Last year’s M+R Benchmarks study states that online donor retention for first-time donors was 29%, while it was 49% for previous repeat donors. These numbers make it clear that the key to cultivating a strong donor base lies in knowing how to thank donors to keep them engaged with your nonprofit over time.
However, nonprofit research estimates 60% of nonprofits don’t thank donors properly. Whether slow, impersonal, or not at all, poor donor appreciation practices can severely impact an organization’s ability to retain donors and do more good in the world. Luckily, there’s an easy fix for that! You need to learn how to thank your donors meaningfully.
To form strong nonprofit-donor relationships that stand the test of time, develop a comprehensive strategy for thanking donors by exploring these donor appreciation fundamentals:
- Why thanking donors matters
- When should you thank donors?
- Best practices for effectively thanking donors
- 22 popular ideas for how to thank donors
Donors are pivotal to your nonprofit’s success. Their general support and financial contributions enable you to spread awareness of your cause and pursue your mission. Therefore, it’s crucial to build lasting relationships with your donors by acknowledging the value of their support. Ready to create a positive and fulfilling experience for your donors? Let’s get started.
Why thanking donors matters
Thanking your donors should not only be a natural, polite response to their support, but a dedicated aspect of your nonprofit’s donor retention strategy. After all, their gifts are what make your work possible. Most donors get involved with your organization because they’re interested in making a positive difference in the world. By acknowledging their contributions, you’re validating their intentions.
Donors who feel like they’re a valuable part of your nonprofit are much more likely to continue their support year after year.
As we’ve all heard, donor retention is more important than acquisition. For one, you need to invest more resources into acquiring an initial donation. It’s much less time-intensive to convince someone who’s already donated to give again. Not only this, but retained donors also tend to give more over time. In fact, repeat gift research from Kindful shows that recurring donors give five times more than donors who only give once.
Furthermore, when you publicly recognize your donors in person or online, the word will get around that you value your supporters. In turn, you can attract prospective donors by expressing you’re committed to showing appreciation.
When should you thank donors?
Every thank-you is a touchpoint that allows your nonprofit to reconnect with donors and bring attention back to your mission. Reach out regularly to convey your gratitude throughout the year, at times such as:
- After a gift. Make sure to thank donors within 72 hours of their gift. This will acknowledge that your nonprofit received the donation and genuinely appreciates the support. Automated email confirmations and custom donor recognition greeting cards are a smart way to do so quickly and meaningfully.
- After they become a member. Reach out to welcome new members to your nonprofit whenever they join. They’ll be impressed if you’ve put thought into your welcome message, especially if you include a custom gift or must-known information about your organization.
- On their birthdays. Let donors know you’re thinking of them on their special day. Thank them for their continued support and encourage them to launch a birthday fundraiser for your nonprofit.
- On holidays. From Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving to Christmas, any holiday is the perfect time to thank your valued supporters. Especially during the year-end giving season, you’ll want to reach out to thank donors and remind them that your cause needs them.
- After a successful project or campaign. When you wrap up a fundraiser or other project, people will want to know. Share campaign results and project updates to keep donors looped in. Be sure to call out specific ways they helped, such as donating to your cause or hosting a peer-to-peer campaign page to raise funds.
- At a donor milestone. When someone shows their commitment throughout the years, don’t let that go unnoticed. Thank donors by celebrating the anniversary of their first gift, such as five years of support.
Rather than focusing on your organization’s schedule, appreciate donors on days that are personally meaningful to them, such as birthdays and holidays. Doing so can go a long way toward making them feel individually valued for their support.
Best practices for effectively thanking donors
On the surface, thanking donors seems simple. If you’re interested in learning how to thank donors in ways that leave them with the greatest impression of your organization, you’ll want to follow a few best practices.
Thank them promptly.
The sooner you thank your donors for their gifts, the sooner they’ll feel noticed and appreciated by your organization. At the very least, you should have automated thank-you’s set up in the form of donation confirmation emails. Thankfully, most nonprofit donor management software offers automated email confirmations. Then, you can follow up with a more detailed and impactful message. Ideally, you’ll want to get your thank-you out the door within 72 hours.
Due to their ability to reach donors immediately, online communication methods such as email and eCards are especially effective for promptly thanking supporters, while direct mail can require some careful planning in advance.
Personalize your thank-you.
Donor “relationships” implies a series of interactions between your nonprofit and donors over time. In your donor appreciation efforts, highlight their history of support, from past gifts to event attendance to volunteering. This assures donors that you remember and appreciate their combined contributions to your mission, rather than simply forgetting about them until they make their next gift.
