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. 

Don’t Treat Thanking Your Donors as an Afterthought 

You may have started working on your year-end appeal, which is great. Although, just as important, if not more important, is planning how you’ll thank your donors. 

I highly recommend creating a thank you plan, which will help you show gratitude before, during, and after a campaign. 

Many organizations treat thanking their donors as an afterthought and it shows. You can’t do that. It will hurt your chances to get future donations. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with appreciation. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Make thanking your donors a priority. Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors. 

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal. Don’t forget that things often take longer than you think, especially now.

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, remember to get started on the content now. 

In the past, the standard was to send out thank you letters within 48 hours. That may be harder to do now, but don’t wait too long. Make sure you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do it, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. 

How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out to help with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Paul,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’re still seeing more people coming into the Riverside Community Food Bank. Times are tough and your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past six years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show gratitude

Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get together a team to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short virtual training first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Gail, this is Stacy Kramer and I’m a board member at the Riverside Community Food Bank. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families during this difficult time. 

How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

Write an amazing thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an amazing thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t amazing at all and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you, You’re incredible!, or You did something great today!

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This often comes across as bragging by saying something like – As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years…. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do.

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. You can ask again another time. Keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors. Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to our current situations.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we, and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You!, and use a nice stamp (you can buy thank you stamps). Hand address the envelopes and include a handwritten note inside that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

Create a more personal online thank you

The thank you plan I reference above gives you advice on how to create better thank you landing pages and email acknowledgments. These often come across as transactional. You need to think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship, not a transaction.

Remember, even though your online donors will get an electronic acknowledgment, they should still get thanked by mail or phone.

With all the uncertainty that’s going on, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. 

Here’s more information on how you can do a better job of thanking your donors.

How to Write the Perfect Donor Thank You Letter

Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

How To Write A Thank-You Letter For Donations | A Nonprofit Guide

Donor Appreciation Letter: Everything You Need To Know To Craft The Perfect One

A Donor Thank-You Letter Template (Plus Extra Tips!)

Why You Need a Thank You Plan

Thanking your donors is just as important, if not more important than fundraising. Yet many organizations spend a lot of time putting together a fundraising campaign and treat thanking their donors as an afterthought.

We’re still in a time of uncertainty. Charitable giving has gone down over the last 20 years. The Vanishing American Donor While people were generous last year during the height of the pandemic, it’s hard to know how long that will last.

Prioritizing gratitude and donor relations will help. If you don’t do a good job of thanking your donors, as well as building relationships throughout the year, you’ll have a hard time getting people to people to donate again, which is one of the keys to your success.

This is why having a thank you plan is crucial. Many organizations just thank their donors after they receive a gift and then disappear until the next fundraising appeal. Your donors deserve better than that. 

Thanking your donors is something you need to do throughout the year – at least once a month, if you can. A thank you plan will help you stay focused on gratitude all year round.  

Here’s what you need to include in your thank you plan.

Plan to make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it shouldn’t resemble Amazon check out. It should make a person feel good about giving a donation.

Open with Thank you, Scott! or You’re incredible! Include an engaging photo or video and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community right now. Put all the tax-deductible information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

Plan to write a warm and personal automatic thank you email

Set up an automatic thank you email to go out after someone donates online. This email thank you is more of a reassurance to let your donor know you received her donation. You still need to thank her by mail or phone.

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Give some thought to the email subject line, too. At the very least make sure it says Thank You or You did something great today and not anything boring like Your Donation Receipt or Donation Received. And please stop using words like transaction and processed. A donation is not a transaction. It’s the start or continuation of a relationship.

How to Write a Great Donation Thank-you Email (with Examples)

Email Thank You Letter Examples for Donors

6 Email Examples to Thank Year-End Donors

Plan to thank your donors by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that every donor, no matter how much she’s given or whether she donated online, gets a thank you card or letter mailed to her or receives a phone call.

Try to thank your donors within 48 hours or within a week at the latest. I know it might be hard to do that right now, but it will be easier if you plan to carve out some time to thank your donors each day you get a donation. Remember, thanking your donors should be a priority. If you wait too long, you’re not making a good impression.

Instead of sending the usual generic thank you letter, mail a handwritten card or call your donors. Making thank you calls or writing thank you notes is something your board can do. 

