Episode 179 | The 20 Ways to Thank Your Donors in 2020

Today, we are jumping into the topic of thankfulness. As we gear up for our Thanksgiving holiday this week, I wanted to be sure that we talked about how we can thank our donors. So, we’re going to talk about the top 20 ways to thank your donors in 2020.

As you know, this is such an unusual year. In the seventh step of my Fundraising Freedom process, Make Your Difference, it’s all about thanking people and getting people engaged in the work that’s being done so that they keep coming back year after year. In that chapter of my book, I discuss the five love languages. Many of you are familiar with Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, but if you’re not, those five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Those five areas are really the areas that we’re looking for as we’re thanking our donors and inviting them to continue to give year after year.

A study that came out from Merci Chocolates shows the fact that we actually say “thank you” over 2000 times in the course of a year. This means that most of us are saying thank you at least five times a day. But the deal is, that based on their study, over half of the people said that they were insincere when they actually said those things to us. So, when you say thank you nearly five times a day, up to three of those times that you said thank you actually didn’t mean much of anything. Sometimes we say thank you, but we don’t always get it across. I would love for the study to be able to actually address how many times a nonprofit or ministry leader actually said thank you because I would say that we are probably in the 10s of thousands, if not more because we’re always saying thank you to our volunteers and donors. That’s where I want to kind of shake those things out for our conversation today. How can we make saying thank you a little bit more sincere so that our donors really do feel like they mean something to them?

In that final chapter of my book, I specifically tell a story where a lady had donated something to an auction that we were we were doing, and she saw that I showed an interest in a ring that she had donated. I made a comment about potentially bidding on that item at the auction. Of course, I worked for the organization and was obviously not able to bid on it. She came back a few days later and gave me another ring that looked just like the other one. And she was very kind to do that. As an organization, we aren’t allowed to receive gifts like that and so I actually took the item and donated it back to the organization. But later on, I saw her at an event where we had a booth set up. She approached me and was really upset with me because I hadn’t sent her a handwritten thank you specifically for that item that she had given to me. Now she had received a thank you in the past, we had thanked her for her donation of the ring, she just was locked into the fact that I personally did not send her a handwritten thank you showing my appreciation. And at that moment, she gave me a what for; she got on my case, as I was trapped behind a booth space. She told me that she was going to make this a teachable moment for me. But in return, she actually made me feel really hurt because a volunteer of mine had invited this lady in and so I was more concerned about another volunteer’s feelings around this situation and that I had upset this potential donor who was a friend of hers. I immediately left the space and went and called my volunteer that I really did have a relationship with, and I told her I was so sorry that this had happened. And of course, it was a teachable moment. I’m still sharing it today and it’s a moment that I really reflect on quite a bit. But the thing is that it comes back to how people like to be shown appreciation, how they like to be thanked. As I talk about the five love languages, it’s really apparent that some people really like and really need those words of affirmation, they really need that gift of some tangible item that’s in their hands to show that you cared. When I tell people about how to thank donors, I always reflect back on this, but then I also just highlight the fact that those five love languages are important for us to do across the board. I will say some people do not want recognition, that would really upset some people. This is where you, as the leader of your organization, have to pay attention to your donors, you can’t just cookie-cutter, throw them all in a box and say, “Hey, one size fits all,” because that is not how this works.

Here are the 20 go-to great ways to thank your donors in 2020. I’m not going to say do every single one of these but look through some of these that maybe you’re missing or haven’t incorporated in the past and create a thank you plan. The first one is a handwritten thank you. This is a very standard go to thank you that you can do either from the executive director or the leader of the organization, or a volunteer. When I say handwritten, it could even be something that doesn’t have physical handwriting, but it’s personalized with information that is specific to your donor.

Number two give them the opportunity to share a testimonial. I love asking donors to share why they’re a part of the work that’s being done. When you give somebody the opportunity to share, it feels really special, they feel like they were chosen. So that’s a really great one to do. Number three send a personalized gift. This would be something that really means something to them, maybe it’s something that you thought about because you saw something somewhere, and it made you think about them. So that personalized gift that was sent just for them, not everybody else. Number four send a general gift like cookies, a gift certificate to a restaurant, for those of you who don’t have any restrictions on alcohol, you might be able to send them a bottle of wine. These are items that are unique but also go out of your way to say we appreciate you and at the end of the year. Great time for you to deliver that. Number five, a social media post saying something nice about them. Maybe they’re selling something this holiday season, they’re pushing something, or you just want to promote that individual for what they’ve done for your cause. So that’s a great way for you to be able to recognize that donor through social media. Number six, a personal thank you video. Now I’ve talked about this before with Bonjoro or loom. There are lots of different video platforms out there, most of you guys have a smartphone that you could just snap a video on your phone and send it to them by text or send it to them by video, but a personal thank you video that tells somebody that you care. They hear your voice, they see your face, they hear their name, those are all key things as a part of that video.

Number seven a public thank you. Now we are in a global pandemic so a public thank you would normally happen at an event in front of a group of people. This public thank you is going to most likely be something that you send out through an email or send out through your social media. But you can still do a public thank you, you can say thank you to our sponsors, thank you to this one individual who went above and beyond. Even if you want to keep their name anonymous, when they see it, they’re going to know it’s them. Know that you can modify this public thank you in a way that really recognizes their gift and recognizes how it felt to you when they gave to your cause. Number eight, a year-end letter sharing where the money went. This is your financial review of 2020. What have you done in the last year with their money? That letter is such a great way for you to communicate, thank you for giving your gift because these are all the things that we were able to do and in the last year because of it. To be clear, this is not your year-end appeal or your support letter at the end of the year. This is the Financial Review letter that says thank you for doing what you did. Here’s what we did with it. Number nine is just an immediate confirmation that their donation was received. Now, this can easily be overlooked. I get that you’re busy. You’re trying to end out the year, you’re probably trying to reach out to as many people as possible. But come back around and give them immediate confirmation. I know some organizations don’t give this information to you right away. But if whenever you find out that a donation was given and received by your organization, be sure to reach out to that person and give them a verbal thank you or an email thank you acknowledging the fact that you received it, and that you appreciate it. Number 10, a video call. This is different than the video thank you. This is an actual “let’s schedule a time to talk on zoom” or whatever your preferred video method is. Typically, we would have maybe scheduled those face-to-face meetings, but instead, host those video calls just to touch base with them.

