Donor Appreciation: Creating a Strategy (And 22+ Ideas!)
Your donors are the ones who make your organization’s mission possible. They fund your programs and ensure you’re able to continue the amazing work that you do on a daily basis. With all they do for your organization, are you thanking them thoroughly enough?
Nonprofits that don’t adequately show appreciation for the hard work and dedication of their supporters will receive less funding in the long run because they’ll struggle to retain those supporters over time.
Here at Bloomerang, we specialize in donor retention. Our team has studied the effectiveness of retaining donors rather than acquiring new ones, and that research guides our entire approach. Retention is the key to maximizing your fundraising strategy, and appreciation is at the root of that strategy. In this guide, we’ll dive into how your organization can create an appreciation strategy. Then, we’ll provide a list of ideas to help you say “thank you” to your generous supporters.
- Why Does Donor Appreciation Matter?
- The Foundations of Your Strategy
- Donor Appreciation Ideas
- Ideas for New Donors
- Ideas for Recurring Donors
- Ideas for Major Donors
- Event Appreciation Ideas
- Appreciation Gift Ideas
We’ll start with the fundamentals: the importance of donor appreciation and how it can inform your fundraising strategy. Let’s dive in!
Why Does Donor Appreciation Matter?
Saying “thank you” to individuals who do you the massive favor of contributing to your organization isn’t just polite; it’s also a necessity to acquire their long-term support and contributions.
Put yourself in the shoes of a supporter. You have found an organization with a mission that is near and dear to your heart. To help fund one of their main programs, you decide to give a donation of $100. It’s not a massive gift, but it’s still a substantial contribution to the cause! A week goes by and you don’t hear anything back from the organization. Then, two weeks go by—still nothing. At first you’re disappointed, but then you simply start to forget about the whole incident. The point is, you never give again.
This situation should never happen for your supporters. Dr. Adrian Sargeant conducted a survey about why donors stop giving. He found that 5% of one-time donors thought the charity didn’t need them, 9% had no memory of supporting, 13% never got thanked for donating, and 8% never had any information about how their gifts were used. Although some reasons are certainly out of your control, the ones listed above are within it. Here’s the complete breakdown:
- 5% thought the charity did not need them
- 8% got no information about how monies were used
- 9% had no memory of supporting
- 13% never got thanked for donating
- 16% passed away
- 18% thought the charity had poor service or communication
- 36% thought others were more deserving
- 54% could no longer afford to give
Most of these issues can be completely avoided if your organization is able to communicate effectively and show proper appreciation.
Then, when supporters do stick around for your organization, you’ll make more money in the long run. It’s around ten times more expensive to acquire new supporters than it is to retain existing ones. Plus, over time, retained supporters tend to end up making larger contributions to your mission, resulting in additional revenue. You can see an example of this and the resulting revenue that accompanies a simple 10% increase in donor retention:
The main idea is that retention (and therefore more effective fundraising) is rooted in communication, appreciation, and gratitude, making a simple “thank you” message worth its weight in gold.
The Foundations of Your Donor Appreciation Strategy
The backbone of any successful donor appreciation strategy is data. Having access to the right data will not only help you to choose the right donor appreciation ideas for your audience but also help you to craft more meaningful and resonant appreciation messages for your supporters.
Therefore, as you begin crafting your appreciation strategy, analyze the profiles in your donor database to be sure you’re reaching supporters where they are and creating messages that resonate with them.
Analyze Your Audience
Using a dedicated donor database (especially one that’s designed with retention in mind), you can gather all of the information you need about your supporters to craft an appreciation message that will resonate well with them. Consider the segments of your audience and the levels of appreciation that should be attributed to each segment. For instance, you might not add your first-time donors to a donor recognition board, but that could be a great option for your major supporters.
When you start putting together your donor appreciation strategy, create slightly different plans for each of your various audience segments.
Choose Your Appreciation Ideas
After you’ve considered your audience, you can start thinking of the different appreciation ideas that will best reach each of the donor segments. For instance, you might consider the following segments:
- When you segment by gift amount, you can choose different appreciation ideas for major and mid-tier donors and others for your lower-tier supporters. Remember that the larger the donation, the fewer supporters you’ll have to thank, which allows you to create more extravagant gestures.
- If you segment by recency, you’ll be able to implement different appreciation ideas for your first-time donors that differ slightly from the ones for long-term supporters. Your first-time donor strategy will be aimed at achieving your second or golden donation and appreciation will likely be shown in short succession.