Find board members, staff, and volunteers to make phone calls or write thank you notes. Come up with sample scripts. You may want to conduct a short training (most likely via Zoom). Make sure to get your team together well before your next fundraising campaign so you’re ready to go when the donations come in. 

Here’s a sample phone script, which you can modify for a thank you note/letter/email. 

Hi Beth, this is Debra Carter and I’m a board member at the Westside Community Food Bank. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can continue to provide neighborhood families with healthy food. This is great. We’re still seeing a lot of people come in, so we really appreciate your support.

You’ll stand out if you can send a handwritten thank you card. I get a few of these a year and they tend to come from the same organizations, which shows you what they prioritize! 

If you can’t send handwritten cards or call all your donors, send them a personal and heartfelt letter. If you’ve been using the same letter template for a while, it’s time to freshen it up. Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization, we thank you for your donation of…. 

Open your letter with You’re amazing or Because of you, the Turner family can finally move into their own home. Create separate letters for new donors, renewing donors, and monthly donors.

Add a personal handwritten note to the letter, preferably something that pertains to that particular donor. For example, if the donor has given before, mention that. Hand sign the letters, if you can.

Let your donors know how much you appreciate them and highlight what your organization is doing with their donations.

In addition, write your thank you letter at the same time you write your appeal letter. Make sure they’re ready to go as soon as the donations come in. Don’t wait three weeks.

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

A Guide to Crafting the Perfect Donation Thank-You Letter

Thank You Letters for Donations: How To Get Them Right

Plan to keep thanking your donors all year round

This is where having a thank you plan makes a difference because as I mentioned before – thanking your donors is something you must do all year round.

You can use your communications calendar to incorporate ways to thank your donors, but why not go one step further and create a specific thank you calendar.

Remember to try to say thank you at least once a month. Here are some ways to do that. 

  • Send cards or email messages at Thanksgiving, during the holidays, Valentine’s Day, or mix it up a little and send a note of gratitude in June or September when your donors may not be expecting it. Try to send at least one or two gratitude messages a year by mail, since your donors will be more likely to see those. And you don’t need a holiday or special occasion to thank your donors. Thank them just because….
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated with accomplishments and success stories, as well as how the current situations are impacting your work. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude. Be sure to keep thanking your donors in your newsletter and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without your donors’ support.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your thank you landing page, by email, and on social media.
  • Send a warm-up letter or email about a month before your next campaign (no ask). This is a great way to show appreciation BEFORE you send your appeals.
  • I wouldn’t recommend an open house or tours right now, but you could do something virtual to let your donors see your nonprofit up close and personal. Even when it is safe to gather in person again, a virtual gathering or tour may be easier to pull off. 
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

The tactics that work best are going to differ for each organization. I would definitely send something by mail a few times a year. Email and social media may not be as successful, especially if your donors don’t use electronic communication very much. You could survey them to find out their communication preferences, as well as their interests. This will help with your engagement.

Creating a thank you plan will make it easier to keep showing appreciation to your donors all year round. You need your donors right now, so don’t hold back on that always-important gratitude.

Let Your Donors Know How Much You Appreciate Them

Many donors have gone above and beyond to help nonprofit organizations this past year, despite everything that’s been going on. Often in times of crisis, people find ways to help.

This means you need to go above and beyond when you thank them. Are you doing that? Most likely, you’re not. I know running your organization is harder now, but you need to ramp up your gratitude practice.

Thanking your donors is not a we do this after we receive a donation and then we don’t have to do anything for awhile situation. 

Gratitude is something you need to show all year-round and with Valentine’s Day coming up, it’s a perfect opportunity to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

Maybe you would rather not go the Valentine’s Day route, which is understandable. But you should still do something to show appreciation this month (and every month). The holidays are over and February can be a dreary month, even in the best of times. Your donors could use a little kindness right now.

This is also a good opportunity to keep in touch with the people who gave to your year-end appeal, especially first-time donors. If you haven’t shown any appreciation since your year-end appeal, don’t wait much longer.

Here are a few ways you can let your donors know how much you appreciate them.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo like this one.

You can send thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

Make a video

Videos are a great way to connect with your donors. They’re simple, yet effective, so don’t worry if you weren’t a film major. It’s not too hard to create a video.

How to Create a Donor Thank You Video

One idea for your video is to show a bunch of people saying thank you. You’ll want your video to be short, donor-centered, and show your organization’s work up close and personal. You can also create personalized videos, which would be a nice gesture right now.

