20 Donor Recognition Examples: How to Thank Donors Well

Tina Jepson
Tina Jepson

When’s the last time you received a great thank you?

I once volunteered to help raise some extra funds for our nonprofit. The event lasted an entire Saturday after an already busy week. On Monday, I walked into my office to see a handwritten thank you note from our CEO on my desk. This experience showed me the importance of a thank you, because it didn’t just acknowledge my time, it made me feel great!

I’d argue that nothing beats a genuine donor thank you. Yet, as fundraisers, we all too often forget to spend the time to make our thank yous count.

Yes, nonprofit employees are extremely busy. We’re balancing a huge workload and limited resources. Oftentimes, it’s hard to find the time to give donors a genuine thank you. There’s just too much to do in a day.

However, if anything, a donor thank you should be at the top of your to-do list because a gesture of gratitude goes a long way in proving to your donor how important they are to your nonprofit or charity.

If you’ve struggled with finding a creative way to thank your donors, you’re not alone. It’s quite easy to get stuck in the same processes year after year. So, here’s some fuel to help you find a good way to thank your donors.

“Here’s some fuel to help you find a good way to thank your donors…” tweet this

1) Handwritten Note

Sitting down to write a donor thank you letter may seem old-fashioned, but it’s definitely a meaningful gesture that is bound to show your donor their worth.

Would you rather get a note from a telemarketer or an old friend? If it’s the latter, then fashion your thank you notes as if you are sending a thank you to an old friend. Put some thought into it. And make sure it is signed by a recognizable figure within the organization. Hand-written is always a nice touch. – Andy Cawston., CEO and Chairman, International Alliance of Guardian Angels NZ Charitable Trust

2) A Public Thank You

Honoring your donors in a public way, such as your donor newsletter or on a building, will give them the recognition they deserve.

unique ways to thank your donors
St. Clair Hospital Foundation

Appreciation and recognition compliment each other well – and doesn’t cost a lot. Maybe you have a building or a scholarship fund that could use a name.– Dan Lucarelli and Andy Cawston, CEO and Chairman, International Alliance of Guardian Angels NZ Charitable Trust

3) Social Media Highlight

Make a habit of thanking donors on social media. For example, highlight a donor’s efforts in a Facebook post or Instagram photo.

4) In the Annual Report

Many nonprofits and charities compile an annual document that reports budgeting, services, and impact. One way to thank your donors is by listing them in this generally widely-distributed report.

March of Dimes 2012 Annual Report

5) Explain Where The Donations Went

Send your donors an email or letter outlining when, how, and who the donation impacted lives.

Make sure the donor knows how his/her donation was used. Donors like to know that the money they give actually supports programming, and not organizational excess. Give number breakdowns where applicable, be specific, give examples, or tell stories. The thank you note should be as thorough as the initial plea for support. – Brendan Curley, Business Development/Technical Sales

unique ways to thank donors

6) With An Immediate Email Confirmation

Immediately after receiving a donation, be sure to send an email confirmation that includes a quick donor “thank you.” Many fundraising programs send an automatic thank you once the donation is processed.

thank you Donation receipt

7) Video Thank You

A heartfelt thank you video featuring your CEO or service recipients is a unique, personal way of expressing gratitude.

Video is a great medium for expressing your gratitude. Maybe you can include clips of your non-profit work in the video. – Brian Barela, Director of Social Media-Campus Crusade for Christ

8) A Personal Visit

If you have the time, try personally visiting your donors. Because time or resources may not allow for this on an annual basis, you may want to segment your donor population each year. Try visits to major donors one year, recurring donors the next, etc.

9) With a Tier-System of Recognition

Give your donors the gift of new connections by setting up donation tiers and assigning titles to donors at different levels. Think of these tiers as a social status, of sorts. For example, 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.

Then, try planning recognition events or exclusive volunteer opportunities for donors at a certain level. In a way, you’ll be bringing your most passionate, philanthropic donors together to forge new relationships. It’s a great and unique way to thank them for their support.

unique ways to thank your donors

10) With A Plaque

Honor major donors, capital campaign sponsors, and other donors that stand out with a personalized plaque.

11) Donor Appreciation Party

Host an annual donor appreciation party. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy. Consider a simple barbecue or wine tasting event.

unique ways to thank your donors
Boys and Girls Club of Venice

12) Thank-a-Thon (Phone)

Ask volunteers (board members, for example) to make a handful of phone calls to donors to say “thanks.” This is a great way to express gratitude and engage your volunteers at the same time.

13) Behind-the-Scenes Look

Allow donors to get to know your organization on a more personal, intimate level by offering a behind-the-scenes look at your nonprofit operations with a tour, lunch and learn program, etc.

Invite them to a membership dinner, or a classroom, or a board meeting. – Andy Cawston, CEO and Chairman, International Alliance of Guardian Angels NZ Charitable Trust

14) With A Discount

A good way to show donor appreciation is to ask local businesses for a discount that can be given to donors. It’s a win-win for both the business and nonprofit!

15) From The Service Recipients

Ask those receiving the services of your nonprofit to help with donor thank yous by making homemade cards.

If its children, let them express how your service helps them through writing or artwork. – Lindy Davis, Director of Splash into Learning, Director of Children’s Ministries

16) With A Song

Have fun with your thank you! Create a song to thank your donors and record your staff, volunteers, or service recipients singing and dancing to it.

17) Provide Opportunities For Engagement

Include opportunities for engagement within your thank you. For example, you can ask your donors whether they’d be interested in volunteering or advocating for your cause at a later date.

Your main goal in all of your thank you notes should be to keep your donors engaged and interested in donating again. –Courtney Drake, Updates and Data Entry at DMI

18) Be Aware Of Milestones (Weddings, Engagements, Births)

Read the newspaper and play close attention on social media for birthdays, weddings, engagements, births, etc. Send cards or make a phone call during these milestones. That way, your donor will know that they’re on the top of your mind.

19) Acknowledge Donor Anniversary

Let your donor know that you’re aware of how long they’ve been a part of your organization’s support system by acknowledging their anniversary.

20) Donor Spotlight

Highlight a donor on your website or with your newsletter. Include why they are such an important part of your organization’s family.

unique ways to thank your donors
Santa Barbara Foundation

A sincere, unique thank you can help establish a strong bond between you and your donors. While it’s common practice to send a donor thank you after receiving a donation, don’t let this be the only time you reach out to your donors.

“A sincere, unique thank you can help establish a strong bond between you and your donors…” tweet this

Try contacting them at various times throughout the year, such as Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, mid-summer, or on a day of significance for your organization. Your donors will appreciate the thought!

This post was originally published in October 2011 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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