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How to create an attitude of gratitude at your nonprofit

April 21, 2021
Several nonprofit professionals stand together applauding, demonstrating an attitude of gratitude at their nonprofit.

From early childhood, we are taught the significance of the words “thank you.” These two simple words are just as crucial to the relationship between a nonprofit organization and its donors. 

Most nonprofits send acknowledgment letters after receiving gifts and routinely thank donors for their gifts. However, to truly engage and retain donors, it’s important to foster an attitude of gratitude and create a culture of appreciation for our donors. Developing a donor-centric gift acknowledgment policy is key to ensuring donors feel appreciated and board members are excited about fundraising—which is a win-win for any nonprofit!

To create an attitude of gratitude, reflect on the following questions.

Who is involved in the thank-you process?

Begin with deciding who should be involved in the thank-you process. Most nonprofits have their staff or volunteers handle thanking donors, but you can ask almost anyone in your nonprofit to help create an attitude of gratitude towards your donors. Here are a few ways you can request that people participate in the thank-you process:

  • Print a weekly gift report that’s given to every staff and board member involved in thanking donors. Brainstorm ways to make sure every donor knows their gift matters.
  • Invite board members into the thank-you process. Thank them first and recognize their gifts and role as huge supporters of your organization.
  • Prepare thank-you cards at board meetings with notes about the donor and ask board members to write or sign thank-you notes. You might also ask them to make phone calls, thanking the donors before the meeting officially begins.

Whomever you decide to involve in the thank-you process should be dedicated to fostering an attitude of gratitude. Ensure that they show their genuine appreciation for donors and can explain why each gift makes a difference.

What is your gift acknowledgment policy?

Your nonprofit should have a plan for gift acknowledgment to help streamline the thank-you process. Ask yourself the following questions to help establish your policy:

  • Do we have this policy in writing so that it is an organizational process, not person-dependent?
  • Is it part of a larger, more encompassing thank-you policy?
  • What happens from the moment the gift arrives?
  • Does the gift amount determine the speed of acknowledgment, who the “thanker” is, or the method of thanking?

Establishing a gift acknowledgment policy not only helps to streamline the thank-you process but also gives guidance on what the attitude of gratitude looks like at your nonprofit. By clearly outlining your expectations, your nonprofit’s staff will understand what kind of appreciation culture you are trying to foster.

When is each donor thanked?

It’s important to differentiate between your gift acknowledgment policy and your gratitude process—the former deals specifically with communications just after a donor has made a gift, whereas the latter is about your nonprofit’s attitude of gratitude in general. Consider when your nonprofit should show gratitude to donors by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How often are gratitude-based communications sent? Is it a daily, weekly, or monthly task?
  • Are larger donors thanked more quickly than smaller donors? Is a $10,000 gift acknowledged the same way as a $10 gift?
  • Is a donor thanked at any time besides in the gift acknowledgment letter or the next ask?

Each donor deserves to feel appreciated, even if they haven’t made a donation recently. If you’re communicating with a donor who hasn’t made a gift in a while, you should still reference their previous gifts and extend your gratitude.

How are donors thanked?

Make sure to center donors in your nonprofit’s activities. Acknowledge specific donors by name during meetings, so that your staff is aware of who has given to your organization. If you have an opportunity to thank a donor personally, take that chance. Here are a few ways you can thank donors:

  • Establish gratitude dates. Decide on a few set times of the year that your organization will focus on donor gratitude. This can coincide with national holidays, or it can be unique to your nonprofit.
  • Produce thank-you videos. Use these videos to feature program participants, and send them via email to donors.
  • Mention donors in communications. This can be on your website, in newsletters, and in social media. For example, you might post a weekly social media “shout-out” that highlights specific donors.
  • Hold an annual appreciation event. Your event can be as formal or casual as you’d like. If you’re looking to host an event smaller than a large gala, consider organizing a picnic or a wine-tasting night.

Donors enjoy being thanked in quirky, unexpected, and fun ways. Brainstorm how to make your tokens of appreciation stand out. You might consider hosting a staff meeting where everyone helps come up with ideas—this will help you focus on donor appreciation and prioritize an attitude of gratitude!

Center gratitude in your operations

John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” This is especially true for nonprofits, who rely on donors to help work towards their cause. Focus on how the donor makes a difference, and facilitate a relationship between them and your nonprofit’s beneficiaries, and you’ll be able to create an attitude of gratitude with ease.

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