Your thank you landing page is a perfect place to put a video. This is your first opportunity to say thank you and most landing pages are just boring receipts (and receipts don’t cut it as a way to show gratitude). You can also put your thank you video on your website and share it by email and social media.

Nonprofit Thank You Video Script

How to Create Thank-You Video that Promotes Donor Retention

Send a card

A handwritten note will also brighten your donor’s day. If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years? These are your valuable donors. Other valuable donors are the ones who have been generous since the pandemic started. Don’t take any of these donors for granted.

That said, I do think you should make every effort to send a card to ALL your donors at least once a year. You can spread it out so you mail a certain number of cards each month, ensuring all your donors get one sometime in the year. 

Most organizations don’t send thank you cards, so you’ll stand out if you do.

Share an update 

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update on your success and challenges. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without your donor’s support. For example –Thanks to you, Jenna won’t go to bed hungry tonight. It’s been tough for her family since her mother lost her job last year.

Phrases like Thanks to you or Because of you should dominate your newsletters and updates.

Aim to do better

Make this the year you do a better job of thanking your donors. Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call. Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but be sincere. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Also, make sure your thank you note/letter puts gratitude front and center. You don’t need to explain what your organization does, brag, or ask for another donation. You have plenty of opportunities to ask for donations. Your thank you letter should be all about thanking your donors.

Thanking your donors needs to be a priority

I’m a big proponent of communicating by mail, even if it’s only a few times a year. It’s much more personal. Yet, many nonprofits are skittish about spending too much on mailing costs.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You could also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage. Think of these as essential expenses for your essential donors.

Maybe you need a change of culture – a culture of gratitude. This comes from the top, but you also need to get your board, all staff, and volunteers invested and involved in thanking your donors. 

You can’t say thank you enough. Make a commitment to thank your donors at least once a month. Create a thank you plan to help you with this. Planning ahead and creating systems makes a difference.

Keep thinking of ways to let your donors know how much you appreciate them. You don’t even need to wait for a holiday or special occasion. Just thank your donors because they’re amazing and you wouldn’t be able to make a difference without them.

Rock These Outstanding Nonprofit Donor Thank You Templates

Sample Phrases You Can Use to Thank Your Donors

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

Moving Away from Transactional Fundraising

Unfortunately, we’re looking at another tough year for fundraising. I’ve heard some people predict donations will decrease, while others say they’ll increase.

In this era of uncertainty, who knows? That doesn’t mean you should stop fundraising. Not at all. You just need to do it better. 

You may think the most important component of fundraising is raising money. While that’s important, so is building relationships with your donors. 

It’s hard to keep raising money if you don’t build a good relationship with your donors. Every single interaction with your donors needs to focus on building relationships. That includes fundraising appeals. It’s possible to raise money and build relationships at the same time.

You’ll have more success if you move away from transactional fundraising and focus on building relationships. Here are some suggestions.

Stop using transactional language

First, the word transaction should not appear anywhere in your fundraising. Sometimes I see the words “Transaction complete”after I make an online donation. That’s not giving me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling at all. I made a gift not a transaction.

Even more prevalent is the word receipt, which is often used in lieu of thank you. After a donor makes a gift, they should be feeling a lot of appreciation from you. 

Here are some actual thank you email subject lines I received recently.

“Your Recurring Donation Receipt” 

“Payment Receipt” 

This again is emphasizing the transaction. Payment information should not be the lead of any type of thank you. 

Contrast those with these ones that really emphasize their appreciation.

“Thank you for your generous gift”

“You are wonderful!”

This post by Richard Perry Avoiding Transactional Terms in Fundraising mentions other terms such as prospect and annual fund. These are often internal terms, but they reduce donors to a monetary unit. 

When organizations lead their fundraising appeals by saying “It’s our annual appeal” or “It’s GivingTuesday,” they’re not connecting with their donors by concentrating on why donors give. 

Many donors don’t care that it’s your year-end appeal. They care about your work and want to help. Instead, say something like, How you can help families put food on the table. 

Make relationship building part of your fundraising campaigns

You need to build relationships before, during, and after each of your fundraising campaigns.

Before your next appeal, send your donors an update to let them know how they’re helping you make a difference. This is especially important if you do more than one fundraising campaign a year. You don’t want your donors to think the only time they hear from you is when you’re asking for money.

