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Donor Appreciation: Your guide to getting started

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Picture this: you've just made a generous donation to an organization close to your heart. You feel the joy of giving. But then...nothing happens. No acknowledgment, no thanks. Where’s the appreciation for the gift you made as a donor? You're left wondering if your gift made any difference at all.

It’s not a great feeling. You don’t want your own supporters left wondering whether their gifts matter or not. So how do you let them know what their giving means to you? With Donor Appreciation!

Let’s dive into why donor appreciation matters more than ever and how simple gestures can go (s)miles in creating lasting relationships with supporters!

Table of Contents:

Why donor appreciation matters

Did you know that 5% of one-time donors felt like the nonprofit they gave to didn’t need them? And 13% of one-time donors never received a thank you for donating!

Donor Appreciation: 5% of one-time donors felt like the nonprofit didn't need them. 13% of one-time donors never received a thank you.

Donor appreciation is about recognizing supporters' contributions and showing them that their generosity makes a difference. And, it is a great time to show impact. In your thank you let your donors know how their contributions will be used to further your mission and do good in your community.

On top of that, a thank you helps you build rapport with your supporters. Donors value transparency and honesty. When you share with a donor about how their gift will be used, you begin to develop trust. And trust leads to a higher chance of donor retention.

On the other hand, a lack of donor recognition can severely hamper your retention rate and overall support base.

The impact of donor appreciation on donor retention

A common mistake nonprofits make is underestimating the value of sending a timely thank you to donors. Poor communication has far-reaching implications for nonprofits. If you fail to cultivate lasting relationships with your donors, they’re likely to never give again.

Donor retention is an important aspect of fundraising. Retaining existing supporters tends to be significantly cheaper than acquiring new ones—a critical consideration given how expensive it is (almost ten times costlier) to attract new supporters compared to keeping current ones happy and engaged.

Increasing engagement with a thank you

Appreciating donations increases donor engagement. And, increased donor engagement also increases donor support—both from new donors and existing ones who decide to give more generously because they feel connected to your mission.

Whether you convert a one-time donor to a recurring monthly donor or major donor, this will have a big impact on your nonprofit’s budget. But, it isn’t just financial support that can help your nonprofit. Donors who know their contributions matter are more likely to volunteer their time or services. Depending on their skill sets and values, they may also make good board members.

Thanking different donor segments

Thanking donors is not one-size-fits-all. Different approaches should be used for different donor segments. Donor segmentation is the process of sorting donors based on their commonalities. Segmentation helps you send targeted messaging that is meaningful to different groups.

The communication that resonates with new donors, recurring donors, major donors, or volunteers will all look different. On top of that, it’s worth segmenting donors based on communication preferences. Whether you send out snail mail, email, or text, your donor won’t feel valued if they don’t see the thank you.

Donor appreciation for new donors

Welcome your first-time supporters with open arms. Making a strong first impression is vital in fostering lasting relationships. Give a phone call or send out a personalized thank you to show them their support matters. Remember to highlight the specific donation impact on your organization's mission. This will give newbies a sense of direct involvement in effecting change.

Creating an automated first-time donor journey in your donor development platform streamlines your donor communication. Here’s an example of a first-time donor journey.

First-time donor journey example - a great way to show donor appreciation

If you’re using spreadsheets to track your donor data, creating a donor journey takes a lot more effort. With a nonprofit CRM like DonorDock, you can automatically send thank yous and email receipts to donors. Plus, you get smart nudges that serve up timely actions based on your donor data and your automated donor journeys.

Recognizing the loyalty of recurring donors

Your loyal supporters deserve more than just an annual report update or standard donation receipt. Why not create exclusive content that brings them closer to your work? Send out monthly or quarterly updates to recurring donors. Include compelling storytelling, interviews with beneficiaries or behind-the-scene peeks to show recurring donors the impact their giving is having.

You could also use social media platforms to publicly acknowledge those who’ve consistently committed to helping your nonprofit meet its fundraising goals. Share stories of impact, while specifically acknowledging how the ongoing support of recurring donors has made all of this possible.

Showing major donors you value them

Last but certainly not least: your high-impact heroes. Recognize major gift givers with handwritten thank yous and phone calls. Taking a personalized approach often goes far with major contributors. Offering opportunities to volunteer at exclusive events or inviting them to help with some decision-making processes.

But don’t stop there; let other supporters know about these significant contributors too through donor recognition walls or media posts. They’ll appreciate the spotlight and it might inspire others to up their giving game.

Choosing the right channels to say “thank you” to donors

Saying 'thank you' is an art that nonprofits need to master. The right approach can make donors feel appreciated and more connected with your cause. It's startling, isn't it? Nearly 9% of folks can't recall backing certain causes, as one study found. That's why it's vital to make sure each contribution gets recognized. This way every supporter feels important and remembered.

Donor appreciation through emails

Email newsletters are an effective tool for thanking donors while also showing them impact. Take the time to craft emails that give a behind-the-scenes look at what your nonprofit is doing. Include photos and stories that highlight those you serve. Share what you’ve accomplished already through gifts you’ve received, as well as your plans for the future.