- When you segment your supporters by age, you can make some assumptions about the types of appreciation that your donors will enjoy. For instance, younger donors may appreciate your thank-you video that you post to Instagram, but older donors may be more responsive to a hand-written letter.
We could go on and on with various segments. But the ultimate goal here is to customize your appreciation approach based on the preferences and status of your donors.
Say Thank You
Remember that the whole purpose here is to say “thank you” to your supporters. Even if you send them a gift or feature their name on an appreciation board, you should accompany the gesture with a note that informs the donor of the gesture and actually say “thanks!”
The note should be personal, noting the supporter by name. You should also be sure to say exactly what the supporter did to earn your appreciation. For example, you might say something like:
Dear Jessie, thank you so much for your donation of $100 to the Save the Dolphins campaign. Your contribution will provide a fish dinner for 10 injured dolphins tonight!
This note is personal, shows appreciation, and notes the exact donation amount and campaign the donor supported. The next element that you should be sure to include in this note is the impact of the contribution.
You can see in the example above that the nonprofit wrote what the $100 would accomplish for the mission. This is a key element of your donor appreciation strategy because donors want to know where their money is going. Remember the stat from before? 8% of supporters who stop giving do so because they don’t know where their money is going.
Showing impact allows supporters to understand that their money isn’t just a paycheck for your organization—it’s accomplishing something that will help further your mission. After all, your donors give to your mission, not necessarily to your organization.
Donor Appreciation Ideas
While these are by no means the only ideas available, they do present a summary of the potential options for your organization. You can use these as a starting point to begin building out your donor appreciation strategy as a whole.
For your convenience, we’ve split up the 22 appreciation ideas into categories so that you can jump to the ones most relevant to your needs:
- Ideas for New Donors
- Ideas for Recurring Donors
- Ideas for Major Donors
- Event Appreciation Ideas
- Appreciation Gift Ideas
Let’s learn more!
1. Donor Appreciation for New Supporters
You work hard to acquire new supporters. It’s a shame to think that after all of the work and funds that you spent on the acquisition process, those supporters could simply give once and never again. If you’re able to retain them for the long run, their lifetime value with your organization will rise significantly.
The rate of supporters who donate for a second time after they’ve given once to a nonprofit is only around 20% according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. But once they’ve contributed this second donation (or the golden donation), the chance that they’ll continue donating to your organization rises to about 60%.
Therefore, your initial sign of appreciation for your new donors is incredibly important to retain their support for the long haul. We recommend creating a cultivation timeline for your first-time donors to show your appreciation, encourage them to get more involved, and eventually make your second appeal. You can see a sample of this type of timeline below:
As you can see, this timeline doesn’t simply provide a single opportunity to say thank you, but has several opportunities to do so. Therefore, you can incorporate multiple donor appreciation ideas in your own iteration of a new donor cultivation timeline.
Let’s dive deeper into four of the ideas that you’ll find on these timelines, each providing an additional opportunity to show donor appreciation.
Immediate Donation Receipt
Most of the time, donors will give their first donation using some sort of online platform. This is one of the virtual fundraising trends that will not disappear anytime soon, but will likely become stronger over time.
Set up your fundraising software so that a donation receipt is sent immediately after the contribution is received, whether it’s for a campaign hosted on a crowdfunding, peer-to-peer, or donation page. Craft this message to say an immediate “thank you” to the donor, also using their name and specific donation amount for personalization. It will also act as a confirmation that the donation was, in fact, received by your organization.
Follow Up Phone Call
Within 48 hours of a donor contributing to your organization, give them a quick call! This may seem like an outdated strategy, but it’s incredibly personal and allows you to make a personal and memorable connection through appreciation. Plus, in our study on the matter, we found that the retention rate for new donors increased by around 25% if multiple appreciation calls were made to supporters within 90 days versus if no calls occurred.
Create a script that your development team can follow during these follow-up conversations with your new supporters. Customize these scripts based on the segments of supporters who are being called. Then, make sure everyone is up to date on the latest donations so that they can make these phone calls in a timely manner.
Surveys are a great way to both get your new supporters involved and to show your appreciation for them. It shows that their opinions matter and are an important part of your organization’s plans going forward.
Send a survey after you’ve called and had a couple of other interactions with each of your supporters. Then, be sure to ask informative questions that will also help you optimize the new donor experience for the future.