Segment your donors

One way to help ensure you’re focusing on relationships is to segment your donors and personalize your appeal letters and other types of donor communication. 

Don’t send the same appeal to everyone on your mailing list. What is your relationship with these individuals? Maybe they’ve given once or many times. Perhaps they’re event attendees, volunteers, e-newsletter subscribers, or friends of board members. Mention your relationship in your appeal letter. For example, thank a long-time donor for supporting you these past five years.

Monthly donors get their own appeal letter. This doesn’t happen enough and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. Build relationships with these committed donors. Recognize they’re monthly donors and either invite them to upgrade their gift or give an additional donation.

Segmenting Your Donors is More Important Than Ever

Create an attitude of gratitude

Your focus on building relationships continues when you thank your donors. Many organizations do a poor job with this. Send a handwritten note or make a phone call, if you can.

Welcome your new donors. Let them know how much you appreciate this new relationship. If you don’t, it’s likely to be a short relationship.

Be sure to also shower your current donors with love to keep your relationship going. Do something special for donors who have supported you for several years.

Make sure your donors get a heartfelt thank you, not something that resembles a receipt.

Thanking donors is something you can do at any time of the year. I think one of the best ways to connect is by sending a handwritten note.  I recently received a holiday card and a mug full of Lindt chocolate from a small, local nonprofit. It definitely warmed my heart, although you can always win me over with chocolate.

Holiday cards are a nice way to reach out, but don’t put a donation envelope in one. You have other opportunities to make appeals. Make it 100% about showing appreciation.

You can also send thank you cards at other times of the year. If money is tight, spread out your mailings over the year so each donor gets at least one card.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

There are many ways you can build relationships with your donors throughout the year. This is so important right now.

You can give donors other opportunities to connect, such as volunteering, participating in advocacy alerts, and signing up for your newsletter. Done well, a newsletter or other form of an update is a good relationship-building tool. You could also offer virtual tours or Zoom discussions.

I’m amazed that after I attend an event, support someone in a walkathon, or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t do a good job of building a relationship. I could be a potential long-time donor. Personally, I would never give a memorial gift or support someone in a charity walk if I didn’t believe in that organization’s cause. Don’t miss out on a potential opportunity to build longer-term relationships.

Have a relationship-building day

My main objection to giving days, such as GivingTuesday, is they focus so much on asking. What if we put all the time and energy we focus on giving days into a relationship-building day?

I’m not saying you can’t participate in giving days, but instead of the relentless begging, follow the formula above and build relationships before, during, and after your appeal.

Of course, you could choose not to participate in a giving day and have an all-out relationship-building day instead.

Giving Tuesday: What if it was called Living Schmoozeday?

Build relationships all year round

It’s easier to stay focused on donors when you’re sending an appeal or thank you, but this is just the beginning. Many organizations go on communication hiatus at certain times of the year and that’s a big mistake, especially now. Ideally, you should keep in touch with your donors every one to two weeks.

Stay focused on relationships. Good relationships with your donors will help you with retention, especially as we enter another tough fundraising year. 

The Importance of Making Your New Donors Feel Welcome

As your year-end donations come in, you may have some new donors. If you get new donors this year, don’t take that for granted. 

In this tumultuous year, these donors saw a need and found a connection to your cause. Maybe you’re a food bank that’s seeing a record number of people. Perhaps you’re a beloved performing arts organization that’s temporarily closed.

Unfortunately, the likelihood these donors will stick with you is questionable. Even in the best of times, the retention rate for new donors is a little over 20%.

One of the many lessons from this pandemic is the importance of having long-term donors who will stick with you when you need them most. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to hang on to your new donors.

Start with a special thank you

Go the extra mile when you thank your new donors.

If someone donates online, it’s hard to tailor the thank you email specifically to new donors. But you can do that with a phone call, handwritten note, or thank you letter.

Try to call your new donors or send a handwritten note. This will make a great impression on them. Get together a group of board members, other volunteers, and staff to help you.

*Make sure these are actually new donors. A good database will help you avoid any snafus.*

Create a welcome plan

A week or two after the initial thank you, send a welcome package. You can do this by mail, email, or a combination of both.

Welcome your new donors. Thank them again and show them other ways they can connect with you. Invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, join you on social media, and volunteer (most likely virtually for now).

