Nonprofit Gratitude Strategies

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by Claire Axelrad

 Okay, 2020 is over. Your year-end fundraising blitz is over. Now what? Do not simply take the money and run — consider nonprofit gratitude.

Think of January as “Thank You Month.” Shower the donors you love with love… show them the way that you feel… things are gonna get much better if you only…

If you only channel ‘Miss Manners!

I write a lot about the power of nonprofit gratitude, and you can read some of what I’ve had to say here, here and here. You really can’t say thank you too often, and research shows the more prompt and personal you can be, the better. So really take advantage of this month – while the gift is still fresh in your donor’s mind — to heap on your authentic thankfulness.

Send a mailed thank you letter.

Make it super donor-centric and personal. It comes directly from you to them, not “on behalf of your organization or clients.” It uses personal language, not jargon or robotic corporate speak. Before you send it, read it aloud to make sure it sounds warm and friendly. Include folks who gave online (if you have their address), even if you already sent an email thank you. It never hurts to get more than one thank you, and sometimes folks don’t even notice the email. Plus with a mailed letter you can add special inserts and notes.

  • Use a personal, first name salutation. Unless someone is royalty, an elected official, clergy, active military or someone you 100% know prefers a formal salutation because they’ve told you, err on the side of informal. We’re in the 21st century, and it’s an informal zeitgeist.
  • Add a personal, hand-written note. Generally this will come from whoever signs the letter, but development staff and volunteers can also add notes. Just make sure you add your notes in a timely manner so the letter does not get delayed. Handwritten notes are rare today, so they really show the donor you think they’re special.
  • Add a token gift to the letter. Who doesn’t enjoy a little surprise? Just make sure it doesn’t look expensive or wasteful of resources. It could be as simple as a client photo or a note from someone who benefited from the gift. (See Creative Ways to Thank Your Donors for lots of ideas).
  • Reference opportunities for non-monetary engagement (e.g., free virtual events; volunteer opportunities) in the letter.
  • Reference the donor’s stated desires and instructions. For example, if they indicated they want the gift to go to a particular project, mention that. If they want to remain anonymous, reassure them you’ll honor this. If they asked for additional information about making a bequest, send this to them.
  • Reference anything of note that deserves mention. For example, if they increased their gift let them know you appreciated this. If they’ve given many years in a row, perhaps note how much you appreciate their 10 years of loyal support. If they indicated a change of address or marital status, let them know you’ll make this change in your records.
  • Follow the general rules of making thank you letters superior.

Send an additional letter from someone else.

This is an especially good idea for donors who earmark their gift to a specific program. Donors like knowing the program received the gift, and who better to tell them how the gift will be put to work than the person responsible for running the program? An additional letter might come from:

  • Program director, especially to donors who make a gift above a certain level (e.g., $500+).
  • VIP staff, especially appropriate when you have talent on staff with whom donors might love to connect (e.g., scientist, doctor, lead attorney, researcher, artist, dancer).
  • Board president
  • Event chair
  • Beneficiary of services (e.g., student who received scholarship; entrepreneur who received loan; client who received free legal services).
  • Other VIP perceived as an authority or someone trustworthy who can offer “social proof” of the wisdom of the donor’s philanthropic choice.

Send a welcome kit to new donors.

Let first-time donors know in your first thank you letter or email you’ll be following up with a Welcome Package. This gives them something to look forward to, and you an opportunity to show you can be trusted! A week or two after the initial thank you, follow through! The goal is say thank you again, and also offer up a slew of other donor-centered benefits. Nothing expensive. Just notice they’re new, and let them know some ways they can become involved that don’t involve making another monetary gift. Not yet.

Think from your donor’s perspective. They want an idea of how they can become welcomed, integral members of your community. Here are some things you can include:

  • Invitation to a free event and/or tour
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Other engagement opportunities (e.g., how to receive your newsletter; how to join you on social media; how to engage in online town hall meetings)
  • Contact information
  • Client testimonials
  • Video to show impact
  • Brief donor survey (shows you’re interested in feedback)
  • Fact sheet
  • Token gift (e.g., bookmark; refrigerator magnet; discount coupon; useful content)

Make a thank you phone call.

