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10 Ways to Tell Donors They Made a Difference

Posted: 3/21/2022

Click here to read on NonProfitPRO.

By Richard Perry

"How do I tell my donor she made a difference?" a major gifts officer (MGO) asked. "I mean there are only so many ways to do that."

Good question. Jeff and I routinely tell MGOs that there is not a limit to how many times they should tell a donor they are making a difference. You could do it every week. But then the question is how do you make the story different and unique?

With that in mind, I asked my colleagues for some effective ideas they had seen work. Here is what they told to me MGOs have done to thank their donors in no particular order:

  1. Children's Art. If the donor gives to a kid's camp, the MGO can go to the site with construction paper and markers and ask the kids to write, "Thank you for helping me go to camp." and draw pictures of what they love about the camp. Then the MGO drops off the artwork to the donor and watches the delight on their face.
  2. Photo Book. Create a photo book of program site visits with clients holding up signs that say, "Thank you Mrs. Smith." Or, include photos of the projects they supported and a personalized message, saying "Dear Paul and Betty, thanks so much for giving to (organization name). Here are some of the projects you have supported."
  3. Site Visit Video. If the donor cannot go on a site visit, the MGO can take a video of what the donor's money is accomplishing and send it to the donor during or after the site visit. For example, one MGO at a shelter has donors who really value the religious element of the organization. So, once a week, he'll record a few seconds of residents singing a hymn and send it via email or text immediately to a few donors. He will write a note to say something like, "Thought you'd enjoy hearing and seeing how great the guys sound singing hymns tonight!"
  4. Timely Mailed Gift. Send a timely thank-you/receipt package mailed first class within 24 to 48 hours of the gift with a short success story.
  5. Video Testimonial. Send a personal transformation story via a cellphone video at an event. For example, take a short video of someone sharing their story at the graduation program and tell the donor that because of them that this story was made possible.
  6. Handwritten Card. Write a handwritten card thanking them for the huge difference they made in doing x, y and z.
  7. Call and/or Email. Call, email or do both to share a status update on a project to which they contributed, as well as a thank you for making a difference.
  8. Face-to-Face Meeting. Schedule a face-to-face meeting that's all about thanking the donor for the difference they made — backed by stories, photos and stats of the program they helped to fund, but no ask.
  9. Personalized Gift. An MGO sent a packet to donors who had given to a kids' feeding program. It was a lunch bag with a picture of everything the kids got in their lunches each day, plus a few stats about the kids who'd been served. Another MGO is giving a donor who loves the arts a framed photo of a kids' beginner band that all the children had signed.
  10. Memorialize the Gift. Provide reports from the field with photos showing how the donor's gift was used. For example, send a photo of homes that were built to thank the donor. One MGO went to a building site, which was funded through a capital campaign. With a black magic marker, the MGO wrote on a wooden stud: "This is the house that Ann built. Thank you, Ann." Then she took a picture of the stud and sent it to the donor with a note that said: "Ann, we are so thankful for your gift that is helping us build (the building site name). I took a picture of it in the framing stage and thought I would memorialize your gift through writing a thank you on the studs, which will remain there forever. Thank you so much, Ann."

Remember, it is not as much about the form of the message. It is more about actually doing it frequently in a simple and sincere way. Thank your donors often and tell them the gift is making a difference. Not only will they appreciate it, they will stay with you as a partner in your mission for a very long time.

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