Guides & Resources

Gratitude With Impact: 5 Ideas for Thanking Donors

Stewardship & Marketing: Donor Relations/Stewardship
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 For fundraising professionals, it’s no secret that thanking donors is one of the most important actions your nonprofit takes to pursue its mission in a sustainable way. And this is more than just an oft-repeated recommendation; it’s also supported by data. According to Guidestar, donors who receive a thank-you within 48 hours of making a gift are four times more likely to give again.

Especially with the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, donors won’t give again to your organization if they don’t feel appreciated or like they’ve made an impact. As you plan your fundraising strategy for 2021, ensure you have a plan in place to recognize donors in a meaningful way.

By implementing donor appreciation strategies that resonate with your supporters, you can foster stronger relationships and encourage a deeper commitment to your cause.

At Eleven Fifty-Seven, we help organizations craft meaningful donor recognition experiences that support their long-term goals. Through our work, we’ve seen firsthand the importance of showing gratitude to donors in an impactful way. In this article, we’ll cover some of what we’ve learned, including:

  • The importance of thanking donors
  • 5 powerful ideas to thank donors

As you develop a donor recognition strategy that makes sense for your nonprofit, keep in mind that thanking your donors should always be prompt. Don’t let too much time pass between when each supporter makes a contribution and when you demonstrate your appreciation. The exact amount of time will differ depending on the size of the donation and the recognition strategy you implement, but sooner is always better than later.

The Importance of Thanking Donors

Donor appreciation should be one of the cornerstones of your fundraising strategy. Since the cost of acquiring a new donor is much higher than holding onto an existing one, donor retention is a vital priority to keep your budget on track.

Of course, there are many key elements to a donor retention strategy, including tracking demographics and engagement information in a donor management system and having regular conversations to steward your top contributors. 

But for ongoing stewardship and relationship-building to be successful, it’s critical to start on the right track and show your gratitude immediately after a gift is made. According to Bloomerang’s guide to donor retention, one of the top reasons donors lapse is that they weren’t thanked for their donation. By promptly sending thank-yous, you can avoid this negative consequence and boost your retention rate. 

While donor retention is a worthy goal unto itself, its real impact is in the long-term benefits for your organization, including the following:

  • Larger donations. Lower-tier donors may increase the size of their gifts, and most significantly, mid-level donors may ultimately become major donors. Remember, major gifts don’t come out of nowhere—they are typically the result of a multi-year relationship with your nonprofit.
  • Higher lifetime value. This fundraising metric (often abbreviated as LTV) refers to the total amount a donor gives to your organization over time. Because this number takes into account the frequency of donations rather than just the size, it gives you a more accurate picture of the donor’s contributions. If you’re able to retain a donor over many years with regular donations, they may have a higher lifetime value than a major donor who movies less often.
  • Increased engagement. Donors who feel connected to your organization financially will also feel encouraged to get involved in other ways. By thanking donors for their gifts, you can increase supporter engagement with other opportunities such as volunteering, events, or in-kind donations.

Plus, donors who feel appreciated will be more likely to champion your cause to their friends, family members, and other social connections, increasing awareness for your mission and work. This can also have a positive financial impact if you’re in the peer-to-peer fundraising space. Your most loyal supporters are the ones who will be the most driven to seek donations from their networks.

5 Powerful Ideas to Thank Donors

1. Send an acknowledgment letter or email

This donor recognition strategy is a classic for a reason—it works. If you’re using an online donation form, you likely have an automated acknowledgment email set up, but to really make an impact and show your supporters that you care, you’ll want to take it a step further. 

For a more personal touch, try to send a handwritten note on behalf of a specific person in your organization. Invite board members or your staff to join in on the thank-you process, perhaps as part of a retreat. 

These templates for donation thank-you letters can help you determine what to include in each message. One detail you should include to make a positive impact for your supporter is the specific, tangible result of the gift. If you can translate a dollar amount into a service or resource you were able to provide to constituents, your donor will be able to clearly visualize the difference they made. For example, a thank-you note from an animal shelter might say, “Your gift of $100 covered the costs of vaccines for two new puppies.”

