Go Above and Beyond the Simple Thank You

Updated: May 14



What does your stewardship program look like? If it's like the majority of the ones out there it includes the standard thank you letter and maybe the annual report. But is that enough to really build a donor relationship? Saying thank you is just the start. It's what you do after that first or second donation that makes the difference. Here are a few tips on how to improve or enhance your donor recognition efforts. These are especially practical for smaller organizations that don't have buildings that can be named or annual donor dinners.


Tip 1: Listing donors' names in your annual report or on your website is not going to build a relationship. This is considered a very old-school practice that has created a lot of problems in hindsight. Names get missed, donors get mad for being publicly acknowledged without permission, and the data can be outdated. A lot of nonprofits are moving away from this practice and that's a GOOD thing. Get more creative and stop using old-school tactics that date you. A lot of groups are using social media instead. It allows you more flexibility and reach when it comes to donor recognition.


Tip 2: Let's talk about those repeat gifts. You know, those recurring donors who so effortlessly give to you month after month. Repeat gifts can make a big difference in your fundraising program. However, one of the biggest challenges for an organization is how to properly acknowledge and recognize these gifts. The first thing you want to do is ask the donors how they want to be thanked or recognized. This is your chance to further engage the donor in a conversation and build the relationship. Many monthly donors get tired of receiving the same thank you letter every time. You might think that the personalized note makes it better. That's true sometimes, however, you'll still have donors that do not want a monthly thank you letter or card. Find out what they want and honor their wishes.


Tip 3: Depending on the longevity of the gifts that the donors have been giving, you should also discuss public recognition. If you have a donor that has been giving for more than 10 years, it might be time to publicly recognize this donor (regardless of the dollar amount). You can do that through your website, social media or in another meaningful way to the donor. If your institution's gift policies or fundraising procedures do not include guidelines for recognizing repeat donors, you may want to update your policy to include guidance on honoring such gifts.


Tip 4: Personalization and customization do not have to cost hundreds of dollars. There are many ways to provide donors with something special to let them know you're grateful for their support. Start by identifying which donors you'd like to provide that above and beyond stewardship to. The ones selected could be chosen based on dollar amount or length of giving or even another method you'd like to use. Plan and invest in the recognition. Remember to make it an ongoing part of your program.


I've been fortunate enough to receive some amazing donor recognition items over the years. A few of my favorites include a small crystal boot, a Vegas Golden Knights Foundation Hockey Puck, a picture of my adopted parrot at an animal sanctuary, and a really cool coin with a charity's logo. The items were awesome and they remind me of the charities each time I look at them. Think about how you can make your donors feel good, even when you're not in front of them. They will remember you and respond when you ask for a donation again.