Additional Information About Your Mission
Donors don’t give to organizations—they give to missions. Showing your supporters the extent of your mission and the work that you do in the community is a great way to show them how their contributions make a difference.
Provide additional information about your organization through welcome packets, newsletters, and other resources. Be sure to discuss your various projects in the community to show the impact of the donations that your supporters make.
2. Donor Appreciation for Recurring Donors
Recurring donors give at a consistent rate, usually on a monthly basis. These supporters don’t necessarily need to be stewarded towards additional gifts on a regular basis. Every now and then, you may want to approach them. However, on the whole, you should steward them to keep them interested in your organization and your mission.
The key thing to keep in mind here is to not fall into the “set it and forget it” trap with your recurring donors. They should never forget about your mission. If they do, when it’s time for them to rework their personal finances, you might lose your valuable recurring donor!
Recurring donations account for anywhere from 3% to 9% of most nonprofits’ overall funding depending on the size of the organization. Plus, a good recurring donation program provides consistent funding for organizations and increases the retention rate. You don’t want to lose these supporters!
Instead, show appreciation for your recurring donors by not asking for money. Instead, find other ways to involve these supporters and to show your appreciation for them.
Host events that simply provide a “thank you” to your supporters rather than asking them to contribute to your organization. These events may be a luncheon, happy hour, or another opportunity to have a good time.
In addition, events are a great way to mingle with your supporters and create lasting relationships and connections with them. The invite shows that you care and the opportunity to network with them builds up relationships. You can read more about appreciation events later in this article.
Volunteering may not immediately sound like an appreciation idea, but hear us out! When you start a volunteer program, you give your supporters a chance for an up-close view of what your mission is accomplishing. While you can tell your recurring donors about their impact that they have on your mission, they’re more likely to develop a personal connection with your organization if they can see that impact as well.
Be sure to incorporate appreciation into the calls-to-action as you’re working with recurring donors to encourage them to volunteer. You might offer to meet after the volunteer experience for a happy hour or work appreciation into your recruitment messaging. For example, you might say, “Hugo, thank you so much for your gifts to Hope Rains, the campaign providing clean water to communities in need. If you want to meet those who have benefitted from your contributions, consider volunteering at this week’s water purifier assembly!”
Bonus! Your supporters who volunteer also may have the opportunity to increase their monetary contributions to your organization as well if they qualify for volunteer grants through their employer’s corporate responsibility program.
Program Updates and Communication
Just as your new donors want additional information about your mission as a whole, your recurring donors will want to know about the progress that your organization is making in the community. Be sure to communicate this progress clearly and consistently to your recurring donors.
Send email newsletters with updates about specific projects and post social media posts regarding the various activities your organization is involved with. Then, of course, be sure to say “thank you” to everyone who makes this progress possible. Be sure to keep in consistent contact with your recurring donors, always showing them their impact on the mission at hand. This lets them know where their money is going and allows you to give a specific “thank you” for their impact.
Thank You Letters
Do you have a leap of excitement when you check the mail and notice that there’s a letter in there for you that’s not a credit card or utility bill? We do too and so do your donors! Studies show that people also absorb and retain information better when they read it on paper than on a screen. This means that donor appreciation letters can make a splash for your supporters.
Write personalized letters that will capture your supporters’ attention. This shouldn’t replace an initial confirmation email or a digital thank you, but it does help solidify your strategy and provides another medium on which you’re showing your appreciation. To make sure these letters are personalized, leverage your donor segments and craft messages that each will find engaging. Then, ask your executive director or development officer to personally sign the letter.
If you’ve ever run a 5K for charity, you know that the most exciting part of the activity is receiving your free t-shirt at the end of the race. That t-shirt may even become your favorite one that you’ll wear until it has holes along the seams. You may not remember the exact amount that you paid for the race or your finishing time, but whenever you wear the shirt, you’re reminded of the organization and the mission you supported.
This is the reason appreciation gifts are so important and effective. While t-shirts are a classic option, they’re certainly not the only one. Branded merchandise and gifts of all shapes and sizes make for a great way to show your appreciation for your recurring supporters’ contributions. Plus, they’ll think of your mission each and every time they see the gift.
3. Donor Appreciation for Major Donors
Major donors make up the backbone of successful fundraising strategies. According to this article, $410 billion was given in philanthropy in 2017 and 49% of the funds donated were by the top 1% of donors. If that’s not enough, DonorSearch found that 88% of nonprofit funding usually comes from the top 12% of donors.
