Donor Appreciation: 3 Virtual Strategies to Consider

My last post, Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought, covered thanking donors by mail or phone. This post from Salsa Labs covers a few virtual ways to say thank you, including one of my favorites – a personalized thank you video.

Most of your communication with donors has shifted to the digital space, presenting unique challenges for thanking your donors. Try these virtual strategies!

By Craig Grella

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many facets of your nonprofit’s operations, including how you fundraise, host events, and communicate with your supporters. Although you’ve likely learned to go with the flow and embrace these new opportunities, the past year or so hasn’t been without its challenges. 

During this period of social distancing, it’s been especially hard for nonprofits like yours to communicate and feel connected to your donors. And no wonder— when you can’t see your supporters face-to-face, it can be difficult to effectively engage your donors and cultivate lasting relationships that will benefit your nonprofit far into the future. 

Luckily, the pandemic brought about more effective technology, providing your nonprofit with new ways of doing things, and you can leverage these tools in your virtual donor appreciation efforts. 

Not sure where to begin? No problem. In this guide, we’ll give you three virtual strategies you can use to strengthen your approach to donor appreciation. Here’s what we’ll cover: 

  1. Use donor data to personalize your messaging. 
  2. Learn to write thoughtful thank yous. 
  3. Surprise your donors with unique and unexpected approaches to appreciation. 

Thanking your donors is a big job for every nonprofit, and learning to do it effectively can be time-consuming. However, with the right strategies, you’ll be well on your way to crafting an excellent virtual donor thank you plan that helps you cultivate lasting relationships. 

Let’s begin by first taking a closer look at how your constituent relationship management system (CRM) can help you add a personal touch to your donor appreciation efforts. 

  1. Use donor data to personalize your messaging. 

Every donor is unique, with a different set of values, interests, and motivations that contribute to their desire to see your nonprofit succeed in accomplishing its mission. Whether they communicate it to you or not, donors want your organization to see them as individuals and value their contributions to your cause. 

Admittedly, it’s easy for nonprofit organizations to fall into the trap of picturing all of their donors in the same way and generalizing their approach to donor appreciation, especially when you’re stressed about meeting a fundraising goal. But this could have negative ramifications for your organization. 

According to an Abila donor loyalty study, “approximately 71% of donors feel more engaged with a nonprofit when they receive content that’s personalized.” This means if you’re letting personalization fall by the wayside in your donor appreciation strategies, you could be losing your donors’ interest and loyalty.

Luckily, you already have one extremely useful tool you can use to personalize your appreciation efforts — your CRM, or your donor database. 

Your CRM stores your donors’ contact information, donation and event participation history, and more. In addition to this wealth of information, you can use your CRM to track specific performance metrics like email open rate or average donation size by demographic. Metrics like these allow you to gain even more insight into your donors’ communication preferences and needs so you can effectively cater your messaging to them. Plus, you can even use your CRM to automate the thank you process so each donor gets thanked on time, every time. 

Here are three best practices for using your CRM to personalize your donor thank you efforts: 

  • Use your database to learn your donors’ names. Thank you messages always stand out and feel more genuine if they include a name. For example, if you begin a thank you email by saying, “Dear Emma,” or “Hello Kendall,” donors will feel like you really know who they are and actually care about them. Just remember to spell their names correctly! 
  • Highlight your gift amounts and the impact your donors’ gifts have on your mission. Specifically thanking your donor for a gift of $25 will be much more meaningful to that donor than simply saying something generic like, “Thank you for the donation.” Supporters are giving their hard-earned money to your cause, and you can recognize that by taking special care to acknowledge just how much your donor gave. Also, don’t forget to let them know how their gift is helping to make a difference.
  • Segment your donors to send the best thank you possible. A thank you in the form of a Facebook message might be ideal for some of your donors, but that can really rub other donors the wrong way. When you segment your donors, or divide them into groups based on shared characteristics, you can identify the communication needs and preferences of the different groups. This means you’ll have a better chance of thanking each donor the way they want to be thanked, whether that’s through a text, handwritten note, short video, or social media shoutout. 

Remember, for a donor to really feel like they’re seen and appreciated by your organization, you should make them feel like they’ve been thanked by a real person. Use your CRM to get to know your donors and send a thank you that will have a lasting impact on them. 