Your welcome package should include a warm introductory message and a few facts about your organization, but don’t brag too much. Keep it donor-centered. You could also direct people to your website for more information about your organization.

Be careful about how much information you send. Donors want to feel welcome not overwhelmed.

I don’t recommend sending unsolicited swag. You could offer your new donors a gift and they can let you know if they want to receive it, but it’s not necessary. I don’t like it when organizations send me things I don’t need, such as a wall calendar.

What donors really want from you is to know how they’re helping you make a difference.

What are you doing now to welcome new donors?

How to Create an Effective New Donor Welcome Series

Anatomy of a Stellar First-Time Donor Welcome Packet

Who are your new donors?

They could be event attendees, volunteers, or newsletter subscribers. If you know, refer to that in your thank you note, letter, or phone call. If not, send a short survey with your welcome package and ask, “How did you hear about us?” or “What drew you to our organization?” 

Another question to ask is whether your donors prefer print or electronic communication. Short surveys are also a good way to connect throughout the year. The more you know about your donors the easier it will be to communicate with them.

Make your current donors feel special, too

While I’ve been focusing on new donors in this post, retention rates for current donors have also been declining. The biggest hurdle is getting from the first to the second gift. That second gift is known as the golden donation. But don’t stop there. You want a third and a fourth, etc. donation.  

If you’re not acknowledging a donor’s past support, you’re making a huge mistake. Imagine how you would feel if you gave to an organization for over five years and they never thank you for your long-time support.  

These valuable, long-term donors could leave at any time, so ignore them at your own peril. Remember the importance of long-term donors. Make sure they get a special thank you from you.

Keep it up throughout the year

You should know you need to communicate with your donors regularly, especially now. Plan on special mailings or emails specifically targeted to new donors. Try to send something by mail if you can. It’s more personal and your donors are more likely to see it. 

Think of other ways to do something special for your new donors too, such as offering virtual tours or an invitation to a Zoom discussion.

Of course, don’t ignore your other donors. Keep reaching out – at least once or twice a month. 

Show appreciation and share updates. A huge factor in donor retention is a good donor relations plan that you’ll carry out regularly as long as your donors support you, which hopefully will be for many years.

This is the Year to be Truly Thankful for Your Donors

Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s a time of the year in the U.S. when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives. For many, it will be a different Thanksgiving. Some people may not gather with family and friends and if they do, it will be with fewer people, while taking precautions to stay safe. 

Your donors are also special people. Many of them have gone the extra mile this year to help you during these difficult times. Don’t they deserve to be showered with gratitude?  

Even if donors cut back on their giving or haven’t given at all this year, they should still get some attention. Hopefully, they’ll give again in the future. There’s a better chance of that if you treat them well.

Showing gratitude doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, but you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.

Here are a few ways to thank your donors and let them know they’re special.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

Send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. A lot of nonprofits already do this, but I think as many organizations as possible should do it this year. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

As I hope you’ve been doing for the last several months, wish your donors well. Let them know how grateful you are to have them as part of your family. Your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message right now. 

Don’t stop with Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time to show some #donorlove. The holidays and New Year’s are just around the corner and that’s a good opportunity, especially for those of you outside the U.S., to express gratitude. But you don’t need a reason. Just thank your donors and do it often. 

Whatever you decide, DO NOT include a donation envelope or any other type of ask with your thank you message. This is known as a thask and it’s guaranteed to deflate your donor’s good feelings in an instant.

Incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign

Many of you are working on your year-end fundraising campaign. I know you’re trying to raise money, but you should also be showing gratitude. Does your appeal thank donors for their past or potential gifts?

Besides wishing your donors a Happy Thanksgiving, find other ways to show gratitude while you’re also sending appeals. This is especially important around #GivingTuesday and I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Be ready to thank your donors as soon as you receive a donation

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Planning ahead will help you thank your donors as soon as possible. I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time and effort getting your fundraising appeal out. Perhaps you’ve recruited other staff or volunteers to help you.

You need to do the same thing when you thank your donors. Get your board, other staff, and volunteers to help make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter. Much of this can be done from home.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Your donors deserve more than just the same, lame generic thank you letter. I write a lot about thanking donors. Here are a couple of recent posts that cover ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Get Ready to Pour on the Gratitude

How to Give Your Donors a More Personal Online Thank You Experience

The initial thank you right after you receive a donation is important. So is the next one and the one after that and the one after that….

