific campaign. Your thank you should definitely reflect that difference.
  • Be mindful of the timing of these letters, advises Chelsea Alves of Classy, who notes that the best time to mail these notes and letters to your donors are directly following their attendance at an event or fundraiser, after they make their first donation, after a second donation, on the anniversary of their first donation, and during the holiday season, when thanking should always be at its peak.

Give everyone an opportunity to say their thanks by sending out a variety of thank yous from everyone, including those who directly benefitted from those donations, a volunteer from the ground zero of your projects or programs, a board member, a staff member, even your CEO or Executive Director. Should you decide to pursue this method of thanking your donors and would like some additional pointers, refer to our article on writing your donor thank you letter.

Give them a call.

Don’t just let your emails, letters, or notes do all of the talking; pick up the phone! Call your donors to say thank you. Calling through your donor list may sound like a trying exercise, but it has its own reward, according to Penelope Burk. Research she conducted on nonprofits and saying thank you showed that when receiving a thank you call from a nonprofit, donors gave 39% more the second time around, with the following 14 months showing that these donors ended up giving up to 42% more in their next contribution. Let your donors hear the human voice of your nonprofit, and allow yourselves to hear their voices as well; get to know your donors.

Although we understand that resources may not always allow for nonprofits to make such calls, we suggest that you at the very least pick up the phone and chat with first-time donors so that they will be compelled to come back and give again, a point, among others, we have discussed in another article on how your nonprofit can retain donors. We suggest that you also consider making these calls on special occasions, such as a donor’s birthday and most especially on the anniversary of their first donation.   

Welcome them.

Put together a “welcome package” to send out to your donors. Referring back to Chelsea Alves, she suggests that your nonprofit dispatch a bundle or small token to show your appreciation and welcome donors to your nonprofit. This package can include a bunch of fun items that help your donor learn more about your nonprofit and what it does. You can also use this package to reflect your nonprofit’s personality by the kinds of tokens you include and the style of your package.

Use variety in putting together your package with items such as photographs, a notecard, pamphlet or booklet, or a postcard from a volunteer site, for example. Depending on the purpose or theme of your package, you can also include a photo album after finishing a specific project, program, or campaign. Fill this photo album with images such as before and afters, especially showing how your nonprofit had been able to make it all happen because of donors and their contributions. If customizable gifts are more your nonprofit’s style, consider including a mug, calendar, stickers, pens, pencils, or notepads to your welcome package, with your nonprofit logo and maybe even the donor’s name on them as well.

All of these little tokens and gifts don’t have to be included in every package. Rather, we suggest you take all of your options in mind and mix and match these gifts to your nonprofit’s liking. However, we would like to caption this by reminding your nonprofit to stay cost-effective in your gift giving. It may sound redundant but because of the nature of nonprofits and the work they do, emphasizes CauseVox, a personal thank you gift to a donor outweighs a lavish or flashy thank you gift any day of the week.

Throw an event.

Say thank you to your donors by organizing a “donor recognition event,” recommends George Bowden. This is a good opportunity to get some facetime with your donors and get to know them a little better. We refer again to Chelsea Alves, who gives some useful pointers for navigating this type of event;

  • Treat your event like a get together: Make this an exclusive party with the central theme being conversation. You want to be able to engage those present in conversation, striking a balance between recognizing their interests and promoting your nonprofit. These people accepted your invitation to the party in order to learn more about you in a very personal way, face to face. Find that balance so as not to make them feel that they took time out of their own schedule just to hear the same things in person that they do in their emails or mailboxes.
  • Divide and conquer: Take note of the people that make up your guest list and separate them into groups, highlighting long-standing donors, donors who make large contributions, and those you would like to secure an immediate donation from. Be mindful of what donor groups the people who accept your invitation fall under, so that you will be able to communicate and converse with them in a way that appeals to them.
  • Keep it relaxed: Try to keep it causal and steer clear from the banquet hall. Alves suggests having a house party, beach day, a cookout, or a picnic in the park as your event venue. If possible, adds Greg Bowden, make the location of your event related to your mission, such as a nice gathering at a dog park for a nonprofit that shelters dogs and finds them homes.
  • Listen: In the case of engaging your donors in person through volunteer opportunities or the events we discussed above, keep your ears open and listen. Observe and remember personal details that your donors share. Perhaps a donor will mention that their children are performing in an upcoming play; your ears should perk up at those kinds of details. The next time you see that particular donor, ask them how the play was. By remembering those personal tidbits about your donors and making the effort to ask them about it later will strengthen your relationships with them.

