A Rock-Solid Approach to Show Donors the Love

There is are a reason why parents urge their children to say “thank you” as soon as they begin to talk. Saying thanks or offering gratitude has been referred to as “social glue” because of its ability to strengthen relationships and connections.

According to a white paper prepared by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley called the Science of Gratitude, “...gratitude inspires people to be more generous, kind, and helpful (or “prosocial”); strengthens relationships, including romantic relationships; and may improve the climate in workplaces.”

Additional research has also shown that generosity and gratitude may work together to result in benefits for both the giver and the recipient. In essence, saying “thank you” to donors could not only make them feel more positive about their relationship with your organization, but it could also potentially help them be more generous or helpful to your organization in the future.

While Covid may have changed some of the ways nonprofits are doing business, expressing gratitude to those supporting your organization has never been more important.

Acknowledging Donors

There are two components in traditional donor thank you strategies: the thank you immediately after the gift and an annual acknowledgment.

  • Immediately after a donor contributes to your cause they should receive an official acknowledgment letter thanking them. It should also include the necessary tax information for the donor’s records and for tax purposes. These should be mailed within 48 hours of receiving the check or electronic donation.There should also be a plan in place for how to thank major donors. While organizations may have different levels for major donors, $1,000 is a good starting point. For instance, the development director could call and personally thank all donors giving $1,000 or more. Donors at the $10,000 level and above should get a call and handwritten note from the CEO of the organization. Again, this should happen as soon as possible.Need a handy reference guide to understand what type of action is needed based on gift level? This table, Sample Acknowlegement Strategy, showing gift level and consistency type (board member, volunteer, new donor) can help.


  • As for the annual acknowledgment, I like when organizations do a thank-a-thon that engages the board. Each board member takes a list of donors who gave within the last year and makes individual thank you calls. In today’s world, many donors may not answer so the board member can leave a short message introducing themselves and letting the donor know the gift was appreciated.It’s important for staff to arm the board with a short script on what to say if the person answers and another version for leaving a voicemail, as well as some general talking points or recent organization updates.

Tracking Touch Points

Every touch point with a donor, including extending gratitude for a gift, should be tracked in your organization’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. The date of touchpoint, what was done (call, note, email), and a short description of what happened, i.e. "left a message thanking Dave for his gift" should all be recorded.

Tracking allows you to maintain a system of connecting with your donors so that you can nurture the relationship by thanking them and sharing their impact on your organization, outside of asking them for money.

Face-to-Face Thanks

Some organizations will go a step further and host a thank you event. Donors are invited at no charge to attend the event and oftentimes this is presented as a breakfast to keep costs low. This type of event allows for time to network and engage in a short program presented by your organization that expresses gratitude and provides relevant program updates and, if applicable, incorporates those that your organization serves.

During Covid, some organizations have been hosting virtual thank-you events. If this is a route you choose, you could explore the option to partner with a local coffee shop or eatery to provide gift cards to your guests, depending on your budget. Whether in-person or online, including client testimonials, art, or notes from kids or those you serve can add a special touch to the event.

Virtual Thanks

A month-long gratitude campaign hosted via social media channels that highlight donors could be a great standalone way to express your organization's gratitude or it could coincide with the thank-a-thon referenced above. Some organizations do cute things around Valentine’s Day (social media, email, or video all work well for this), as well as around Thanksgiving. Both options offer an opportunity to say thank you on either side of a traditional year-end fundraising campaign.

A Little Gratitude Goes A Long Way

However you thank them, letting donors know that their effort is appreciated will go a long way. Nurturing your donor relationships can help those that support you feel valued and in the know about the impact of their gift. It can also help keep your organization as a charitable priority when it comes time to fundraise again.


What is your organization doing to show your donors the love?

Need help with your thank you strategy? I can help.

About Rachel M. Decker

Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.

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