Thanking your donors is not a one-time deal. You want to thank your donors at least once a month. Here are some ideas to show gratitude throughout the year.

  • Send a handwritten note.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media.
  • Send welcome packets to your new donors.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated on your success and challenges. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Thank your donors in your newsletters and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Create a virtual tour or other engaging video content so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Thank your donors just because they’re great.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

9 Donor Stewardship Ideas to Keep Your Donors Feeling Connected While Practicing Social Distancing

We need more kindness right now

During these tumultuous times, we keep getting more and more divided. Wherever you live and whichever way you lean politically, we should all show more kindness towards each other. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, some people put hearts and teddy bears in their windows, along with signs of support for essential workers. That’s mostly disappeared and I’d like to see it return. I know everyone is tired of wearing masks and socially distancing, but it’s either that or you risk getting infected. Some kindness, both towards ourselves and others, will help us get through this.

In the spirit of kindness, show some gratitude to your donors and make them feel special. 

How to Give Your Donors a More Personal Online Thank You Experience

Many people donate online now. There’s a good reason for this. It’s usually fast and easy, or at least it should be. You may be opting for an online only year-end campaign this fall, although I do recommend mailing an appeal letter if you can.

One issue with online donations is the poor thank yous that come after your donor has given you a gift. I like to think of what happens after someone donates online as a thank you experience, which consists of a thank you landing page, thank you email, and a thank you by mail or phone, plus additional bursts of gratitude throughout the year.

Even though your thank you landing page and thank you email are automatically generated, it doesn’t mean they need to sound like they were written by a robot.

There’s a human being on the other end and they just did something great by donating to your organization. Don’t they deserve to be lavished with gratitude? Of course they do. Especially in 2020, possibly one of the worst years ever, when we’re dealing with so much and missing out on personal connections.

It’s not hard to make your online thank yous more personal. Here’s what you need to do.

Use words that convey gratitude

First, make a list of words you associate with gratitude. Did you come up with words such as transaction and processed? I hope not, although those are words I often see after I make an online gift. I cringe every time I see transaction complete or your gift was successfully processed.

Words matter and some words of gratitude include appreciate, grateful, and of course, thank you. 

Think of the donations you receive as the start or continuation of a relationship and not a transaction. 

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and it’s usually about as engaging as an Amazon receipt. In fact, I’ve seen online shopping receipts that are more personal than some nonprofit “thank you” landing pages.

Remember to use words that convey gratitude. You could open with Thank you, Kara! or You’re amazing! Capture your donor’s attention with an engaging photo or video. You could also create a thank you word cloud. Include a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help your clients/community during these uncertain times.

Invite donors to connect with you in other ways such as signing up to receive your newsletter, following you on social media, and volunteering.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If you can’t, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

Don’t let your donors think they only made a transaction.

How to Create Post Donation Thank You Pages That Delight Donors

How To Optimize Your Donation Thank You Page + Examples Of Nonprofits Who Do It Right

Write a thank you email that your donors will appreciate

Start off by thinking of a good subject line. At the very least say Thank You! and not Donation Received. Stay away from the dreaded words processed and transaction. You want your thank you email to stand out in your donor’s overflowing inbox.

Open your message with Thank You or You’re incredible, and not the usual On Behalf of X organization. Then let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.

You want to follow the rules of writing a good thank you letter. The key word here is good. It amazes me how many thank you letters/emails don’t do a good job of saying thank you.

You won’t be able to segment much, but you should be able to distinguish between single gifts and monthly donations.

Speaking of monthly donations, many organizations send their monthly donors an email acknowledgment each month. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what’s wrong is many of these are just plain boring and usually include the same generic message each month.

Your monthly donors have made a long-term commitment to you. You can show the same commitment to them by writing a better thank you email and mixing up the content by sharing updates. This is even more important now.

You can include a donation summary or receipt with your thank you email, but that should be at the end – AFTER you pour on the gratitude. I prefer the term donation summary because it doesn’t sound as transactional.

Remember, you’re a human writing to another human. Don’t make your message sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

Examples of Email Thank You Letters to Online Donors

Best Fundraising Thank You Emails for Your Supporters

Don’t stop showing gratitude 

Since your thank you landing page and email are automatically generated, you can’t make them as personal as a handwritten note, phone call, or letter. That’s why you need to do at least one of those for your online donors. An online thank you is not enough. Also, your donors may not see your thank you email, but you want to make sure they feel appreciated.