Emails are a great way to reach out to a lot of your constituents quickly. With the right platform, they are quick and easy to craft and send out. Plus, they are trackable. You’re able to see who opens your emails, click-through rates, and if an email bounces. This will give you a decent amount of data, so you know if your outreach is effective.

One downside to email outreach is how overwhelmed almost everyone’s inboxes have become. It’s easy for an email newsletter to be overlooked.

The beauty of text messages

With a nearly 98% open rate, text message fundraising outreach is an easy way to get your message to your supporters. A personalized text message feels very meaningful and goes a long way toward building connection with donors.

Send out mass texts that are personalized to your donors based on their segmentation. Then you’re sending messages that feel personal but don’t take the same amount of time as sending out individual texts to each supporter.

Donor Appreciation text message : shows setting up a thank you text message for a specific donor marketing list.

A text update also has the potential to turn into a texting conversation. It’s easy for donors to send a quick response that you’re able to follow up with. Texting is both accessible and simplifies communications between nonprofits and donors.

The biggest downside to text message fundraising is the character limit. Donors aren’t likely to read or respond to long text messages that include pictures and individual stories of impact.

Tangible letters & reports

Sometimes traditional methods stand strong against time. A letter with a handwritten thank you can convey heartfelt thanks better than many modern techniques ever could. We often connect better with physical text compared to digital formats, so tangible letters and “thank you” cards still hold a valuable place in your fundraising toolbox.

The annual report is another great tool for recognition—highlighting major contributors gives them public acknowledgment and underscores the impact they've made on projects throughout the year. After all, who wouldn’t want their name associated with positive change?

Phone calls

Nothing beats the personal touch of a phone call when it comes time to show appreciation for a major donor. This gesture stands out because it's rare in our digital age.

A phone call give you the space to ask questions of your major donors and get to know them better. With a phone call, you make a big step in relationship fundraising. You’re saying to your donor, “you are more than an ATM.”

It might feel intimidating to give your supporters a call. With digital communication, you might be out of practice and unsure of what to say. But Patrick Kirby put it best, “I’ve never in the 20 years that I’ve been doing fundraising, never been punched in the face for calling to say hi or thank you.”

I have never in the twenty years that I have been doing fundraising, never been punched in the face for calling to say hi or thank you.”
-Patrick Kirby on Beyond the Donation episode 7

Making use of social media

Platforms like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram are a great way to express appreciation for donors. With a social media post, you can publicly recognize donors for their contributions. Share videos and images that tell the story of your nonprofit’s beneficiaries. These are the heroes of your nonprofit’s story. Show their struggles and how they are overcoming those struggles with the help of your nonprofit.

There are pros and cons to using social media to show donor appreciation. Acknowledging gifts on social media platforms can demonstrate gratitude and emphasize the effect of donors’ contributions, which could motivate others to contribute as well. However, the messaging is less personal to individuals or specific donor segments, but it does have a broader reach.

Donor appreciation events

Expressing gratitude to major donors in a meaningful way can be achieved through hosting an appreciation event. These gatherings can be exclusive events or happy hours that highlight major contributors while also encouraging feedback and donor retention.

A donor appreciation event doesn't have to break the bank; it just needs to be sincere. From a simple gathering at your organization's premises with some snacks and beverages, reminiscent of a happy hour, to grand affairs like galas or auctions, the options are limitless.

Involving Volunteers in Appreciation Events

The most memorable events often include those who are deeply connected with your mission - volunteers. They not only help at the event but can share firsthand experiences about their work with your organization.

Take time to honor your volunteers and share about the work that they are doing. This approach benefits both parties: donors feel valued seeing real life evidence of their contributions in action while volunteers, who also feel seen, gain experience interacting with potential supporters. In return, this may lead to increased donor retention rates and strengthened relationships within your community.

Involving your Board Members in Donor Appreciation

Board members play a key role in donor appreciation. Enlist them to write thank you notes or make phone calls. This is a way to continue to engage your board members, while also connecting them meaningfully with supporters of your mission. Your board members have an influential voice and their interactions with donors matter.

Donor appreciation key takeaways

Now you see the power of Donor Appreciation! A heartfelt thank-you goes a long way in making donors feel valued and seen. Thanking donors helps you to retain existing donors by encouraging donor engagement.

Segment your donors, so that you can send targeted thank yous that meet your donors where they’re at. And be sure to consider which channel is best for reaching your donor demographic.

To sum it up: show gratitude, communicate effectively, and create lasting relationships with those who believe in your mission.

Are you using a donor development platform that serves up actionable steps to help you cultivate better donor relationships?

Nurture your donor relationships with DonorDock, an easy-to-use donor management platform built with small nonprofits in mind. Start for free

Donor Appreciation FAQs

How do you appreciate a donor?

Show your donors that their contributions matter by sending personalized thank-you notes, giving them shoutouts on social media, or hosting appreciation events.

How do you honor donors at an event?

Honor donors at events with recognition awards or mentions during speeches. A dedicated "donor wall" is also a great idea to visually acknowledge major contributors.

Elisha Ford
Content Writer
Written by
Elisha Ford
Content Writer

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