You can also use this occasion as a “cultivation event” as well, says Chelsea Alves, wherein you can invite a mix of both top contributors and what Alves calls “cold prospects,” those who don’t know anything about your nonprofit but are interested to learn more.

Celebrate.

Another opportunity to thank your donors comes during special occasions, milestones, and holidays. Network for Good’s Liz Ragland advises nonprofits should expand and use holidays such as Valentine’s Day to express their thanks aside from the holiday season during November and December. You can also say thank you on other holidays that may be applicable to your nonprofit, like Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, if those in the armed forces are a part of your nonprofit’s mission, for example.

Commemorate milestones such as anniversaries as well. Send a card to donors to celebrate the anniversary of their first gift a year later. 5, 10, 15, 20 years of continued support should also be celebrated. If resources allow, pick up the phone and thank them on these anniversaries as well. Their donations are what help your nonprofit stay afloat and continue with its mission; let them hear how grateful you are through your own physical and human voice.

While it is important to send out cards to celebrate milestones like anniversaries or during holidays, Liz Ragland also adds that your nonprofit should celebrate donor birthdays as well. Greeting your donors on their birthdays will show that you not only make use of the personal information they share in their donations for a good reason, but that you are  also celebrating with them.

Make them center stage.

In thanking your donors, putting them front and center is pretty much a given. The various thank you approaches we have discussed so far involved thanking them in a very direct and individual way, almost behind the scenes. You can put your donors at center stage in a public way by taking on a few other approaches.

  • Your annual report: Highlight your most loyal donors by name in your nonprofit’s annual report. This report will show how your nonprofit was able to organize, run, and maintain its programs, how effective they were, how much they moved your mission forward, and who helped bring those things to life, who made them possible.
  • Thank You page: Create a section or page on your nonprofit website specifically for recognizing your donors, one-time, recurring, and monthly, with a Thank You message. A public message like this communicates you appreciation for their contribution to your cause, no matter the size or form. You can also thank bigger donors or sponsors by displaying their name, company name, or company logo prominently on the page.
  • Shoot a video: Video has become one of the biggest forms of media nonprofits can use to their advantage in today’s technological world, which we have highlighted in our article on why your nonprofit should consider an animated video. Video is another emotive way of thanking donors in a way that you can’t always express on paper, by seeing real-live people. Create a two to five minute video to thank your donors, this video can be posted on your nonprofit website and shared on all of your social media networks. This way, donors can be recognized by a wider audience and your nonprofit has the potential to get some exposure out of it as well by sharing the video on social media and making it shareable by your followers. You can also use video to say thank you when you reach a donation goal amount or when a new program is launched. Include clips of your nonprofit at work in the video, so that your donors can see their donations in action as well.
  • Social media: Use social media channels to give shout-outs to your donors, no matter the size of their contribution, in order to recognize them for their support. Like with video, putting it out on these public forums publicly recognizes them and others on their own social networks can see their dedication. However, when making these shout outs, be sensitive to the fact that donors may want to maintain their privacy and therefore may prefer to keep their contribution between themselves and you. Making use of the particular exposure your nonprofit can gain is something we discuss further in our two-article on how to conquer social media for your nonprofit.

When selecting donors who will be thanked in these public ways, consider a couple of questions, outlined by Leroux Miller, president of EscoScribe Communications via the Classy blog: Why do you want to spotlight this specific person? The timing, why now? What are you trying to achieve by highlighting this specific person?

Keep your donors up to date.

In your next note, tell your donors about the impact their donation has made, what their contributions were used for. This note should receive the same care as your initial appeal and your Thank You letter and should communicate opportunities to contribute again.  You can also share announcements and great news with donors through a thank you card and through updates made via email, direct mail, newsletters, and on your online pages. Network for Good’s Liz Ragland suggests even sending out a “Top Ten” list of things accomplished in the past year as another way to show donors their impact.

Whatever method you choose, always ensure that it will be a reflection of your nonprofit and the work you do, a mix of both modern and traditional methods to appeal to everyone across the board, and above all else: overflowing with your gratitude. 

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Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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