Because of this grand impact that your major donors have on your strategy, it makes sense that you should put a little bit more emphasis, time, and effort into appreciating them. The only thing better than a major gift now is another promised major gift in the future. Saying thank you is the first step to stewarding these supporters and cultivating additional contributions for the future.
Publicly Highlight Major Supporters
While you’re bound to have some supporters who want to give anonymously, the majority of people appreciate being recognized for their contributions. Public recognition is a great way to give a shout-out to your most impactful supporters, plus it gives others a level to strive for.
You might decide to highlight a “donor of the month” on social media platforms or shout out to them at organization events so that you can give proper recognition to each of your major supporters who want this kind of attention. Be sure to check with them first before highlighting their story for the world to see. You could also highlight major donors in regular documents like your annual report. This allows you to tie the contributions made by these supporters directly to your success from the year.
Personalized Appreciation Letters
We mentioned that appreciation letters can be used for your recurring donors, but it’s also a great strategy to reach your major donors! While you may use segmentation strategies for your recurring or lower-level supporters to show appreciation, you should write completely individual letters for each of your major supporters.
You might decide to start with a thank you letter template to be sure you hit all of the important elements of this letter, but you should make sure the final version incorporates more personalized elements. For example, including information about your major donors’ motivations for giving is a great way to make a personalized connection with them.
Exclusive Event Opportunities
Again, events are a great way to get any of your supporters further involved with your organization and your mission. But major donors should have some preferential treatment given the level of their importance for your organization. Exclusive events allow your major donors to mingle with one another and with your team.
These events can be in conjunction with fundraising events (like galas), but it’s always good to have a healthy mix of both fundraising and stewardship events throughout the year. Therefore, make sure to include events in your regular schedule that will be exclusively available to your major supporters.
Gather Feedback and Insights
Many of your major donors and stakeholders want some additional insight into your programming than you would typically give for your supporters. They also may want to give your organization additional feedback about your activities given the fact that they’re funding such a great portion of them.
Schedule meetings with your major donors and stakeholders to give them the opportunity to share their opinions about your organization’s current programming and activities. This gives you the opportunity to address any of their concerns, and it gives them the opportunity to also share their concerns and present new ideas for your team.
Donor Recognition Wall
Donor recognition walls are a classic idea to commemorate your major donors. Featuring their names on a physical or virtual wall allows you to share their involvement with the community, providing public recognition for their contributions.
Create an in-person donor recognition wall at your organization in a well-traveled location. This enables your supporters to see their own names on the wall as they pass by. Plus, other prospects and donors might see the names of major donors and feel incentivized to give in order to be recognized alongside them.
4. Donor Appreciation Event Ideas
Earlier in the article, we’ve discussed the benefits of hosting donor appreciation events. The majority of events your supporters are invited to attend are likely fundraising-focused, meaning the hosting organization has an underlying motive to attain funds from the attendees. It often becomes an expectation for donors to give an additional donation during the event itself.
However, when you take a non-fundraising approach and don’t ask for money, you can focus solely on creating connections with your supporters and building on relationships. Essentially, events where you don’t ask for funds ensure the focus of the event is entirely on your supporters themselves, not their wallets.
At the core, these events are designed to build trust, respond to donors’ questions, and help demonstrate the alignment between your donors’ interests and your organization’s mission.
There are some inherent risks to these events. You might receive some backlash about hosting events that have no immediate return on investment. You also can’t host too many of these events; usually just one big one will do the trick! These events will give you some ideas for how you can raise more by not asking for donations at your next event.
Donor Luncheon or Dinners
Who doesn’t love free food? Donor luncheons and dinners provide the perfect space and opportunity to enjoy a good meal while networking with supporters, encouraging them to mingle with one another, and say thank you for all of their contributions.
You might put together a short presentation or have a speaker chosen to give a group-wide “thank you” for the contributions made to your organization over the year. Depending on your donor management software, this can be a breeze to set up or take some time. Be sure to also include updates about the nonprofit’s progress and impact of gifts to take this presentation further.
Virtual Facility Tour
Essentially, a lot of the ideas that you could use for your virtual (or in-person) fundraising ideas can be taken to the stewardship sphere if you host them for free. A facility tour is a perfect example! Many of your donors, especially those who started donating during the age of social distancing, may not have seen your office space and work sites before. Showing them where the magic happens is a great way to say “thank you.”