  1. Learn to write thoughtful thank yous. 

Writing thank you letters is an art form, one you have to learn and practice in order to do well. Let’s first walk through the components of an effective thank you that apply no matter what form your thank you takes: 

  1. Salutation: This is your greeting or opening line. Ideally, you’ll use your donor’s name to get your letter off to a personalized start. 
  1. Acknowledgment of gift amount: Like we said in the previous section, it’s important to your donor for your organization to see how much they’ve given to your cause. Show them that you appreciate their specific gift amount, whether it’s big or small. 
  1. Impact of the gift: Illustrate for your donor how your organization is using their gift to meet a larger goal, whether that’s your overall mission or a smaller, more timely campaign goal. 
  1. (Optional) Story or visual: Some nonprofits enjoy sharing specific stories or emotionally evocative images that help connect their donors with their mission on a deeper level. For example, if you run an animal shelter, you might share a picture of a family of cats you were able to rescue because of recent donations. 
  1. Invitation for further engagement: This part of your note shouldn’t come across as a sales pitch. Instead, offer your organization’s contact information and invite your donor to reach out if they’re curious about other engagement opportunities or have questions. 
  1. Closing: Make sure to end your letter with a thank you and, ideally, the name of an actual person at your organization, like your executive director or development director. This is another great way to personalize your note. 

Thank you letters are traditionally sent via direct mail, but email has simplified and quickened that process. Even in email form, your goal with a donor thank you letter is to make your donor feel valued and to open the door for further engagement in the future. The thank you note isn’t the place to ask for another donation or make the donor feel like they must do more. Instead, your message and tone should be genuine and thoughtful enough that your donor will decide on their own to engage with your organization again. 

Looking for an extra boost to get you started writing sincere thank yous? Check out Fundraising Letters’ many templates that you can adapt to suit your cause.

  1. Surprise your donors with unique and unexpected approaches to appreciation. 

Maybe you’re ready to try some more out-of-the-box methods for thanking your donors. While sending a thank you note is common for most nonprofits, there are certainly some other approaches you can try— especially in a virtual format —that will surprise and delight your donors. 

Let’s look at a few of your options: 

  • Send an appreciation video. Donors often lead busy lives and may miss your live events and programming, so why not mimic an in-person experience with an appreciation video? Put your team to work making short thank you videos for each of your donors and email them out. A verbal thank you from a staff member will go a long way in making your donor feel special. Note: If you feel this might be time consuming, you could limit it to major donors or supporters who give above a set threshold.
  • Give a shout out to your donors on social media. According to Salsa’s article on fundraising strategies, many donors loved to be publicly thanked. Why not share a picture of a group of donors at an online fundraising event or create a thank you post with a list of donor names? Donors will be excited to see their name on your organization’s page and can then share the post with their family and friends. Be sure to get their permission before publicly thanking them.
  • Send branded gifts. Donors who give to your organization are committed to your cause, so they might like to have some merchandise to rep your brand. Use an online platform to design some branded merchandise, and then mail a hat, t-shirt, stress ball, or water bottle to your donor with a physical thank-you note. 
  • Create a virtual recognition wall. You’ve likely seen a physical donor recognition wall before, and maybe your nonprofit even has one at your facility. Even though you might not be able to have donors visit a physical location to see their names on a donor wall right now, you can recreate the experience by creating a virtual “wall” on your website that showcases your donors. This will make the “wall” accessible and shareable for all your donors, leading to some extra engagement on your website as well!
  • Host a donors-only virtual concert. Donors will feel especially valued by your organization if you invite them to an exclusive event just to celebrate them. Try hosting an online concert. You can even collect song requests from your donors beforehand to make the virtual event experience even more personalized and memorable. 

Whether you go with one of these unique ideas or you use them as a stepping stone to something that will work especially well for your specific donors, be sure to think of ways you can encourage further engagement with your organization. 


Thanking donors is always a big job for nonprofit organizations, even without the challenges of COVID-era virtual communication. However, you don’t have to let those challenges stop you from connecting with your donors and cultivating meaningful relationships with them. 

As you use your CRM to personalize your messaging to become an expert in thoughtful thank you note writing and look for unique ways to show your gratitude, you’ll be able to retain your donors for years to come. 

Craig Grella is a Content Marketer at Salsa Labs, the premier software for growth-focused nonprofits that combines CRM and engagement software with embedded best practices, machine learning, and world-class education and support. In his role, he serves thousands of nonprofits and advocacy organizations across the U.S.

Craig focuses on digital strategy using email marketing, online advertising campaigns, SMS campaigns, CRM management, reporting/analytics for KPIs, and more. He’s also the founder of Think Big Campaigns, a full-service consulting firm that specializes in political consulting, digital organizing, and issue advocacy. 

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