For nonprofit organizations to successfully retain donors, they need to have a robust donor stewardship plan in place. This includes strategies for donor recognition, as donors feel more motivated to continue supporting a nonprofit when they feel valued for their contributions.
To help your nonprofit with donor recognition strategies, this guide will dive into the following topics:
- What is donor recognition and why is it important?
- Best practices for donor recognition
- Donor recognition ideas
- Conclusion and additional resources
It’s only with your donors’ help that your nonprofit can work towards your mission. Acquiring and retaining donors is crucial for your operations to continue, so you want to ensure that your donors have a positive experience with your organization.
What is donor recognition and why is it important?
Essentially, donor recognition is the practice of showing appreciation to your donors for supporting your nonprofit. There are a few reasons why it’s important to do so, including:
- Making donors feel valued. Donors want to feel like their contributions are important to your nonprofit and that they are making an impact. By recognizing their support, you fulfill this desire and keep your donors eager to stay involved.
- Keeping your nonprofit top of mind. By regularly communicating with and thanking your donors, you’ll keep them thinking and talking about your mission. This helps spread awareness about your nonprofit’s cause and engages donors in the long run.
- Increasing donor retention rates. If your donors are happy and thinking about your nonprofit, they’ll be more inclined to continue supporting your mission by making gifts. This increases your donor retention rate, which allows you to cut down on donor acquisition costs.
Having a thorough donor recognition strategy results in more satisfied donors, who feel that their experience with your nonprofit is meaningful. By showing your appreciation now, you are strengthening your relationship with your donors and investing in your future.
6 best practices for donor recognition
Before you begin brainstorming ideas for how to show appreciation for your donors, you must first learn the basics of donor recognition. Let’s start with six best practices.
1. Create a donor recognition plan.
Just like you would create a plan for your fundraising efforts, you should also create a plan for donor recognition. When you are making this plan, you should:
- Identify metrics to track donor engagement. You will use these metrics to evaluate and improve your donor recognition strategies.
- Determine why donors continue to support your nonprofit. After you have determined why donors choose to support your nonprofit, you’ll be able to adjust your strategies to maximize donor satisfaction. For example, if certain donors support you because they firmly believe in your cause, be sure to regularly specify how your nonprofit is working towards that cause in your communications.
- Set SMART goals. Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This will give you a good idea of how feasible they are and the work you’ll need to put in to achieve them.
- Use donor segmentation to create personas. By segmenting your existing donors, you’ll be able to create personas of your donors based on the data you’ve collected. This will allow you to create more targeted messages.
- Create recognition tiers. Although you should show appreciation to all your donors, they will make gifts of varying amounts and therefore require different levels of recognition. For example, a major donor may feel unvalued if you only send them a thank-you email, whereas a smaller one-time donor may feel uncomfortable with a public social media shoutout.
After creating and implementing your plan, review your key metrics to evaluate how well it is performing. Regularly update and make improvements to your donor recognition plan to keep your donors happy.
2. Stay focused on the donor.
To ensure that your donors feel properly appreciated, keep your communications focused on them. Emphasize the role they play in helping your nonprofit make a difference. In your communications, focus on “you” instead of “we” to center your donors. You want to make it clear that they are the driving force behind your nonprofit’s impact.
3. Send prompt thank-you’s.
When you do a favor for someone, you expect that they will show you their gratitude in some way. Donors feel the same way when they make a gift. Ideally, you’ll want to thank them within 48 hours after they make a gift. Prompt thank-you messages will help your donors feel recognized and appreciated.
Your thank-you communications can take multiple forms, such as a text or an email. Within it, express your genuine gratitude and how important the donor’s contributions are. You should also include the donation tax receipt for their records.
4. Highlight the gift’s tangible impact.
To foster a strong relationship between donors and your nonprofit, be transparent about your operations. You can also leverage this transparency as a way to recognize donors by highlighting the tangible impact of their gifts.
Inform your donors about what you’re putting their gift towards and what goals you’re trying to meet. Specifically address the concrete impact you hope to make with your fundraising campaign. For example, if your nonprofit is an animal shelter that has recently had an influx of puppies, tell your donor that their $50 will feed five puppies for a week. This helps your donor feel appreciated because they’ll be able to clearly understand how they’re helping your beneficiaries.
5. Add personalization.
Part of making your donors feel recognized is letting them know that you’re taking the time to get to know them as individuals. You can achieve this by personalizing your communications. You can do this in a few ways:
- Address donors by their first and last name. This is an easily automated process that makes your donors feel like they really matter as individuals.
- Mention their specific gift amount. You can reference their most recent gift and acknowledge their history of giving if they’re a repeat donor. You might even inform them of the cumulative total of their gifts and the impact you’ve made with all those funds.
- Reference the other ways they’ve been involved. For example, if your donor has not only made a gift but also volunteered, take the opportunity to thank them for all of the work they’ve done on behalf of your nonprofit. This will make them feel recognized for their efforts.
- Bring up matching gifts. Show donors that you’re making an effort to get to know them by mentioning if their employers have a matching gift program. This will allow them to create an even greater impact without extra cost to them.
By personalizing your messages, you’re reassuring donors that you see them as more than just their gifts. This recognition helps to strengthen your relationships with them, leading to a higher donor retention rate and a more loyal supporter base.