You also want to keep thanking your donors throughout the year – at least once a month if you can. If it’s too hard to use mail or make phone calls right now, you can keep thanking by email, as well as social media. A personalized thank you video is another great way to show some gratitude.

You want to give your donors a thank you experience. Your thank you landing page and email acknowledgment are just the beginning. Make them engaging and personal and keep up that theme as you continue to show gratitude to your donors throughout the year.

Get Ready to Pour on the Gratitude

You may have started working on your year-end appeal. Just as important, if not more important, is planning how you’ll thank your donors. 

Some of the themes of 2020 should be –  this is more important than ever and planning ahead.

Many organizations leave thanking their donors as a last-minute to-do item and it shows. You can’t do that this year, as well as in future years. You may have a harder time getting donations right now. If someone gives to your organization, they deserve to be showered with gratitude. 

There are many ways to thank your donors after an appeal – by mail, phone, email, on your website, or a combination of those. The more you can do, the better.

Thanking your donors is something you need to do well. Don’t shortchange your donors with a lame, generic thank you.

Here are a few ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Start planning now

Don’t wait until the day after your appeal goes out. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. 

Figure out what you’ll be able to do. I highly recommend a handwritten note or phone call. Can you do that for all your donors? If not, maybe you’ll break it down by new donors, long-time donors, or donors who have given a certain amount.

I understand that handwritten notes and phone calls may be hard to do right now. At the very least, your donors should get a letter, even if they’ve donated online. Whatever you decide, get started on the content now. 

Brighten your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you note

I love it when a nonprofit sends a handwritten thank you note. This is a rare occurrence, so if you do this, your thank you note will stand out in your donor’s mailbox.

Handwritten notes are great in many ways, but one advantage is you don’t have to write that much and it shouldn’t take too long. 

How to Write 3 Minute Thank You Notes

You could make thank you cards with an engaging photo or buy some nice thank you cards. Get together a team of board members, staff, and volunteers right after your appeal goes out to help with this.

Think about how much your donors will appreciate this nice gesture. Here’s a sample note.

Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for upgrading your gift to $75. We’ve been serving three times the number of people at the Northside Community Food Bank. Your generous gift will help a lot. We’re so happy you’ve been a donor these past five years.

Phone calls are another personal way to show some donor love

Calling first-time donors is known to improve retention rates. But you could also call long-term donors to make them feel special.

Again, you want to get a team together to help. This is a great thing for your board to do. You may need to do a short virtual training at first. Here’s a sample phone script.

Hi Bob, this is Diana Turner and I’m a board member at the Northside Community Food Bank. Thank you so much for your generous donation of $50 and welcome to our donor family. Your gift will help feed more local families during this difficult time. 

How to Call Donors Just to Say Thank You for Donating

Write an incredible thank you letter

If it’s impossible to send handwritten notes or make phone calls, you can still impress your donors with an incredible thank you letter. Many thank you letters aren’t incredible and are mediocre at best. You’ll have an advantage if you take some time to create a great, donor-centered letter.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to thank your donors. Keep that in mind at all times.  

Don’t start your letter with On behalf of X organization…. If you’re sending it on your letterhead, it should be obvious it’s coming from your organization. Instead, start your letter with – Thank you or You’re amazing! Here’s another example from a letter I recently received – What a great friend you are to …….

You also don’t need to explain what your organization does. This is usually done in a braggy way by saying something like – As you know, X organization has been doing great work in the community for 20 years…. Someone who’s donated to your organization should already be familiar with what you do.

And, don’t ask for another gift in your thank you letter. You did that in your appeal letter. You can ask again another time. Keep gratitude front and center.

Write separate thank you letters for different types of donors.  Welcome new donors and welcome back your current donors. Monthly donors should also get special recognition.

Your thank you letter needs to make your donors feel good about giving to your organization. Let them know how their gift is helping you make a difference. Include a brief story or example. Make it relevant to the current climate.

As with all writing, make your letter personal and conversational. Write to the donor using you much more than we, and leave out jargon and any other language your donors won’t understand. Also, you must address your donors by name – not Dear Friend.

