By Scott Jones, CFRE, CAI, BAS 

One of the most important things you can do to steward your donors is say: “Thank you.”

We all know thanking donors is not just as an expression of gratitude, but a way of building and deepening new and existing relationships. When done properly, donor recognition can encourage future gifts and continued involvement. As an essential part of your team, donors deserve meaningful appreciation, but often this acknowledgment is limited to a letter or email sent at the time a gift is received. Then the contact stops until the next appeal.

We are challenged to create more meaningful ways to say thank you to captivate your constituents and deepen your relationship with them. Recurrent declarations of your gratitude can do so much to build lasting sustainable relationships between organization and donors; especially when they are thoughtful and unexpected. 

Here are some ideas to spark your creativity and generate new ways to say thank you to your donors.

Welcome Packet—Superb for greeting & educating new donors!

Items to include can be:

  • Thank you letter
  • Pictures of the donor at your event, your team, your beneficiaries, programs
  • Mission Success Story w/ details of impact of donor’s gift
  • Branded gifts

A welcome package is an effective way to demonstrate to new donors you care about their decision to support your mission. It should not be a laundry list of series, facts, or figures about your nonprofit. The package should be delivered within two weeks after a donor has made their first gift.

Birthday Cards—Great way to show you care for the donor.

Everyone enjoys receiving birthday cards. People like to be remembered, and birthday cards communicate that someone cared enough to send a cheerful note. Sending well-wishes for the upcoming year shows donors how much your organization appreciates them.

Donation Anniversary Card- Creates a sense of family/partnership.

Sending a personalized anniversary card of a first donation makes donors feel like a true part of your team. To create a more meaningful appreciation, ask the chair of your board, executive director, or CEO to sign the card.

Celebrate major milestones in a donor’s lifetime affiliation with your nonprofit, like their 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-year anniversaries. As donors reach these larger benchmark years consider adding a gift or buy them dinner, go beyond! 

Social Media Shout-Outs-Fun & exciting way to say Thank you!

Tag a donor or add a photo or video on your social media creating a special post saying thank you. Share what motivated the donor to give and highlight the program or project they are supporting. This type of thank you is ideal for donors who like public recognition. This creates excitement and gratitude for your donor and allows you to share your mission and increase your outreach with so many other potential supporters.

Donor Profiles in Newsletters—Tell your donor’s story!

This is a simple yet effective way to share a donor’s reasons for being passionate about your mission. This is also a way to honor a donor and make them feel valued. Another creative tool to spotlight a donor while deepening relationships through mission-based storytelling.

Personal Thank You Videos-Hugely impactful!

It has been determined that personalized video messages that clearly and simply acknowledges a donor for their donation can lead to a 50% increase in repeat donations. Another simple yet tactful way to communicate your gratitude with the donor. Short videos with vivid images, well-crafted authentic dialogue, and powerful music created from your phone will build strong donor relationships. 

Cards from your Beneficiaries—Ideal way to create lasting impact!

When a donor receives a personalized card or a handwritten note from a beneficiary you serve you create a lasting impact. This type of thank you will be treasured like no other form of thank you because it also gives those who benefit from your work a chance to show their appreciation directly to your donors. Many donors will hold on to these treasures for years to come.

Host a Party-the Holidays are here!

A donor cultivation event provides a fun and social setting to get to say thank you. Unlike the formal gala, an informal thank you party can be a very inexpensive means to bring your donors together. Use the holidays as the time to be creative with this type of thank you. Beverages, snacks, activities, storytelling, an immersive experience centered on your mission, impact, and work are all ways to engage attendees. This is also a perfect way to allow donors to interact and meet one another, sharing their love and enthusiasm for your mission.

Keep in mind that this is a purely social event, refrain from making any hard asks for donations or support. Rather engage in conversations surrounding your donor’s interests, motivations, and values. Use your mission videos, photos, and benefactors to spread the good word of the impact the donors are making.

There are so many ways to say thank you, too numerous to cover in this article. The key is to be creative and repetitive in thanking your donors, reminding them how much they are appreciated. Some ideal times to send thanks are:

  • When someone makes a second donation
  • After a donor attends your event
  • On the anniversary of their first donation
  • Around the holiday season, birthdays, wedding anniversaries
  • During your Giving Tuesday campaign

Fundraising is about relationships and lasting strong relationships are built on appreciation. Be thoughtful. No matter how someone decides to support your nonprofit, every interaction you have with them is an opportunity to build a lifelong relationship and retain their support for years to come.