For instance, if you’ve just finished a capital campaign that would help expand your office space, you might record a virtual facility tour that supporters can see so that they know what the campaign accomplished.
Happy hours are a great virtual or in-person way to relax and get to know your supporters. For less formal organizations, you might ask your supporters to meet you at a local restaurant or bar for a happy hour. Or, if you’re a part of a larger or more formal organization, you could even rent out a nice spot for a happy hour to take place.
Make sure you provide conversation starters or topics that your supporters can use to mingle with one another. You should also make sure your major gift officer has the opportunity to talk to prospects during this time and get to know them on a personal level. Similar to the luncheon or dinner idea, you might decide to host a short speech during which you can give a blanket “thank you” to all supporters who contributed.
The holidays are an ideal time to show your appreciation for your supporters. Many holidays have gratitude and appreciation at their core, making it a great time to bring everyone together, celebrate, and show your appreciation for donors. Plus, this provides a memorable experience that you can use as a launching pad for an annual celebration.
The classic idea is to host a winter holiday celebration where you can celebrate the end of the year with your supporters. The only problem with this is that focusing on stewardship could collide with or overshadow your end-of-year fundraising season, potentially causing you to miss out on year-end donations. Instead, you might choose a different holiday season like a Spring fling, Independence Day, or Valentine’s Day to center your event around.
5. Donor Appreciation Gifts Ideas
Who doesn’t love receiving a present? Donor appreciation gifts provide a platform to say thank you to donors at all levels. You might even decide to provide different types of merchandise or gifts for each level of supporter at your organization.
Sending gifts makes supporters feel appreciated. Plus, you can receive additional benefits from this type of appreciation strategy. When merchandise is branded to your organization, your supporters will think of your mission every time they see the merch or use items from a goodie bag. Educational materials can provide additional information about your mission, making it a great way to connect with donors while also informing them further about your organization.
Branded merchandise provides two different benefits for your organization. First, it provides a tangible item to show your appreciation for everything your supporters do for you. Second, it serves as a reminder of your organization and your mission over the months or even years.
The classic merchandise items include things like t-shirts and mugs, but you can also get incredibly creative with this idea and design anything related to your organization or your mission as a whole. For example, if you work to provide technology to schools, you might brand a power bank with your organization’s logo and with your dedicated color scheme.
Books or Educational Materials
Educational materials are a meaningful way to give supporters an inside look at your organization’s activities and the reason for your mission. Plus, they make a great donor appreciation gift!
Let’s say there was a particular book that influenced your leadership to launch your organization; try giving that book out to your supporters! You might even try to host an event with the book’s author if you really want to go the extra mile.
Baskets and Goodie Bags
When you put together branded merchandise, you’re likely going to have a number of different items to give away or sell. You may even have a number of different designs for your various campaigns. For supporters who go above and beyond, you can put together baskets and goodie bags of these items for them to enjoy.
You might even host little giveaways that all of your supporters are automatically entered into with a number of themed baskets or giveaways. This will not only show your appreciation but also provide additional incentives to give!
Coupons and Discounts
You likely host a number of activities, events, and maybe even conferences that your supporters are invited to attend. And chances are that many of these opportunities aren’t free. As a sign of appreciation for those who donate to specific campaigns or above certain amounts, try offering coupons or discounts.
Again, this is an incentives program that provides a token of appreciation for supporters who contribute. For example, you might provide a discount to your annual holiday party registration for everyone who donates to your year-end campaign.
Donor appreciation is the launching pad for stewardship and retention. It’s the first step to building lasting relationships with your supporters. Therefore, be sure to put together a concrete strategy of your own to say “thank you” to each of your donors.
You can use the various ideas and appreciation approaches throughout this guide to help design your strategy and ensure it’s up to scratch.
If you’re looking for additional advice for building relationships with supporters, consider perusing the various resources below:
- Nonprofit CRM | Complete Guide to Choosing the Best Solution. See how having the best CRM to meet your specific needs results in better relationships with donors.
- Bloomerang’s Guide to Donor Retention. Learn more about donor retention and the impact that it has on your fundraising efforts as a whole.
- Nonprofit Annual Reports [+ Template!]. See how you can create your annual report to best steward your supporters, plus check out some awesome examples to get started.
Ann Marie Worman