I like to call all first-time donors if possible. If your list is too large, I recommend calling donors of $100+. This is a significant amount for a first-time donor, and generally an indication the gift is more than just a token. There’s something about your mission the donor really likes. Your goal is to make them feel they made a good decision – and to do so right away, before they begin to wonder!

Below you’ll find suggestions of other donors to call. It’s not exhaustive. It’s okay if the call comes from a staff member, so incorporate these calls into someone’s job description. This is not a long call. Generally it’s not even a conversation. It’s short, sweet and to-the-point. (Grab my free “Donor Thank You Calls + Script e-Book “).

  • Phone new donors (at least above a certain level).
  • Phone donors who’ve increased their gift.
  • Phone major donors who’ve renewed.
  • Phone monthly donors (this can be something you do annually with these folks).
  • Phone loyal long-term donors.

Send a tax summary + nonprofit gratitude letter.

January is a terrific time to send donors a calendar year-end letter summarizing their giving for the year. But don’t just send a boring receipt; that’s a waste of paper and postage. Take the opportunity to tell your donors what their giving accomplished, and be sure to tell them how wonderful they are!

  • You mean the world. Show it’s not just the gift you appreciate, but the person.
  • You made an impact. Again, it’s not just about money but about the outcome.
  • None of this could happen without you.

Also include the info they need for tax purposes, but put this at the bottom below your signature.

  • Total amount given in calendar year.
  • Dates and amounts of each donation.
  • Portion of that total that’s tax-deductible (if it’s all tax-deductible, say that, too).
  • That no goods or services were provided (as long as they weren’t).

The goal is to show donors they mean more to you than they thought they did. This is a critical step if you want a ‘next gift.’

Include a warm thank you in your e-newsletter or blog.

Right after a campaign is a good time to call out your recent donors to thank them for all the wonderful things their support makes possible. So include a ‘thank you’ feature in whatever you’re sending to folks this month. While you’re at it, why not offer folks a little ‘gift of content’ as a thank you? Donors want less lecture, more love. Offer:

  • Stories of impact.
  • Useful content such as “how to tips,” white papers, recommendations, expert advice, etc.
  • Fun, relatable content like jokes, entertaining pictures, recipes, inspirational quotes, etc.

Thank recent donors via social media.

You probably know which platforms are most used by your constituents. Why not send a general post with a big fat year-end thank you? It can be prose, a photo, a video or whatever else makes sense for you. For major donors you can send a more targeted, personal thank you via direct messaging on the platform. Feel free to also think outside the box; there are a variety of ways to express gratitude using social media.

nonprofit gratitude

Make a DIY thank you video.

This is something that can be made via mobile phone or even a Zoom recording. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it’s almost better if it isn’t! There are numerous ways to send this video:

  • Via email.
  • Via text.
  • Via social media.
  • By posting it on your website.
  • By linking to it from your e-newsletter or blog.

Get over 100 ideas on my Pinterest board: Gratitude: Nonprofits Say Thanks.

Share expressions of nonprofit gratitude from beneficiaries.

Donors love to hear from the folks they help. If client confidentiality is not a problem for you, you can share directly with videos or thank you notes. If it is, you can share quotations or thank you excerpts while keeping the client’s identity anonymous. You can also get creative, and share what a dog… dolphin… tree… river… or painting had to say!

nonprofit gratitude

Thank You Summary

Never underestimate the power of thank you. It lets the donor know you received their gift, you appreciate it, and you’re going to use it precisely as they intended. This establishes trust, which is the foundation of all lasting relationships. Plus it just makes people like you more.

Donor communications should never be just about the money. Because gifts are never just about the money. They’re about outcomes the donor cherishes, and values they want to express. So thanking them for being kind, caring and demonstrably generous is important. It makes supporters feel warm and fuzzy.

Receipt of the gift is the beginning, not the end. Your holy grail should be building the relationship so you’ll achieve donor loyalty. When donors like you, and you continue to make them feel good about their involvement with you, this makes them want to continue sticking with you!

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