2. Send branded thank-you gifts 

Consider sending a symbol of your gratitude in the form of a branded thank-you gift. These gifts can vary widely from small tokens to high-quality merchandise, depending on your relationship with the supporter. For example, you could send:

  • T-shirts
  • Mugs
  • Silk scarves
  • Stickers, buttons, or car magnets

This strategy also has the additional benefit of increasing visibility and awareness of your nonprofit’s brand in the community. A friend or colleague who sees your logo on a supporter’s water bottle may strike up a conversation about where it came from, and who knows? That conversation just may lead to a new donation or volunteer sign-up, helping you gain a new supporter whose contributions will move your mission forward.

3. Host donor appreciation events

Another way to say thank you is to gather your supporters and celebrate everything you’ve been able to accomplish together. 

The sky's the limit when it comes to choosing a donor appreciation event. As long as you don’t charge for tickets, anything you would normally host as a fundraiser can also apply here. Just remember to keep the event’s focus on the donors and their generosity for your organization.

While you still need to abide by social distancing recommendations, it’s simple to host appreciation events in an online setting. Virtual event options may include:

  • Virtual happy hour
  • Virtual class (like cooking, painting, etc.)
  • Virtual gala
  • Virtual tour of your facilities

These events will help supporters cultivate relationships with each other in addition to with your organization. 

4. Share your appreciation online

In addition to communicating your appreciation to donors directly, it can be beneficial to recognize them publicly for their generosity. 

Before going this route, be sure to ask supporters about their privacy preferences. While many of your supporters will enjoy receiving accolades for their contributions, others may prefer to be kept anonymous. Never name or tag a donor in a public setting without first getting permission.

Consider the following digital donor recognition strategies:

  • Social media shoutouts. Spotlight a few key donors or volunteers with in-depth profiles on your social media feeds. Make sure you set the post as shareable so the supporter can re-post the content on their own feed.
  • Thank-you video. This might be a short thank-you speech on behalf of your executive director, or depending on the nature of your cause, you could include testimonials from beneficiaries.
  • Online donor wall. With an online donor wall, you create a dedicated digital space to show your gratitude. This can be a standalone page on your nonprofit’s website or part of your header or sidebar. 

Even as fundraising evolves beyond the COVID era, virtual donor recognition tactics ensure you can communicate your gratitude to supporters regardless of their geographic location.

5. Create a donor recognition wall

To create a permanent testament to your donors’ generosity, consider installing a donor recognition wall.

Traditionally, donor walls have been thought of as basic metal plaques full of supporter names. However, modern donor recognition displays can be beautiful, branded experiences that transform your space and delight visitors. In other words, today’s designers are thinking how to go “beyond the wall” to develop concepts that can tell a nonprofit’s story and honor supporters at the same time.

To create a meaningful donor wall, be sure to take into account who you’ll recognize and at what levels, the scale and budget of your wall, and the visual design. A donor recognition agency can provide helpful guidance throughout the entire strategy, design, and execution process.

In the Eleven Fifty Seven guide to creating a donor recognition wall, we also recommend thinking carefully about whether you’ll need to expand your display over time. If you plan to recognize new supporters each year, you can either leave plenty of room to add names or incorporate digital panels. When designed thoughtfully, expansions and updates to both new and existing displays can be simple and cost-effective.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the significance of human connection in many ways. Ensure you’re saying connected with both new and longtime donors by reinvigorating your donor thank-you strategies. By showing your gratitude, you can demonstrate the impact each supporter has on your mission. Whether you choose to go big with a donor wall or stick to a handwritten note, saying thanks is more than a polite formality; it’s a key component of your fundraising strategy.


Derrick has been referred to as a connoisseur, marketing guru and even a prodigy. He began his career with Eleven Fifty-Seven as an intern during summer 2019. Since then, Derrick has graduated from The Ohio State University and has joined the team full time working in marketing and business development. He has grown to love the nonprofit world by seeing the impact made possible through philanthropy.

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