How to Thank Your Donors: 5 Recognition Strategies

Between the costs of creating new marketing materials and running outreach campaigns, attracting new donors is expensive when compared to retaining your existing donor base. While every donor has their own reasons for continuing to support your cause, many of them can be persuaded to stick around with a consistent donor recognition program.

Prompt and meaningful donor recognition can increase donor retention for your new year-end donors and help lay the foundation for a stronger connection in the future. We’ve picked our top five ways that your nonprofit can express your appreciation. Here are our favorite ways to say thanks:

  • Donor Wall
  • Handwritten Thank You Letter
  • Social Media Shoutout
  • Appreciation Video
  • Celebration Event

Your nonprofit can use one or all of these strategies to create a comprehensive donor appreciation experience, helping you stand out from the crowd during the year-end season. Let’s get started!

Donor Wall

Sometimes your nonprofit will need to show donors your appreciation in a more permanent way. For instance, major donors, capital campaign contributors, and planned donors provide the funding that allows your nonprofit to continue running and complete major projects for your mission. For these donors, consider saying thank you by building a donor wall.

Donor walls are lasting, physical displays of your nonprofit’s appreciation and dedication to your donors. Just as donors invest in your nonprofit, donor walls allow you to invest in them. Because donor walls are a bigger commitment, Eleven Fifty Seven’s guide to donor recognition walls recommends following these tips to make the most of your wall:

  • Determine different donor tiers. Even the largest donor walls have limited space. Before building your donor wall, determine who you will be recognizing and why. This may require creating cut-off points for your donors based on gift amount, years of support, or other important factors for your nonprofit.
  • Ask for feedback. A donor wall is meant to celebrate your donors, so make sure they’re being honored how they want to. Reach out to your donors throughout your donor wall planning and construction to share updates and ask for feedback. Doing so can help build an even stronger relationship between your donors and your nonprofit.
  • Host an unveiling party. Once your donor wall is constructed, invite your supporters who will be recognized to its grand unveiling. Be sure to live-stream the event so donors can attend both in-person and from home.

Donor walls take time to build, which means they will be part of your long-term recognition strategy. However, your new donors will notice your donor walls and other grand gestures of appreciation, which can set the right tone for your new donor relationships.

Handwritten Thank You Letter

With the rise of digital marketing, traditional mail and thank you letters have become more personable, and most of your donors will see a handwritten card as far more meaningful than an automatic thank you email. Before sending out your thank you letters, consider how you can make each a little more memorable by:

  • Personalizing each letter. Handwritten letters naturally feel personal, but you can take it to the next level by addressing each recipient by name rather than using a generic “Dear Donor.” You can also personalize your letters by including specific details about the donor’s contribution, such as the amount donated and which of your initiatives their contribution supported.
  • Segmenting your donors. In addition to personalizing your letters, you can also segment your donors to tailor your messages even further. Segmentation divides your donors based on shared characteristics. For example, you might divide your donors based on how long they’ve been with your nonprofit. Then, you could send your new year-end donors letters that welcome them to your nonprofit, while your recurring donors would be recognized for their long-term support.
  • Sending a little something extra. You can go the extra mile when thanking donors through direct mail. In addition to their letter or card, consider including a bonus item, such as stickers, magnets, keychains, and other small but meaningful gifts that your supporters can hold on to.

Additionally, make sure your letter reflects your nonprofit’s brand. This includes adding your logo to your letter and card, but you can also put your own creative twist on it by reaffirming your donor’s impact by mentioning your mission or using visuals that represent your work, such as photographs of your volunteers or constituents.

Social Media Shoutout

According to Double the Donation’s nonprofit fundraising statistics report, social media inspired Millennials and Gen-X donors to give more than other marketing channels. For your donor recognition strategy, this means you can effectively honor your donors through your social media channels while also encouraging their friends and family to consider giving too.

Social media shoutouts generally consist of a photograph of your donor and brief statement about their gift and connection to your nonprofit. Let your donors know when your post is live, so they can share it with their followers, spreading word about their good deed and your cause at the same time.

You can also use social media shoutouts as a jumping off point to continue engaging with your supporters. Comment on, like, and reshare posts your supporters make about your nonprofit to help generate engagement and cultivate your relationship. Plus, some social media websites, such as Facebook, allow your supporters to run fundraisers for your nonprofit, and the right conversations on social media may lead to one hosted on your behalf.

Appreciation Video

Making personal connections with donors helps strengthen relationships, which can lead to recurring support and higher retention rates. One of the most impactful ways to build these relationships is to have several face-to-face interactions with your supporters. However, you may not be able to do so with every donor. Fortunately with donor appreciation videos, you can still put a face on your nonprofit, even if you’re not able to meet them in person.

These videos should be tailored to each donor, referencing by name and thanking them for their gift. Plus, appreciation videos can be used to further tell your nonprofit’s story. This might include sharing anecdotes about their donation’s impact and featuring images or footage of your constituents. For example, an animal shelter might choose to name and include pictures of the dogs that a supporter’s donations helped find homes for.

By creating unique, impactful appreciation videos, your donors will be more inclined to share them with their friends, family, and followers across social media. Just like social media shoutouts, this will make your donors feel proud of their support and also get more eyes on your nonprofit.

Celebration Event

Celebration events—whether in-person, virtual, or hybrid—allow you to honor all of the amazing contributions your donors have made to your organization. Plus, your donors will be able to meet and socialize with each other, building a community around your nonprofit that will encourage long-term support and future event attendance.

When planning your donor celebration events, remember to:

  • Put guest experience first. You’ll have an easier time forming relationships with donors by providing them with experiences that don’t just revolve around donating. At your celebration events, focus on providing donor engagement activities, memorable experiences, and having a night of fun.
  • Discuss the donor’s impact. Your donors give to your cause because they want to make a difference. In your event’s opening speeches, honor your donors and let them know just how much they’ve made a difference in your nonprofit’s ability to fulfill your mission.
  • Consider making your event hybrid. Make sure your celebration events are accessible, so as many donors can attend as possible. With hybrid events, donors who live nearby and feel comfortable doing so can gather together in-person, while other donors can still participate from the comfort of their own homes.

Your celebrations require planning in advance and an investment of time and resources. However, a successful event will more than make up the investment cost by allowing your nonprofit to build valuable connections with supporters. Plus, an event might just be the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of a new year and chapter in your nonprofit’s mission.

As we prepare for a new year, focus not just on how you can gain new donors, but also on how you can retain your current base through meaningful, sincere shows of gratitude. You can thank your donors and build relationships with them through both small and grand gestures of appreciation, from thoughtful cards to donor walls they can visit for years to come.

This post was contributed by Derrick Spitler, a Business Strategist at Eleven Fifty Seven working to help nonprofits recognize their donors. He began his career at Eleven Fifty Seven as an intern during the Summer of 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.