Use donor data to inform your personalization. For example, let’s say you want to thank a donor for a recent gift and notice that they also regularly volunteer with your organization. An example of a subpar donor thank-you would be “Thank you for your $50 donation.” Instead, you can say,
“Thank you for your $50 donation! As one of our most cherished volunteers, you give us the support we need to drive impact year after year.”
Center their impact.
Allow donors to visualize the value of their gifts by specifying their impact in every donor thank-you. Rather than focusing purely on your organization’s accomplishments, emphasize how their contributions made those achievements possible. This helps them understand that their gifts are the driving force behind the positive change you effect.
For instance, an animal rescue organization can follow up with a donor by sharing that the nonprofit was able to provide medical treatment and meals for 75 animals in its care thanks to contributions from generous individuals like them.
Ensure your thank-you fits the gift amount.
There’s a variety of methods for thanking donors, all requiring different investments of time and energy. That’s why matching your thank-you efforts to the gift amount received is important. Establishing giving levels can make it easy for your nonprofit to determine how to recognize each contribution. A handwritten card may be a memorable way to thank a major donor, but less feasible for acknowledging small-time donations.
Our donor recognition guide shares a detailed example of how to define your acknowledgment tiers, explaining that you’ll need to “define donation thresholds and assign specific types of recognition to each.” Pulling from that guide, The Sarasota Orchestra’s donor recognition levels provide a prime example of donation tiers and appropriate acknowledgment tactics:
Notice how each tier offers increasingly better donor appreciation opportunities. Those who donate at least $25 receive recognition in the season program and the orchestra’s newsletter, while those who donate $100 receive those benefits, a unique concert experience, and digital program notes. Moving up each tier means you’ll get even more recognition!
You can also get creative with your donor appreciation tiers by giving them fun names. Notice how the orchestra created tier names like “Maestro Circle,” “Virtuosi,” and “Gold Baton.”
Provide ways to give feedback.
Your nonprofit’s donors each have their individual values and reasons for getting involved. To determine how to thank donors in a way that resonates most with them, provide a simple and convenient way for them to give feedback. We’ll explore the idea of donor surveys more in-depth in the next section.
In addition to sending out surveys, consider interacting with supporters on social media for more informal, direct opportunities to solicit their thoughts and opinions.
Invite them to deepen their engagement.
Beyond merely thanking donors, build stronger relationships by inviting them to additional opportunities to get involved with your nonprofit. For instance, when you follow up with donors, encourage them to:
- Become a volunteer.
- Sign up for your email newsletter.
- Follow your nonprofit on social media.
- Check their eligibility for matching gifts.
- Attend an upcoming fundraising event.
Show your organization’s donors that you’re invested in developing long-term relationships with them by offering numerous engagement opportunities that appeal to varying interests and capabilities. Maximize the impact of your communications by using your donor management software to suggest opportunities that each individual donor will most likely be interested in.
22 popular ideas for how to thank donors
Your nonprofit organization has different types of donors, from monthly to major, each with different preferences and interests. The key to determining how to thank donors lies in understanding your unique supporter base alongside your resources. Keeping those factors in mind, let’s dive into some popular donor appreciation ideas.
1. Send thoughtful eCards.
Looking for a meaningful way to thank donors? Send eCards! Digital greeting cards are more eye-catching than a traditional thank-you email. Plus, they’re easy to customize to match your cause.
You can even adjust the designs to fit the time of year. For example, say thanks around the holidays with a festive card that features the words ‘Happy holidays’ in elegant cursive across a cheerful snowman on a snowy landscape. Then, customize the accompanying message to express your gratitude.
Chances are, this type of thank you will draw a smile or two. Best of all, eCards make great keepsakes to remind donors of their generosity for years to come!
To help you tap into this approach, eCardWidget facilitates the process of creating eCards for thanking donors with these simple steps:
- Upload your designs, or customize our beautiful templates with your nonprofit’s logo and branding.
- Embed your donor appreciation eCards into your website.
- Either send eCards instantly or schedule them for later.
We aim to make it incredibly easy to thank your donors via eCards. Your nonprofit’s eCards can extend beyond just email as well. With eCardWidget, you have the option of sending them directly via SMS to supporters who prefer to be contacted that way. You’ll also be able to share eCards on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram.
Not to mention, we provide performance metrics for your eCards. You’ll be able to review metrics like open rates and the number of emails sent to gauge your messaging’s effectiveness.
An Example eCard
Let’s explore an example, so you can see how a real nonprofit used this donor appreciation strategy. In celebration of its 70th anniversary, Youth for Understanding (YFU) created a series of thank-you cards via eCardWidget. Those who benefited from YFU’s programs could reach out to their host families, volunteers, and others who positively impacted them.