A few other ways to make your letter stand out are to use a colored envelope or include a teaser that says Thank You! If you can hand address the envelopes, use a nice stamp, and include a handwritten note inside, that will help make it more personal. You could also include an engaging photo in the letter.

Yes, you do need to include the tax-deductible information, but do that at the end, after you impress your donors with your letter, or include it on a separate page. It’s easiest to include this with the thank you letter or email. Then you don’t have to send it again unless your donor requests it.

An example from an organization that did it right

I mentioned the opening line from a recent thank you letter I received. This organization, a local theatre that’s unable to do live performances until sometime next year, did a lot of things right with their letter. Starting with sending the letter right away. I was surprised to get it so quickly, although 48 hours is what’s recommended, but rarely followed.

The envelope was hand addressed and the letter included phrases like – you are providing a sense of stability and hope as we all continue to navigate through these uncharted waters, and X theatre is still here – and is still strong – because of you! The phrase because of you is a must in a thank you letter. This letter also included a handwritten note saying – Looking forward to welcoming you back……

With everything that’s going on right now, it’s crucial to do a good job of thanking your donors, both now and throughout the year. In my next post, I’ll share some ways to improve your online thank yous.

Here’s more on thanking your donors.

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

How to Write The Best Thank-You Letter for Donations + Three Templates and Samples

A Guide to Crafting the Perfect Donation Thank-You Letter

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Your Donors Want to Hear from You

214409794_5c34b1f1f4_wI hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Summer is often a quieter time for nonprofits, although I don’t need to tell you we’re not having a normal summer. You don’t want to be too quiet and ignore your donors. In fact, this is a good time to do some relationship building.

You may be holding back because of the pandemic and economic downturn, but you actually want to communicate more with your donors right now. First, we’re looking at a tough fundraising season, but better donor engagement could help. Also, while some people may be on vacation, many are staying home this year, so it’s a good time to reach them. 

You should be communicating with your donors at least once a month, if not more. Don’t make the mistake of taking a vacation from your donor communication – never a smart decision.

Here are a few ways you can connect with your donors this summer, as well as throughout the year, and build those important relationships.

Check in and send an update

Check in with your donors and see how they’re doing. Wish them well. This is especially important if you haven’t communicated with them since the COVID-19 outbreak started earlier this year (I hope that’s not the case). Even if you have been in touch more recently, send a message of kindness. Many states are seeing a rising number of COVID cases and we’re all dealing with a lot.

Send an update to let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community right now. Share what’s going on whether it’s success stories, challenges, or some of each. Be authentic and specific. Don’t get trapped in jargon land.

One of my favorite ways to connect is with a postcard. I know mail is expensive, but a postcard shouldn’t cost too much. It’s also a quick way to share an update with your donors.

If it’s impossible to send something by mail right now, you can use email.

Show some #donorlove

You don’t need a reason to thank your donors. Just do it and do it often. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thanking their donors, so you’ll stand out if you do. My last post was all about thanking your donors. Create a thank you plan to help you with this.

This is another situation where a postcard will work wonders. You can do a combo thank you and update. Go one step further and make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card. You could also create a thank you photo for a card or you can share your photo by email and social media. Another great way to connect is to make a thank you video.

There are so many ways to thank your donors. Spend a little time thinking of ways to show some #donorlove. 

20 Unique Donor Thank You Ideas

Create a better newsletter

You may already keep in touch with your newsletter, whether it’s electronic, print, or both. In theory, newsletters can be a great way to engage, but in reality, most of them are long, boring bragfests.

For the time being, I would suggest a shorter newsletter to capture your donors’ attention. You could also opt not to do an official newsletter and just stay in touch with short, engaging updates instead.

Focus more on relationship building in your fundraising appeals

A fundraising appeal can be a way to connect with your donors if you make relationship building the main focus. This rarely happens because most appeals are transactional and generic.

You shouldn’t stop fundraising. You won’t raise the money you need if you don’t ask. Plus, donors want to give if they can.

Remember to keep relationship building front and center at all times. Thank donors for their past support, share some updates, and show them how their gift will help you make a difference for your clients/community.

Cultivating Donor Relationships in 2020: 5 Best Practices

Keep it up 

Your donors want to hear from you this summer and throughout the year. A communications calendar will be a huge help with this so your donors won’t wonder why you haven’t been in touch lately.