ask an expert

Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser who wants advice on the effectiveness of major donor thank you parties.

Dear Charity Clairity, 

I’d love your feedback on the effectiveness of major donor thank you parties. Have they proven effective? We previously have had a Presidents Club for our top tier donors, hosting a cocktail party for them at year end. In this world, we are struggling to see if a virtual donor party would be worth the effort as many of our donors are “zoomed out.” Any thoughts or suggestions? 


Dear Worried,

You can never say thank you enough. So don’t worry about that!

While some donors may be, as you put it, “zoomed out,” there are others who will welcome the ease of making this connection with their favorite charity.  

The truth is there will always be some donors who don’t want to be wined and dined, put on fancy clothes, pay for transportation, parking, and a babysitter, or dedicate an entire evening (including getting there and back) to a recognition event.

Excuses abound. Don’t worry about the excuses. Worry about the folks who will have no excuses to offer. Those are the folks this event is really for!

In major gift fundraising, there’s a general rule: Only about one-third of your major donors will “qualify” for your cultivation portfolio.  The others will rebuff your advances. Hopefully they’ll still give, but you may not be able to move them as much as others to higher levels of engagement. That’s okay. And it’s good to know so you don’t waste limited resources banging your head against a wall.

Send out an invitation and warmly welcome those who accept!

Make sure the event sounds enticing however. Include an interesting speaker, a Q & A on a hot topic, a presentation of long-awaited research or survey results, an opportunity to socialize in break-out rooms, a live performance, and anything you can think of that sounds stimulating, lively, and fun. You might even ask participants in advance to share one word that comes to mind when they think of your organization. You can share responses in a word cloud for subsequent reminders!

Even though this is a free donor recognition event, you want to make it sound like something that would be worth paying for. This doesn’t mean it has to be complicated or expensive. If you do something simple and from the heart, it will likely be well received.

And the folks who sign on? Those are the ones you want!

Charity Clairity

Have a question for our Fundraising Coach?

Please submit your question here. Remember, there are no stupid questions! If you need an answer, it’s likely someone else does too. So help your colleagues by asking away. Please use a pseudonym, like “Worried” did, if you prefer to be anonymous.

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.