YFU’s colorful thank-you eCards illustrate your organization’s creative freedom with the platform.
While intended to thank all types of supporters, this approach is a fantastic one to emulate due to its creativity and thoughtfulness! For example, encourage your beneficiaries to reach out to donors via eCards. Your nonprofit can supply the eCard designs. Then, beneficiaries can customize the message sent alongside each card.
2. Send donor appreciation emails.
A sincere, heartfelt thank-you email can be a cost-effective yet impactful way to acknowledge donors for their contributions. In fact, 48% of donors say that regular email communications are most likely to keep them engaged and inspire repeat donations, according to Double the Donation’s fundraising statistics page.
You can even use your donor management software to set up automated thank-you’s following a gift, but ensure each recipient feels valued by including details such as their preferred name and specific gift amount.
In addition to individual emails to donors, you can include broader donor thank-you’s in an email newsletter update after a fundraising event or project completion.
3. Highlight your donors’ impact on your website.
On your nonprofit’s website, create a page dedicated exclusively to thanking donors. This way, you’ll be able to permanently highlight your supporters’ impact on furthering your mission. Consider adding a few quotations from specific donors on why they chose to give to your organization.
Additionally, you can provide eCards on your website for supporters to send to friends and family if they want to share their personal involvement with your nonprofit. This can be a fun, interactive incentive to say thanks!
4. Use your annual report to show donor appreciation.
A nonprofit annual report typically highlights your initiatives and successes throughout the year. At the same time, this is a highly effective place for thanking the donors who’ve made your work possible.
Some nonprofits even rename their annual reports to “gratitude” reports to emphasize the impact of their supporters. You can consider listing your donor base alphabetically, grouping them, or linking to a separate page with all donors listed.
NXUnite’s donor recognition guide gives a wonderful example of how to thank donors with an annual ‘Gratitude’ report. It delves into the Pride Foundation’s Gratitude Report, which is filled with statistics and testimonials of how the organization’s donors make the organization’s mission possible.
5. Send exclusive progress updates.
Give your organization’s dedicated donors an inside glimpse at the positive change they’re supporting by providing exclusive progress updates. For instance, you can share how close you are to your fundraising goal along with photos of your staff and volunteers in action. By allowing donors to see the impact of their gifts firsthand, they’ll feel more fulfilled and invested in your mission moving forward.
6. Mail them handwritten letters.
A handwritten letter, especially after a big campaign or during the holidays, can be a memorable way to thank your nonprofit’s donors. However, since this donor appreciation method often requires more time and effort from your staff, this may only be suitable for smaller groups such as major or monthly donors.
Focus on personalization with each handwritten note, referencing the recipient’s specific contributions and interests. As always, highlight their impact to help them draw a direct connection between their gift and the positive change your organization has caused.
7. Make phone calls to committed supporters.
Thanking donors on the phone can be a sincere and thoughtful way to express appreciation for all they’ve done to support your nonprofit. A popular and effective approach to incorporating phone calls into your donor appreciation strategy is to organize a thank-a-thon.
During a thank-a-thon, your staff and volunteers set aside time to make phone calls to a list of donors, often using a basic script that maximizes the impact of their thank-you’s.
8. Create a donor appreciation video.
A thank-you video can demonstrate that your nonprofit is willing to invest time and thought into appreciating its donors. This can be a great idea for the holidays or any occasion where a more attention-grabbing message would be impactful. These videos can be short and simple as long as they’re genuine. Be sure to feature staff or beneficiaries thanking donors for their contributions.
Like several organizations, UNICEF India created a year-end donor appreciation video as a final thank you for the year. The video shows a series of children impacted by the organization’s services overlaid with concise text. The triumphant music takes the viewer along for an emotional ride. See how impactful this type of donor appreciation can be by watching the video:
Especially since 30% of annual giving occurs in December, a year-end video like this can be a powerful way to express donor appreciation! It can serve as a way to say thanks, look ahead to the new year, and call for any last-minute donations.
9. Send branded donor gifts.
A small, branded gift can serve as a meaningful memento of a donor’s contribution to your nonprofit. Feel free to get creative with the items you send, but a few popular ones include:
- Coffee mugs
- Tote bags
Tangible items like these can remind recipients that their contributions make a difference. Not to mention, branded gifts can have the added benefit of providing extra marketing for your organization.
Kwala’s donor gifts guide explains that “Not everyone will enjoy the same gift. However, this does not mean that your gifts should be generic.” Instead, identify donor gift preferences by sending out surveys. In no time, you’ll figure out how to thank donors on an individual basis.
