There’s a hotel in Hollywood where the rooms are dated, the furnishings are sparse, and the walls are bare. Its name is the Magic Castle Hotel, but it’s not a castle. It’s a 1950s converted 2-story apartment complex painted canary yellow. 

Next to its small pool is a cherry red phone. When you pick it up, the person on the other line answers, “Hello, popsicle hotline.” Moments later, a waiter wearing white gloves delivers your orange, cherry, or grape popsicle to you on a silver tray. For free

There are much nicer hotels to stay at in Hollywood, but Magic Castle has rapturous reviews and is ranked near the top of some recommendation lists. 

Why? Most experiences that customers have at hotels are forgettable. Few are remarkable. But a popsicle hotline at a hotel? That’s a pretty memorable moment on a vacation.

Some other “wow” moments at the Magic Castle include unlimited snacks, fountain drinks, magic shows in the lobby, laundry service (with a lavender sprig!), and a Dole pineapple whip soft serve ice cream machine—just like at Disneyworld! And the cost? Completely free

I’m speaking from experience. I took my teenager there last weekend to test the magic, and it was pure delight. 

So, what does a three-star hotel in Hollywood Hills have to do with fundraising? A lot! It tells us that the opportunity to surprise and delight your donors is closer than you think. 

Be honest: What kind of memorable and meaningful experiences are you creating for your donors right now? How can you construct unexpected and unforgettable moments like the Magic Castle does? 

Here are 3 surefire ways to create memorable moments to wow your donors.

1.   Send them a heartfelt thanks that they aren’t expecting. 

Send them a video email of you thanking them or a message of thanks from your clients, staff, and/or beneficiaries just for being a part of your donor family. Do this out of the blue, not just after they make a donation. 

Yes, you can use your phone! No, this doesn’t have to be complicated (or cost money)! 

I love emailing a video to stand out in a donor’s inbox, and it can be a very creative way to thank donors, as seen in this thank you video shot by an independent school in Oregon. They made a video to show their donors the excitement on the student’s faces when the kids found out how much was raised at their fundraiser that weekend.

Don’t overthink this: Just be warm, personable, and conversational. It could be a video of a person you have helped or just a staff member sharing their heartfelt thanks. Don’t forget—emotions move donors to take action so make sure it’s clear how much you appreciate their support. 

2.   Give them the gift of being known by you. 

Do you know what doesn’t make a donor feel known by you? 

  1. Addressing letters or emails to “Dear friend.” If you know their name, use it! 
  2. Sending emails that say “If you have given already thanks! If you haven’t there’s still time…” Ouch! Thank the people who give and send a separate email to people who didn’t give with a clear fundraising ask. 
  3. Sending blanket thank you emails to people who didn’t give. Wouldn’t that strike you /as odd if you received one? 
  4. Inviting out-of-state donors to local events. Unless this is a hybrid event, you can probably leave these donors off the invite list. 
  5. Giving a bereaved donor who just made a memorial gift the same upbeat cheery thank you message other donors get. Just imagine how much this could potentially upset someone! 

Steven Shattuck refers to this practice as “Seglumping” in his book, Robots Make Bad Fundraisers. Seglumping, he explains, is the act of referencing multiple audiences in one unsegmented communications piece. 

One of the greatest gifts you can give your donors is the gift of being known by you. One way to do that is to segment them into lists. 

One of many unforgettable ways to do that is to call out first-time donors as such in your thank you letter. This is also one of the best ways to boost your odds that a new donor will make another gift, since, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Report, only 19% of new donors will make a second gift. 

How should you call out first-time donors in your thank you letter? Try an opening sentence like this: “Dear John, I’m overjoyed to receive such a generous first-time gift from you, and I’m thrilled to welcome you into our donor family.”

3.   Remind them of their loyalty by celebrating their donorversary. 

Another great way to make your donor feel known by you and subtly remind them to continue supporting your organization is to celebrate their “donorversary.”

What’s a donorversary? This is the anniversary of when they made their first gift to you. It doesn’t matter if that was a month ago, a year ago, or five years ago. If it’s only been a short time, they’ll feel great for already accomplishing something meaningful with their gift. If it’s been years, they’ll be reminded that their support matters to your mission and continues to make a difference. 

You can celebrate with a card, a call, or even an email. This is one holiday they’re not expecting you to celebrate, so your odds of surprising and delighting them are at an all-time high! 

Here’s a sample opening line to make it easy: “Dear John, five years ago you made your first gift to us. Since then, you…[insert amazing accomplishment the donor made happen].”

Think about how many forgettable experiences you’ve had as a donor. If few come to mind, here’s some good news: It won’t be hard for you to stand out!

Want more stewardship ideas? Download Rachel’s guide “23 ways to shower your donors with love” and her virtual donor cultivation guide

If you have a delightful donor experience to share or a story about how you’ve delighted a donor drop it in the comments! 

donor love and loyalty

Rachel Muir
Rachel Muir, CFRE transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Several years later she had raised over 10 million dollars and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and the Today show.