Number 11, assign giving levels and recognize them when they hit a certain level. If you have different levels, whether that’s monthly giving, or whether that’s annual giving, once they hit a certain level, you can start to recognize people differently. Maybe that’s gold, silver, bronze, or diamond, platinum, etc.  Whatever you start coming up with these naming levels. And once they collectively have given to a certain amount, you can recognize them with that level. So, let’s just say somebody gives you a monthly donation, then they give you an annual gift. And with those two combined together, and then let’s add a third one in, maybe they attended a virtual event of some sort that you’ve posted, made a donation there. And now collectively, their gift has put them over the top on a certain giving level, you can then reach out to them and say we just want to recognize you and let you know that you just hit our gold level as a donor. And we’re just so grateful that you have given at this level. Number 12 give them an award to display. Now back to this number 11. With the different levels, this is what I typically would do is once they hit a certain given level, then we give them an award. Now every organization is different when it comes to what is a major gift contribution. For me in the past those giving levels, typically once they hit the $10,000 mark, was a big level for us. And so, we recognize those cash contributions at $10,000. With a special award. Let’s talk about a media outlet or somebody who donated a product or service to the organization. Once they hit $25,000 of income support, they got a special award. So, you can do this at whatever level is most comfortable for you guys. Number 13, a video tour. Now a lot of you probably have done these, if you have a physical location that is worth having somebody walkthrough, you might actually have some sort of on-site tour, you may still have that. And that’s fantastic. But for those of you who don’t have the ability to physically have people come to your space, you may actually do a video tour. And it’s an invitation to come to this on-site visit and maybe you are taking your phone or your computer or actual physical camera around your facility and giving them a tour, showing them how their donation made a difference showing where the needs are.

Number 15, invite local businesses in your community or across the country, depending on where you’re located, that give discounts to your donors. Specifically, some businesses that are partners with you that say, ‘hey, if one of your donors comes to our place, we’re going to give them 10% off, or we’re going to give them 25% off because of their donations and their contribution to the work that you’re doing.’ That’s a great way for you to be able to engage local businesses, highlight those businesses that are a partner of yours, and then also give recognition and give something a discount when they’re buying gifts for the holiday season. Number 15 reach out on their special day. Maybe it’s their birthday. Maybe it’s their anniversary. Maybe even it’s the anniversary that they started giving to your cause. And just pay attention to those special dates and recognize them. Number 16 spotlight a donor on your website. Your website is your own space, you own your website. You have the ability to use that as an advertising platform so take this real estate that you have on your website and spotlight your donors. Number 17 create a personal experience. This is something that you don’t necessarily have to have that personal experience together, you can have that personal experience where they get to go somewhere, get to experience something that matters to your cause, and gives them that unique experience that they couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. It might be a guided tour; it might be a peek behind the scenes. Number 18 send a welcome kit or a package that really gives them that appreciation that you’re welcoming them into the organization. You might have a certain level of gift that somebody is giving where you mail them a special kit just has some swag in it so that they can start to promote the work that you do. And people can say, ‘where’d you get that shirt from?’ I can say ‘oh, well, I’m a new donor to the organization. And they sent me this great kit with all this stuff in it.’

Number 19 is a really, really easy thing for you to do, which is just sending a picture. This might be a text, this might be on Facebook Messenger, it could be an email, but sending a picture, not with a ton of text, but just the picture that describes what it is that you’re doing or a change that happened in somebody’s life because of them. So, if when I get a picture of somebody who’s like, hey, this kid just got access to resources that he never would have gotten access to, and it’s because of you. And that’s all that needs to be sent.  Number 20 is very similar to sending the picture. The final way that you can thank somebody is to share a short story of life transformation. Stories are ridiculously powerful. You guys know that when you can see a face when you can hear a voice when you start to really create that, like, this is why books are still a thing. This is why people continue to read and when they continue to read fiction or nonfiction is because storytelling is powerful. It’s why we watch movies, it’s why we watch TV, it’s because we want to be immersed in an experience and that story. So, use these stories to just invite people into the fold and walk through the experience that your people experience when they come through the life transformation that your cause is all about.

Those are my 20 ways to thank people and to show them the crazy incredible impact that they’re making in your cause in 2020. I just want to leave you with a few things to think about. As you continue on, I want to make sure that as you talk to your donors, and as you thank them, one of the things that we really struggle with is often when we thank donors, we have a tendency to also ask, so I want you to hold back. And really, take a moment to say this is really just our chance to say thank you. We’re not asking for anything in return, we’re just saying thank you. Hold and refrain yourself from making another ask on top of the thank you so we’re just flat out or focusing on the thank you not on another ask. We also want to focus on the donor, not their money. We want to focus on what a difference they made. Who are they? Why are they important to your cause, not their money, right? Money is the least exciting thing about any of us. The last thing we want to think about is actually talking about their money. We want to talk about them and what a difference they have made.

Connect with Mary:

Mary Valloni

Fundraising Freedom Academy

Fully Funded Academy



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