The season of gratitude is upon us and there is nothing more important you can do than thank donors for their support this year.
After all, the season of giving is also almost here and before you start asking and asking, do some thanking first.
Here’s why: go back to basics for a minute. Fundraising is all about relationships.
If all you do is ask, ask, and ask some more, that’s not much of a relationship. Actually, from a donor’s perspective, it’s annoying.
To build a relationship on purpose with a donor, you must communicate with them often without asking for anything.
That means thanking them well, giving them updates, and telling them stories about the work your nonprofit is doing in changing lives.
Then, when donors start thinking about which nonprofits they want to give to in a few weeks, yours will rise to the top.
You DO want to be their favorite charity right? And get the biggest donation they decide to give?
I thought so.
You need to be in a mindset of gratitude toward your donors all year long, but this time of year offers some special opportunities.
Obviously, you start to thank donors with an immediate thank-you for each donation they make.
For online donations, they should get an automatic thank-you email that doubles as a tax receipt.
If they donate by check, you should send them a hard copy thank-you letter with tax information by regular postal mail, sent within two business days of when you receive their check.
Now is a great time to make sure those letters are warm and sincere, making the donor smile when they read them.
But there is much more to thanking donors.
By making time during the holidays for the warm touches that make donors feel appreciated, you build up the good will that make donors lean toward your nonprofit when they give.
Let’s look at some simple, practical ideas you can use in the next few weeks to thank donors and make them feel special.
Many types of donors, many ways to say thanks
People give for all kinds of different reasons and occasions.
Some donors give a one-time gift and some sign up as monthly donors.
Some give in the final days of the year as part of their annual routine.
Others give impulsively when they see something on Facebook that moves them. (That would be me!)
Donors are different, and so is the best way to thank each one. In other words, one size does not fit all. Although there are some things that tend to work for most donors.
Now, we’re getting into the art of thanking donors.
It’s about paying attention to what individual donors like, especially your best donors.
I’ve tried lots of different things over the years, as have my clients. What I’ve learned is that the best way to thank donors is something that’s meaningful to them.
Definitely keep it on brand for your nonprofit, but your goal is to make them feel warm inside.
Welcome new donors into the fold
New donors are special.
Of all the organizations they could support, they chose yours!
Something about the work you do moved them to take out their credit card or their checkbook and give your nonprofit money!
So you need to thank them in a special way.
A new donor welcome kit is a wonderful way to thank new donors and let them know you see them as partners in the work that your nonprofit does and begin their donor journey on the right foot.
It also gives you a chance to provide a little bit more information about your work and include an invitation for your new donor to get involved if they want.
Your mailed welcome kit could contain:
- A holiday-themed letter from the Executive Director, signed and with a short, handwritten personal note, such as: Thank you for choosing to give to our organization! Happy holidays to you and your loved ones!
- A brief survey about how they found out about your organization, why they chose your organization, and what types of communication they would like to receive. You can include a mail option and a QR code linking to an electronic survey.
- A tiny, inexpensive gift, such as a bookmark, sticker, or magnet
- Recent print collateral, such as a newsletter or annual report
Your emailed welcome kit could contain a link to a video giving a quick virtual tour of your programs or a personal welcome from you.
You’ll be tempted to share a ton of info in your welcome kit – don’t.
You don’t want your donor to be overwhelmed and feel like they have made some big commitment. Keep it simple and include a holiday message like “Happy Holidays from all the animals at Unity Farm Sanctuary!”
Let monthly donors know how much they mean
Monthly donors are your organization’s lifeblood.
They generate income for you month after month, showing with their actions that they trust you and care about the cause. They deserve every ounce of appreciation you can give them!
How about creating a holiday-themed custom notecard to thank your monthly donors for their support during the year?
If you work with children, a child’s drawing is an obvious choice. If you work with animals, can you have a fashion photo shoot involving holiday sweaters? You know your audience and what they’ll appreciate.
You should do more than just a generic notecard with your organization’s logo on it. You want something that feels thoughtful and has a seasonal touch so it feels really good to the donor.
Write a note that lets them know they are extra special like this: “As a monthly donor, you make it possible for us to meet urgent needs every day. Because of you, there is food on the shelves of our pantry right now. Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season!”
For extra credit, mention in your note how many consecutive months the donor has given: “You have supported families in need for 16 months in a row. WOW! We are so grateful for your support!”
Someone once told me they were reluctant to contact monthly donors and remind them of their recurring gift. They thought most monthly donors forget about the gift, and if you remind them, they might cancel. This has NOT been my experience. Monthly donors are HEROES and should be thanked often from the bottom of your heart.
Tell loyal donors you value their loyalty
You probably have donors who are flying under your radar who are more valuable than you realize.
