There are lots of ways to express gratitude without spending a dime.
In fact, most donors would prefer you NOT spend money on them – more on that later.
The greatest show of gratitude you can offer to ANYONE is a gift of your time.
Your supporters know that time is your most precious resource. So, dedicating a little bit of your rare free time to thanking major donors will make them feel extra special.
And there are several ways you can do that. Here are 6 of them.
1. Call Them
Pick up the phone. Dial the number. Speak into the phone. Say thank you.
In this electronic age, telephone calls have fallen by the wayside.
Bring them back into style and call major donors to personally say thank you!
The call can be made by you or a Board member — whoever has the strongest relationship with the donor.
The donor should be thanked, told how their money was used, and what impact was made.
“Hi Glenda! We wanted to say thank you so much for your generous donation. Your gift purchased 25 backpacks for school kids in our town and sent them to their first day of school feeling confident and feeling like they fit in.”
See how easy that is?
Do NOT ask them for anything during this call.
Simply thank them, wish them a great day, and say goodbye. No asking allowed.
Chances are good the donor will chat with you for a minute, and they might even reveal something about why they made the gift or why they love your cause. So, be ready to make a few notes on their donor record after you hang up.
If you can’t reach them, try again. If you call 2 or 3 times and can’t get them, go ahead and leave your thank-you message on their voicemail.
Most people don’t answer a call from a number they don’t recognize, so leaving a message might have to be your best option in some cases. And if your donor checks their voicemail, your message will make them smile.
2. Write Them
A handwritten note is ALWAYS a good idea for thanking major donors.
A personal note signed by you and/or members of your Board is a thoughtful gesture that a donor appreciates.
And a card-sized envelope with a handwritten address really stands out in the mailbox!
After all, who mails handwritten notes anymore?
Smart fundraisers, that’s who!
Thoughtful notes should not only be sent because of a donation; they should be sent throughout the year to stay in touch, remind the donor you’re thinking of them, and give quick updates on projects the donor cares about.
Here are some other ideas for using handwritten cards for thanking major donors:
- Send photos of the clients you serve or your programs in action.
- Send thank-you cards signed by your students or clients.
- Send holiday cards just to say thank you and wish them Happy Holidays and a great New Year. You can send Thanksgiving cards, Christmas cards, or New Year’s cards depending on what’s right for your organization. Here’s a great New Year’s card from Draft Gratitude:
- Send birthday or anniversary cards. Donors will NOT expect a birthday card or a card commemorating the first time they donated to your cause (their “giving-versary”).
The note cards themselves can be simple, or you can design something unique to your nonprofit.
Here’s a great card from Adopt-A-Dog that reinforces their mission:
If you serve kids, have them draw something that can be printed on the cards. Crayon drawings are magic and they melt donors’ hearts.
If you don’t serve kids, you can still find a way. Maybe you have kids that come for a tour of your facility. Or maybe you have animals “draw” the card.
Just get creative here, and you’ll find something wonderful you can use on your card.
A local print shop might even donate the cards for you so you don’t have to spend any money on this great tool for thanking major donors!
Remember to take your time so your handwriting is smooth and easy to read. Most of your major donors studied penmanship in school and neatness counts!
3. Record for Them
Nothing, and I mean nothing, has more impact in thanking major donors than a personalized video that you recorded JUST for that donor.
It’s really easy to do and doesn’t take a lot of time.
You simply choose the donors you want to thank, shoot a video for each one, then upload the video to YouTube, making it unlisted. Finally, send the donor the link in an email and say “This is just for you!”
Start with a basic thank-you script similar to what we suggested in the “Call Them” section above, and just change the name with each video!
The video doesn’t have to be long — just sincere and authentic. So say what you need to say and no more.
Try to shoot your videos in an inspirational setting that reflects your work, if at all possible.
For bonus points, have a group of your recipients behind you saying “Thank You (name)!” at the end of your video!
I have some sample thank-you videos for you here.
It’s a really powerful strategy for thanking major donors and making them feel special.
4. Invite Them
One of the best ways to make someone feel valued is to include them in something important, especially if the invite feels exclusive or if you’re asking for their advice.
Giving your major donors special access to you or a “VIP” experience is simple and costs nothing, yet the returns are priceless.
You’re letting them into your world…making them part of a “team.”
And nothing gets more buy-in than feeling like you belong somewhere!
Help your major donors feel that sense of belonging by inviting them to several things throughout the year. It not only helps them feel special, but it gives you and your team the chance to get to know them and recognize them.
Things you can invite them to or events you can create just for them include:
- Open Table Discussions. Once or twice a year, invite your top 5 donors to your office after hours for an informal open discussion. Ask them what they think about how your nonprofit is doing or your future plans and listen to their answers. Be an open book and let them ask you anything. Serve some light refreshments to keep the atmosphere light. Ask them if they have any feedback about something that is really amazing or something they feel needs improvement. Don’t be surprised if they come up with some ideas and then offer to fund those ideas as well. Be sure to leave time for them to chat with each other. Chances are good they may already know one another! This can also be done as a Zoom call if your best donors are not in one town.