No matter which gift you choose, remember to include a short, personalized message with each item to make the recipient feel truly appreciated.
10. Conduct facility tours.
Allow some of your donors to get an in-person glimpse into the work that your staff and volunteers do on a daily basis with a facility tour. This is a wonderful way to build more emotional connections between supporters and your cause. For instance, consider introducing them to a few of your beneficiaries and offering to answer any questions they may have about your operations.
11. Solicit feedback with donor surveys.
Chances are, many of your donors are just as invested in your nonprofit’s impact as you are. Let their voices be heard through donor surveys. This will show that you value their opinions and are interested in making improvements based on their feedback. The more you learn about your organization’s supporters, the better equipped you’ll be to engage them and show appreciation in ways that matter most to them.
Let’s explore an example of a donor survey from charity: water:
This to-the-point survey asks three simple questions:
- How would you rate your experience receiving an email update on your donation from charity: water?
- Favorite or least favorite part?
- How likely are you to donate to charity: water again?
Being straightforward inspires more people to complete the survey rather than bogging them down with too many questions. Try creating your own survey to gather feedback. Then, make sure to take action on their suggestions.
12. Host a coffee or lunch meeting.
Depending on the size of your nonprofit’s donor base, this donor appreciation method may not be possible for all of your supporters, but it can be effective for cultivating and strengthening relationships with mid-level and major donors.
Organizing time to meet up for coffee or lunch can provide ideal opportunities for sharing the impact of donors’ contributions and soliciting any in-person feedback. Your donors will appreciate the level of commitment you demonstrate toward keeping them involved and informed in your organization’s activities.
Our donor recognition guide explains that you can also send custom invitations like the one below:
Be sure to customize the note sent alongside the invite to express your genuine gratitude for their support. If all goes well, you might turn the lunch or coffee meeting into an annual event.
13. Build a donor wall.
A donor wall can serve as a profound and lasting act of appreciation from your nonprofit. There are many different ways your organization can choose to display the names of key donors. For instance, you can engrave bricks, paver stones, and plaques to highlight supporters’ contributions.
For a more cost-effective version of this donor appreciation idea, consider adding a virtual donor wall to your website that you can update regularly and link to in social media posts.
14. Throw a donor appreciation event.
Celebrate your donors by hosting a memorable donor appreciation event just for them. This strategy can be super effective from a retention standpoint. In fact, around 87% of donors who attended an appreciation event say it positively influenced their decision to give again.
Making the event memorable and enjoyable can go a long way in thanking donors and deepening relationships. During the event, you can feature:
- Speakers: Invite a beneficiary, organizational leader, or notable supporter to speak. They can share personal anecdotes about why they’re drawn to your mission.
- Music: Either curate your own playlist or hire a live band to perform. You might invite a jazz trio for an upscale feel or an acoustic guitarist for a relaxed ambiance.
- Interactive stations: Set up a photo booth with props and backdrops related to your cause or event’s theme. Create a message board where donors can share why they support your cause. Similarly, you can set up a “wishing tree” where donors can write their hopes for the future of the organization and hang them on a tree. You might also set up an interactive timeline that showcases your nonprofit’s history. Get creative with your entertainment!
To maximize attendance, consider incorporating a virtual element into your donor appreciation party. This ensures that those who live outside of your local area or have other obstacles preventing them from physically attending can take part from the comfort of their own homes.
15. Celebrate donor anniversaries.
Celebrating donor anniversaries is a wonderful way to reinforce lasting relationships between donors and the organization. Recognizing the longevity of support underscores the importance of the donor’s commitment. Here’s how nonprofits can celebrate donor anniversaries:
- Personalized letters or eCards: Send a heartfelt letter or digital greeting card highlighting the donor’s history with your organization. Recap milestones and share impact stories thanks to their ongoing support.
- Anniversary gifts: Offer symbolic gifts like certificates or engraved items. You might escalate the gift’s value or significance based on the number of years they’ve been donating. Something as simple as branded merchandise can go a long way when thanking donors for their loyalty.
- Special recognition online: Celebrate donor anniversaries in newsletters, social media posts, or on your website. You can always ask them to share their story about what your cause means to them to share publicly. Just be sure to obtain their permission first!
No matter how you celebrate, your loyal donors will appreciate that you remembered such a special occasion.
16. Send thoughtful welcome packages.
While you want to reward the longevity of recurring donors’ support, don’t forget about your new donors!
A welcome package is an effective tool for nonprofits to show appreciation to new donors, set the tone for their relationship, and provide valuable information about the organization’s work and impact. Here are a few elements of a thoughtful welcome package:
- Personalized welcome letter: Start with a thank-you note that highlights the importance of every donor, regardless of the donation size.
- Calendar of events: Include a calendar highlighting upcoming fundraisers, projects, webinars, and other notable events.
- Stickers, badges, or pins: Include small branded items that donors can proudly display, showcasing their affiliation with your nonprofit.
New donors will enjoy the sense of belonging your welcome package creates. After all, first impressions mean everything.
17. Thank donors with a social media shoutout.
Your nonprofit’s social media strategy wouldn’t be complete without including methods for thanking donors in your posts. Boost your organization’s reach by regularly spotlighting your supporters on social media. You can either express appreciation for your entire donor base or feature key individual donors—though it’s a good idea to obtain permission to use their name and/or photo first.
The post reads:
“Thank you for assisting our guests like Robert!
‘Winter was the worst because you’re trying to find food and still have somewhat of a shelter over your head. You don’t want to leave your tent so people won’t take your stuff. Sometimes I would miss meals because it’d be too cold to go out there and hustle up some money or hold up a sign. The more I just wanted warm, the more I would still be in cold. So, it was kind of difficult.’ -Robert, 48th Avenue Center guest
Please consider helping the most vulnerable in our community ⤵️
Donation Link in Bio”
Notice how the nonprofit tapped into storytelling methods by featuring one of its beneficiaries alongside a quote about his experience. By emphasizing donors’ impact in this way, Denver Rescue Mission acknowledged the importance of monetary contributions and likely inspired others to take action as well.
18. Give out annual donor awards.
Donor awards are a method of recognizing the contributions donors make to your nonprofit. By presenting these awards, you’ll not only acknowledge their financial support but also foster a sense of loyalty, encourage continued contributions, and set a precedent for other potential donors.
Here are a few types of awards you might hand out:
- Milestone awards: Give these to donors who reach specific donation amounts or years of support.
- Legacy awards: Those who receive this award must include the nonprofit in their will or make other forms of planned gifts.
- Event sponsorship awards: Recognize anyone who sponsors events or projects.
- Innovation awards: Recognize donors who’ve contributed innovative ideas or resources to your organization.
You can even tie your donor awards into your annual gala or a donor appreciation event. Loyal supporters will look forward to seeing if they’ve won a form of recognition that year.
19. Provide exclusive content.
Have you considered thanking donors by sending exclusive content to them? Give them a sneak peek into upcoming projects, behind-the-scenes content, or other exclusive information as a token of appreciation.
However you go about it, the idea is to keep supporters in the loop, so they understand their role in helping your team succeed.
20. Share other meaningful engagement opportunities.
There’s no better way to deepen engagement than by getting involved in other areas of your organization. When reaching out to donors, suggest other ways they can get involved, such as volunteering, attending events, or advocating for the cause.
Offer options for everyone, whether they want to work one-on-one with your beneficiaries or help set up an event.
21. Line up discounts for local businesses.
Partner with local businesses where you can offer discounts to donors. Restaurants and stores are both great options. It’s a wonderful way to express appreciation but also allows you to connect with socially-responsible companies in your community.
Once you’ve settled on a discount, send the coupon to your donors along with a custom note of appreciation, such as:
“Please enjoy 10% off one item at [store] as a token of our appreciation for your loyal support.”
22. Arrange donor field trips.
Consider thanking donors by taking field trips to project sites. These immersive experiences allow nonprofits to physically carry donors to see where their work is being carried out.
This enables donors to interact with beneficiaries and local team members, providing deeper insight into the organization’s work. Donors get to see how their contributions are being used firsthand. Whether it’s a newly built schoolhouse, a conservation project, or a health clinic, seeing the tangible results can be powerful.
Additional resources for better donor appreciation
A lot of teamwork and passion goes into powering your nonprofit’s impact. Therefore, it’s important to thank the individual contributors that make it all possible. Beyond donors, your organization’s staff and volunteers also play instrumental roles in your daily operations. Be sure to take the time to appreciate them as well through thoughtful means such as eCards and branded gifts.
For more ways to optimize your nonprofit’s strategy and maximize support for your mission, delve into these helpful additional resources:
- Charity eCards for Your Nonprofit: A Comprehensive Guide. Unlock the potential of eCards to boost your nonprofit’s donor retention and fundraising efforts using this guide.
- The Busy Nonprofit’s Guide to Donor Communications. Learn how to make the most of your donor communications with these tactics.
- Nonprofit Christmas Fundraising Ideas for Holiday Giving. Engage your donors this holiday season with these impactful Christmas fundraising ideas.