They are giving smaller amounts but they’ve been doing it for years.
They often give at the same time, right on schedule.
Look, these donors are treasures! They are the MOST loyal and the MOST likely to leave your nonprofit in their will.
You need to show them some love and this is a great time of year to do that.
Consider holding a thank-a-thon in early November for these wonderful donors where you gather a couple of volunteers or Board members and call each donor just to say thanks.
If you don’t have their phone numbers, send an email letting them know you would like to call them and ask if they’d be willing to share their phone number and the best time to reach them.
If you can’t reach them, it’s fine to leave a message. You might only be able to talk to a few donors but I guarantee you that you’ll deepen the relationship with those few in a very big way!
As with all these warm touches, it’s important not to ask for money. Just say thank you. Ask them how they are doing. And thank them again, wishing them happy holidays.
It helps to provide the people making calls with a script. They are free to veer from the script, but they can use it to get started. Use something like this: “Hi Mary, this is Paul from the Crestwood Food Pantry, how are you this evening? I am just calling to thank you for the support you have provided over the years, four years to be exact. We don’t have a lot of people supporting us for four years in a row, so I wanted to call you and let me know how much we appreciate you.”
Frequent donors are fabulous! Shout it from the rooftops!
Donors who give every time you ask are worth their weight in gold.
These donors just give and give.
They give for every Five-Dollar Friday, every email appeal, Giving Tuesday, and pretty much every other time you ask.
They also engage with every (or nearly every) social media post. They open your emails.
Their light shines bright wherever they go. They have optimism and enthusiasm to spare.
You should include these donors in your Thank-A-Thon. Or send them a holiday card.
You could give an online shout-out to these wonderful volunteers with a Facebook and Instagram graphic. Say something like “Today, in this season of giving, we are extending a special thanks to our donors who give regularly to our organization, stepping up time and time again for homeless families.”
Be sure to tag them all!
You could also do a video shout-out. Your Executive Director could record a video to share online, calling them each by name and saying something like “In this season of giving, I just want to let you know how much we appreciate your consistent support and the bright light you shine in the world, not just during the holidays, but all year long. Thank you to [list of names] for your support. We couldn’t do this important work without you!”
Of course, if you KNOW that a certain donor wouldn’t want that public acknowledgement, leave them out of anything posted online and just send them an extra special email or card.
The point here is to pour some extra love on those donors who are there for you every time you need them.
Make a big splash when thanking major donors
Your biggest donors should be a major part of your season of thanks.
When thanking donors, take extra care in thanking the ones who write the big checks.
To go all out with your major donors, consider personalized thank-you videos. Set up a holiday-themed backdrop and you or your Executive Director or Board Chair record a separate, personalized video for every major donor, calling them by name in the video.
Let the donor know they are more than a big check. Mention how many years they have supported you, the particular programs they have funded, how big of an impact they have made. Talk about the lives that have been changed during the year because of their support.
You can say something like “Without you, our produce delivery program would not have gotten off the ground! Now, we’re providing healthy fruits and vegetables to families in need. Thank you!”
Post the videos to YouTube and make them unlisted so only someone with the link can watch them. Then send donors a link via email with a really short message like “This is specially for you.”
You should also send major donors a holiday card. Create or buy one that speaks to your organization’s mission and reflects the joy of the season. Write a handwritten message thanking them for their support and wishing them and their loved ones a happy holiday season.
Don’t try to cut corners by digitizing your signature and printing it on the cards. It feels crappy to receive a card like that because you know you’re just one of hundreds of people receiving that card. Take the time to hand sign the cards and add a personal note so the donor KNOWS you personally signed their card.
Handwrite their address and choose a festive holiday stamp. The word of the day when thanking major donors is personal.
By the way, you’ll find a playlist of donor thank-you videos on our YouTube channel.
Baskets for Board members
Whether you realize it or not, Board members are also donors.
They should be giving financially to support your nonprofit. They also give their time and expertise.
So, be sure to thank them in a special way during the holidays. I promise you they’ll appreciate it.
It doesn’t have to cost much or be fancy. It just needs to be sincere.
Consider putting together gift baskets or a Christmas stocking, if you know everyone on your board celebrates Christmas.
What should you put in each one? A few tea bags, a small container of local coffee, some chocolate, another packaged sweet of some sort, and something unique to your organization, like a branded mug can be nice.
Also include a card signed by everyone on staff or at least signed by you and maybe a key volunteer or two.
Place the gift baskets on the table for the last Board meeting of the year. For people who can’t make it, deliver or mail their baskets.
Make sure to include everyone, even Board members who are less engaged.
Treat everyone as a wonderful, active Board member, and maybe some will be inspired to step up as a result.