- Board Meetings. Once a year, designate one Board meeting that is open for your major donors to attend. This gives them a look at the leadership side of the organization and what it takes to keep things on track. It also helps open their eyes to many things they probably never thought of.
Just make sure the particular meeting they are invited to is appropriate for this purpose. Perhaps a planning meeting where budgets, insurance policies, renewals of licenses or registrations, etc are discussed. Do not invite donors to any Board meetings where conflict or controversial topics are being discussed.
- Annual party. Host a VIP holiday or summer party at the home of one of your Board members and invite your top donors to attend. Mix and mingle with them, and let them get to know who you are as people. Let them see the camaraderie in your organization and feel great about the team they have been backing. Help them feel that they are part of “we” when you are speaking about your organization.
- “Ride-Along.” A great way for thanking major donors and giving them an inside look at what their donation makes possible is to have them spend a day out in the field with you serving the population you serve.
Let them meet the recipients of your services. Take them to that food bank, that shelter, or that school. Let them get their hands dirty right beside you. Discuss decisions with them, tell them your challenges as you experience them. Introduce them to everyone as a good friend. You may end up with a larger donor or perhaps a new Board member when all is said and done!
And remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect!
A beaten-up car, a dirty shelter, rough working conditions, and insufficient supplies and equipment might all be a part of your big picture. Let them see the reality, not a fluffed-up version. If it isn’t possible for your donor to ride along, consider a virtual tour to give them a personal look at what your nonprofit does.
- Events and Fundraisers. Offer your major donors complimentary tickets to your gala or a free sponsor perk. This costs you nothing and earns major loyalty. Give them first peeks at new announcements or programs. If you’re expanding, let them see your new space before the public sees it. Make them feel like a part of your “inner circle”.
5. Ask Them Their Opinion
There’s an old saying that if you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.
People LOVE to tell you what they think!
Once or twice a year, design a survey for your top donors. Ask them purposeful, carefully-chosen questions that are relevant to your current or future operations. Offer them anonymity if you feel you will get more honest replies.
The survey should ask them real questions where you need their input, including how they think you treat your donors!
Or better yet, ask them for their thoughts when you’re on the phone or in person with them. Asking them 1-on-1 for their thoughts, advice, and wisdom shows you respect them and really want to know what they think!
6. Reach Out to Them
We all have that friend that we only hear from when they want something.
Yuck! Thank goodness for caller ID!
Look, don’t be that friend.
Reach out to your major donors once in a while for NO reason whatsoever. Just to say hi. Just to see how they’re doing. Just to ask about their family or their business.
With no ulterior motive or ask.
Tell them they were on your mind and you just want to know how things are.
Right now, in the middle of the pandemic when people are on edge and tired of all the negativity in the world, your simple connection will mean a lot to them.
The more you truly care about your major donors, the more that will shine through — and that’s what builds relationships and donor loyalty.
A Word About Gifts
Have you ever received a thank you gift in the mail from a charitable organization that you support?
You know the ones. They send you labels, stickers, mouse pads, chip clips, screen cloths, etc.
How did receiving these items make you feel?
The general rule is that you shouldn’t spend money on thank-you gifts, as most donors would prefer to see you using your funds for your programs.
Now, if you just can’t sleep at night unless you send a special token of thanks, here are a few acceptable things you can send for thanking major donors that cost very little and show your appreciation for their support.
- Holiday ornaments, especially handmade ones. BESTWA sends a nice paper ornament each year that costs very little to produce, yet brings a smile to the donor’s face.
- Framed photo of the donor touring your facility or seeing your programs in action
- Certificate of appreciation for their support
- Handmade gift from those you serve (braided bracelet, drawing, craft item that relates to your mission)
- Pack of lifesavers since they are helping save lives (kind of cheesy, but might be great for the right donor!)
- An organization t-shirt or cap recognizing them as a supporter
- A branded window cling or magnet for their car (not stickers – many people lease vehicles and can’t put stickers on them!)
- Commemorate them at YOUR place of business (such as a wall of gratitude) and send them a framed photo of their name at your facility
- Name a section of your facility after them and send them a photo of the signage
Be very careful and resist the urge to go all out in a show of thanks. You don’t need to.
Your appreciation is all that any major donor really wants. They don’t want to donate to you so that you can buy them gifts!
However, the right gift can mean the world to the donor and show that you’re paying attention.
One of my clients (Habitat for Humanity) always takes a box of gourmet dog treats when they visit the home of a particular major donor. They know that the donor considers the little dog family and appreciates the thoughtfulness.
Another client (private school) named a tree on their campus for a donor who loves the outdoors and is all about protecting the environment.
Some of my clients who do international work take major donors on trips with them to visit the front lines. The donor pays for their own travel, but they get the chance to be part of a work trip and see parts of the country they otherwise might never have seen.
The more you know about your best donors and their family, their interests, and their hobbies, the better job you can do of thanking them in a way that’s incredibly meaningful.
Now, if you’re thanking donors for a capital campaign, that’s a whole different thing. You may have naming opportunities to reward a donor for their donation. But that’s another story for another day.