The Power of Gratitude: Why Thanking Donors Is Essential for Your Nonprofit’s Success

Like plants need water, donors need gratitude. A plant without water will wither and die; a donor without gratitude will seek more appreciative charities to support.

Your thank-you program, in fact, may be the single most important element of your fundraising operation. It’s not just a matter of good manners or politeness; it’s critical to the long-term success of your organization.

Failing to properly thank your donors can lead to some VERY bad things. Problems you do not want in your life. Without proper thanks:

  • Donors may feel unappreciated. When donors make a gift to your organization, they’re expecting some level of appreciation and recognition for their support. If they don’t receive a thank-you or any type of acknowledgment, they may feel unappreciated and undervalued. This can lead to a lack of motivation to continue supporting your cause.
  • Donors may not donate again. Donors who feel unappreciated may not be inclined to donate again in the future. They may decide to take their support elsewhere, to an organization that values their contribution and expresses gratitude for their generosity.
  • You risk damaging your reputation. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool, and donors who feel unappreciated may share their negative experience with others. This can damage your organization’s reputation and make it more difficult to attract new donors in the future.
  • You may miss out on future donations. Donors who feel valued and appreciated are more likely to donate again in the future. By failing to thank donors, you may miss out on potential future donations to support your mission and further your organization’s impact.

And something else to keep in mind: When a donor makes a gift, it’s not really about your nonprofit. Sure, donors choose organizations that align with their values, that they trust, that confirm their intrinsic personality type, etc. But the act of making a gift is done out of self-interest, that dopamine “I feel good” fix we all chase in various ways.

One of best things a fundraiser can do is remind donors about that gift and demonstrate genuine gratitude. By doing so, you reinforce a behavior that they already enjoy. You could almost certainly be doing more.

So what can you do to ensure that you’re thanking your donors in a way that will make a lasting impact? Here are 10 tips to supercharge your thank-you efforts:

1) Get your thank-you letters out immediately. If there’s a way to speed processing, do it. The sooner that they get into your donor’s hands, the better it reminds the donor of the gift fix. If your predecessor eliminated sending thank-you letters for every donation* for cost savings, stop reading this and implement a comprehensive, written thank-you program right now. You will be a hero at your job. Skip this step at your (your organization’s) peril. *Organizations are legally required to send receipts for any gift over $250.

2) Call donors who give larger donations. You can define “larger” in many ways, but any gift over $500 is a good start. We could argue for a higher or lower threshold but know that when someone gives your organization a $25,000 gift, your organization needs to call and thank them posthaste.

3) Email donors who give donations online. Similarly, emailing donors who have made gifts online can also be impactful. An individual email sent from someone on staff will make a donor’s day. Emails don’t need to come from the person who signs the fundraising mail. Regarding that $25,000 gift I mentioned, an email shouldn’t replace a personal call.

4) Send out end-of-year tax summaries.  This is a more utilitarian approach to remind donors of their gift(s) and that the organization knows they personally made that gift. Include a very overt “THANK YOU!” when you send it. The nice thing is that it’s all wrapped with a neat “We’re doing this as a service to you” bow.

5) Thank them even when you’re asking.  Every renewal ask, regardless of the topic, should be sandwiched between profuse thanks.

6) Thank them even when you’re not asking. Development people tend to frown upon mailings that exclude an ask, or even a remit (*gasp*). However, a piece of mail whose sole purpose is to thank a donor is a powerful thing. It brings the donor closer and makes it more likely that they will continue to give. The subsequent lift in giving can often generate enough goodwill to pay for itself.

7) Implement a “Donor Appreciation Day.” Pick a day (outside the fourth quarter) your company devotes to praising donors. Call them. Email them. Pray with/for them. Post about them on your social media. If you have a donor-friendly facility, invite donors there. That day is all about the donors.

8) Make it personal. Donors want to feel like their contribution is making a difference. Include specific details in your thank-you message about how their donation will be used and the impact it will have. Personalize the message as much as possible to show that you value and appreciate their support.

9) Follow up. Don’t let your gratitude end with the initial thank-you message. Follow up with donors periodically to keep them informed about your organization’s work and the impact of their donation. This will help foster long-term relationships and encourage future support.

10) Make your “Annual Report” as much about them as about yourself. Annual reports are notoriously organization focused. Change them into a vehicle to praise your donors – after all, the good work you’re reporting on couldn’t have happened without them!  You can find some ideas to help make it a “gratitude report” here.

Bonus Tip: Send mission-related thank-yous. The work of your nonprofit may naturally (or with a little help) lend itself to items that, though not expensive, may hold immense emotional value to constituents. Send them to donors. Children’s drawings. Puppy footprints. Handwritten messages from recipients. Pictures. Cards. Creativity will be rewarded here. Not every organization is built around a sponsorship program, but it can be helpful to borrow some of that strategy.

These are just a handful of ways we’ve helped our clients lavish praise and appreciation on the people who make the organization’s mission happen. With a little creative thought you can come up with special ways to express your thanks. And don’t worry about overdoing it, killing them with kindness, or any such thing.  In 22 years, we’ve never had to tell a client, “You’re thanking your donors too much.”  When it comes to expressing gratitude, the “too much of a good thing” philosophy never applies.

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