Let corporations know you care
Don’t forget your corporate donors! There are lots of easy ways to thank them during the holidays.
For example, corporations love social media shout-outs! Thank them via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn with a link to their social media profile or their website.
Create a holiday-themed graphic for each corporate donor with their logo. Introduce the post with something like:
“Today we recognize our local Walmart store for five years of loyal support. We appreciate corporations that support their communities, and we especially appreciate Wanda Smith and her team at Walmart for going the extra mile for our families this year!”
A few days later, you can thank another corporate donor: “Today we recognize our friends at Fleet Feet for donating 20 pairs of children’s shoes for kids in our scholarship program. We loved getting texts from parents letting us know how proud their children were to return to school in brand new shoes. Thank you, James, Stan, and all our friends at Fleet Feet!”
Always check with your corporate partner’s communications department before posting anything about them on social media. You lose the element of surprise, but you gain assurance that the relationship remains in good standing and you can make sure you are using the most current version of their logo. Corporations are protective of their brand, and your shout-out could unintentionally run afoul of that brand.
When you post, don’t forget to tag the corporation and anyone you know personally within that corporation!
Show your volunteers some holiday love
The holidays are a great time to thank volunteers, especially those who go above and beyond.
Personalized texts are a great way to thank volunteers during the busy holiday season. Keep your message focused on the volunteer’s contributions, like this:
“Hi Mary, this is Mark from New Beginnings. I wanted to take a minute during the holidays to thank you for all you do for our families. From setting up and breaking down tables at our resource fair to following up with families, you are always jumping in where needed most. Thank you so much! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!”
The more you can say about each volunteer’s particular contribution the better. Let them know you notice how much they do.
Can’t send a text? How about an email? Handwritten note card? Get creative here – there are tons of ways you can make your volunteers feel special.
Ambassadors are friends of your organization who post on social media followings, have friends to invite to events, and display overflowing love for the work you do.
Ambassadors talk you up at every opportunity. They have a way of talking about your organization that gets people excited.
Make a list of people who represent your organization in the community and on social media. Maybe they are volunteers or Board members, or maybe they are loyal social media followers.
How about sending them a branded t-shirt from your nonprofit? They might take a selfie wearing it and post it to Instagram!
A personalized video can also make their day. As can a drawing from a child in your program.
Like many of your donors and volunteers, ambassadors are often genuinely surprised you know who they are. They will be touched by the gesture, and a sincere appreciation of thanks will deepen the connection they have with your organization.
Holiday gifts for donors: Should you or shouldn’t you?
Gifts are as much a part of the holiday season as family gatherings, sweet treats, and parties.
But should you give your valued donors a gift?
It depends on the donor and the gift, and you need to be careful. Many donors can be offended if they think you spent money on them instead of putting that money into your program. So, don’t buy a bookmark with your logo on it just so you can check “gifts for donors” off your to-do list! Think carefully about what will be most meaningful to them.
Here are some gifts that usually work:
- A framed photo of them volunteering makes a wonderful gift. A drawing by a child receiving services from your organization can be framed, put on a mug, or turned into many other charming gifts. Just make sure the child’s parent approves of their child’s artwork being used for marketing purposes.
- A carefully-chosen, branded promotional item such as a journal can make a nice holiday gift. Beware of water bottles, tote bags, and similar items that could become clutter, as many of us already have too many.
- A small, packaged sweet treat can also be a welcomed gift. Be sure the ingredients are clearly labeled in case someone has food allergies. You might be able to find a local bakery who will work with you to create something special.
Before you spend money on gifts for your donors, put yourself in their shoes. Do they expect a gift? What will be their reaction when they receive it? Again, think through this carefully so it doesn’t backfire.
Sometimes organizations get donations of big-ticket items like a weeklong stay in a vacation property or a nice bottle of wine. It might be tempting to give these items as gifts to major donors. Don’t. You could run afoul of IRS rules on giving gifts to donors. And you risk turning off the recipient, as well as the person who gave you the high-value item.
Consult your tax professional about any gift you plan to give a donor that costs more than a mug with your logo on it.
More importantly, think about a gift from the heart you can give donors, volunteers, and supporters. Gifts do not have to cost money to be meaningful.
A video of you or your Executive Director talking about how a donor’s gift was used to alleviate suffering will move your donor much more than a re-gifted bottle of Champagne.
The Bottom Line
Thanking donors during the holiday season should be as natural as hanging a wreath on your door. Think about creative ways to say thank you and tailor your gestures of appreciation to each donor.
The more you thank donors and volunteers, the closer they will feel to your organization’s work. They will stay involved because doing so makes them feel amazing.
With more supporters, you’ll raise more money. And with more money, you can change more lives. That’s what it’s all about.
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