6. Show gratitude year-round.
To reinforce that you see donors as more than the gifts they make, show your appreciation for them year-round. You want your donors to feel that you care about them. Achieve this by sending communications for special occasions such as holidays and birthdays, where you focus on celebrating your donors. Donors will see and appreciate the genuine effort you’re making.
Donor recognition ideas
Now that you know the best practices for recognizing your donors, let’s dive into a few donor recognition ideas and the types of donors they would be most suited to:
Letters and notes
You can send letters and notes to any type of donor. As a classic idea for donor recognition, a handwritten thank-you letter speaks to the effort your nonprofit is making to show your appreciation towards donors. When drafting your thank-you letter, imagine talking to a friend, and adopt that tone in your writing.
In an increasingly technological world, sending thank-you communications through direct mail can help you keep in touch with donors that may be less technologically savvy, such as those belonging to older generations. A physical letter also gives donors a souvenir that they can keep, strengthening their positive experience with your nonprofit.
Phone calls are an easy and effective way to recognize your donors. For supporters who value a personal touch, being able to hear a human voice thanking them can be very meaningful. Depending on the size of your nonprofit and the number of donors you have, consider hosting a thank-a-thon, where you have your nonprofit dedicate a day to calling donors and showing your gratitude. Have a script prepared in case your calls go unanswered, so you can leave an appreciative voicemail.
Essentially a digital greeting card usually sent through email, eCards are a unique and fun way for your nonprofit to recognize donors. There are many benefits of using eCards, as they are:
- Convenient and efficient. eCards are extremely easy to send. With a click of a button, they reach their recipients in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
- Cost-effective. Because of the digital nature of eCards, you won’t have to worry about printing costs or purchasing stamps, making them a very cost-effective way of recognizing donors.
- Customizable and interactive. eCards are very customizable, allowing you to choose the image on the card and what text will be on it. You can even add animated and interactive elements. For example, take a look at Teremana’s animated Valentine’s Day grams.
- Eco-friendly. As eCards are usually sent through email, they are eco-friendly and help your nonprofit reduce its carbon footprint.
When it comes to creating your eCard, consider working with dedicated eCard software to streamline your process. eCardWidget allows you to easily design eCards and integrate them into your website. Check out their partnership with Youth for Understanding, which allowed the organization’s constituents to send thank-you eCards to those who made their experience memorable, such as volunteers and teachers.
Videos are another creative way to show your appreciation for your donors. This type of donor recognition is very involved and may require a lot of effort in terms of filming and editing. However, if done correctly, your supporters will appreciate the effort you’ve made.
You can create a general thank-you video for all your donors and post it on your social media, embed it in your email newsletters, or feature it on your website. Another way you can use donor recognition videos is by creating individual, personalized videos for your major donors.
Donor recognition events
Invite your donors to an event specifically celebrating them. These events can be in-person or virtual and range from cocktail happy hours to formal galas. You can use them to recognize all donors or a specific subset, such as major donors or recurring donors. To ensure that attendees have a positive experience, consider what type of event or activities your donors would most enjoy.
Send your donors gifts to show your appreciation, such as merchandise branded to your nonprofit, including:
- Tote bags
- Water bottles
Aim to relate your gifts back to your nonprofit’s mission—for example, if your nonprofit is dedicated to planting trees and creating a more eco-friendly world, you can send seeds for gardening. This idea is great for recognizing mid-level to major-level donors that you want to show extra gratitude towards.
Giving societies essentially allow your nonprofit to group donors together based on their giving level and reward them for their support by offering special perks and discounts. This idea is best suited to recognizing mid to major donors and recurring donors, who have made a considerable investment in your nonprofit’s success.
Social media shoutout
A social media shoutout allows you to spotlight donors that are significant to your organization and have made large contributions. Ideally, you should recognize major donors in this manner. Make sure that you have their permission before thanking them on social media, as some donors may wish to stay out of the public eye.
You can have one-on-one meetings with donors to thank them for their support. These meetings are also a great opportunity to ask them why they support your nonprofit and solicit feedback on what you could do better. Because of the involved nature of this form of donor recognition, you’ll want to use it to show major donors that you’re putting effort towards strengthening your relationship with them and that you truly care about what they have to say.
Walls and plaques
When nonprofits put up a donor recognition wall or plaque, they will essentially dedicate a wall to major donors that have made a large contribution to them. You might engrave your donors’ names on the wall or hang plaques instead. You can even create separate sections on the wall to separate your major donors into tiers based on their giving amount. Walls also allow you to recognize other important donors, such as legacy donors.
Conclusion and additional resources
Donor recognition is crucial for nonprofits to retain donors and ensure that they’re happy with their decision to make a gift. Consider similar nonprofits’ donor recognition strategies to give you an idea of what yours should look like, but keep in mind that your nonprofit will have unique needs. Determine what works for your organization and your donors, and implement those strategies.
If you’d like to learn more about donor recognition and eCards, here are some additional resources you can take a look at:
- Charity eCards for Your Nonprofit: A Comprehensive Guide – Curious about how you can leverage eCards for your nonprofit? Check out this guide.
- A Comprehensive Guide to Great Donor Thank-You Letters – Writing the perfect thank-you letter can go a long way toward recognizing your donors. This guide will help you with the basics.
- A Complete Guide to Employee Recognition + Top 10 Ideas – Just like donor recognition, employee recognition is crucial for nonprofit organizations. Learn more here.