With the universal season of giving upon us, it is the perfect time for the non-profit community to give appropriate thanks to their donors and volunteers. These are some of the strategies that I have learned about acknowledging donors and volunteers over the years:
- Report the news! By and large, donors appreciate hearing news about organizations that they support. Or, at the very least, they like to hear about the activities of a non-profit; for example, our child care program went on a field trip to a museum last week. More important, donors like to understand the results or outcomes of their contributions; for example, the organization served 1,500 homeless individuals with hot meals last month.
- Be timely! There is nothing worse than sending the acknowledgement of a gift six months later – and after the donor may also have forgotten it! This can only serve to remind the donor not to donate again. Prompt and efficient responses to all gifts is a simple way to increase the likelihood of long associations with donors.
- Treat all gifts with gratitude and respect – no matter the size of the gift. Whether a donor gives $5, $500 or $50,000, all gifts need to be acknowledged appropriately. According to Kivi Leroux Miller of the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, 65 percent of first time donors do not make a second gift. Ms. Miller explains that donors want a simple, prompt and a meaningful thank you letter with some communication about how the donation was used.
- Volunteers are donors, too! In many non-profit organizations, volunteers often perform critical and invaluable functions. At an average national “value” of $22.14 per hour, a volunteer who frequently gives freely of their time, talent and energy can quickly add up to the equivalent of a salary that an organization is not paying. Volunteers need to be thanked and acknowledged at every opportunity we have.
- Hand-write notes. Despite the era of technological sophistication, people still like to receive hand-written notes! Rather than the officious form letter, hand-written note cards demonstrate personalization and the value of a relationship with a donor or volunteer. I have even hand-written the first names of donors and wrote personal notes in the margins of the officious form letter! This is especially true for donors or volunteers with whom we have personal and social relationships.
- Put their names in writing. In general, people also like to see their names in writing, which can also help them feel that their contribution is valued by the organization. Whether it is in a printed newsletter, on the organization’s website and/or on lists of particular levels of giving, donors do tend to check that their names have been listed in writing! However, discretion should be exercised in “publicly” listing the amount of a donation. That is, public acknowledgement is typically understood at the time of soliciting the gift – e.g., the ‘president’s circle’ of $10,000 and above donations will be included in the annual report. Of course, if a donation is designated as ‘anonymous’ upon receipt, the donor does not want to be publicly acknowledged and that needs to be respected.
- Plan a special event. Finally, another method of acknowledging volunteers and donors is to hold a special event around them or a holiday in order to thank and recognize them. Popular in volunteer management, some organizations use the concept of a volunteer luncheon; for example, to thank and recognize the people who help them every day. The same idea can be utilized with donors (and potential donors) and can include a tour of the organization or its facilities. A special event for this purpose need not be elaborate and can be as simple as a meet and greet, light refreshments or a social mixer. While having a breakfast or lunch does have costs associated with it, many businesses in the community are willing to make in-kind donations to a non-profit in order to help them thank their volunteers (and it’s good advertisement for their businesses!).
Nonprofit Marketing Guide by Kivi Leroux Miller, “Nine Clever Ways to Thank Your Donors”, January 18, 2012. Retrieved from:
Independent Sector, Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time, “National Value of Volunteer Time”, Summer 2013. Retrieved from: