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10 creative donor recognition ideas to say thank you

September 20, 2021
This image shows a young man and woman sitting at a table with a laptop discussing creative donor recognition ideas.

A simple thank you can go a long way when it comes to donor appreciation. However, with countless nonprofit organizations sending emails, letters, and phone calls expressing their thanks, you need to employ more creative donor recognition methods that stand out.

Regularly expressing your gratitude can enhance the relationship between your nonprofit organization and your donors, especially when your messages are thoughtful and unexpected. As you start building these relationships, use these 10 ideas to spark your creativity and try new ways to thank your donors.

1. First-time donor thank-you and welcome packet

Create a packet expressing your gratitude for a first-time donation that also introduces new donors to your organization as a whole. In the packet, connect with your new donors on an emotional level by including photos of your team, projects, or the community you serve. When first-time donors can see who is doing the work and who is being helped, they’ll feel assured that their gifts make a tangible impact. 

Your thank-you and welcome packet should contain detailed information about your organization’s purpose, ongoing projects, and volunteer opportunities. Sharing this soon after a donor’s initial gift can help reinforce their excitement for giving and increase their engagement early on.

To avoid overloading first-time donors with too much information, focus your welcome packets on showing appreciation and welcoming them into your community. Provide just enough information about your nonprofit’s history to get them interested, but remember that appreciation is your number one priority.

2. Donor birthday cards   

Birthday cards communicate that your nonprofit organization cares about donors on an individual level. Sending well-wishes shows donors how much your organization appreciates them and values their support. 

Mail heartfelt cards at least a week prior to the donor’s birthday to ensure it arrives on time. Emphasize how grateful you are to have each individual donor as a member of your nonprofit’s community. 

Remember that this card’s purpose is only to appreciate the donor and help foster their relationship with your organization. There will be opportunities to ask for donations later. 

3. Donation anniversary cards 

Send your donors cards to commemorate the anniversary of their first donation to your organization. For donors who are part of your monthly giving program, consider sending out their anniversary cards on the day they first joined. By reminding donors of this important date, you show that your organization values their commitment and that their continued support does not go unnoticed. 

4. Donor recognition shout-outs on social media

Post a special message, photo, or video on your social media channels recognizing a donor’s contributions and tag them in the post. Shout-outs are fun, create a sense of excitement, and encourage other followers to join in and donate. Donors will be excited for an opportunity to share their involvement in your nonprofit with their friends, family, and personal network. 

Prior to posting a shout-out, ask for a donor testimonial about what motivated them to give and what projects they are interested in supporting. This can help shift the focus from their financial contribution to their excitement about your nonprofit’s work. By highlighting individual donors and their motivations for supporting your cause, you can show appreciation and create new connections when the donor shares it with their own network.

5. Donor profiles in newsletters  

Donor profiles are a great way to tell your donors’ stories and share the journeys that led them to be passionate about your purpose. Profiles make donors feel honored and valued, and they inspire other donors to increase their involvement. 

Ask donors to share their stories about why they initially became supporters, what programs they are involved in, and how joining the community has impacted them personally. Telling donor stories in your newsletters will make your donors feel like they’re a permanent, important part of the community. 

6. Personal thank-you videos 

Authentic, personal video messages build strong donor relationships. Record short videos right from your mobile device to communicate your appreciation for donors and volunteers. 

These casual videos don’t need to be professionally produced, so make the most of your time and resources by gathering a group of staff or board members to make several thank-you videos at once. Showing donors the people behind the scenes at your nonprofit can humanize the recognition, making your nonprofit as a whole feel more genuine. 

Pro tip: You can record thank-you videos using Bonterra Donor Engagement’s Guided Fundraising solution (formerly Network for Good) and send them directly from the platform. 

7. Handwritten thank-you notes from those you serve

While you may frequently send communications about the effectiveness of your nonprofit’s programs and services, how often does your support network hear from your beneficiaries?

Handwritten notes from the people you serve are highly personal and create a lasting impact on donors. Seeing that their contribution directly helped an individual will make donors feel like an integral part of your team. 

8. Donor appreciation event 

Donor appreciation events focus on thanking donors for their contributions and showcasing the work your organization has done with their funding to make donors feel both appreciated and empowered. 

Formal galas can be an extravagant way to thank donors, but informal thank-you parties can be just as significant. Parties are the perfect way to honor donors, bring your supporters together, celebrate the work you’re doing, and make new connections.

Partner with a local business or restaurant to host a luncheon, catered dinner, or happy hour. Many businesses will be happy to have the patronage and may even offer you a discount on catering services. 

9. Program team celebration 

Nonprofit programs require many groups of individuals to work together to fulfill a purpose bigger than any individual donor, volunteer, or staff member. At the end of a project, host a program team celebration to honor the groups’ accomplishments. Any size event can celebrate accomplishments like completing a building project, distributing all available supplies to constituents, or returning from a purpose-driven trip abroad. 

Meeting the team in person will help create a strong bond between your employees, volunteers, and major donors who all contributed to the same project. They will be able to talk candidly and discuss their individual experiences. 

Meet-the-team events are a perfect way to thank recurring or major donors. An informal coffee, picnic, or even something as simple as a tour of your office will give donors a valued opportunity to meet you face-to-face. 

10. Project photo book 

Photo books inspire donors and encourage them to continue their partnership with your organization. A project photo book can take the form of a scrapbook or a printed book. Include images of a project as your team worked on it and photos of the beneficiaries the project most impacted. 

Recruit volunteers to put together these photo books, then send them to donors either by sharing a link to a virtual book or by mailing a physical copy. Check donor communication preferences in your database and send the photo book to donors accordingly.

Appreciating your donors

The key to creative donor recognition is to make your appreciation meaningful and frequent enough that donors know how valued they are. Incorporate donor recognition strategies into your long-term marketing and campaign plans to continue stewarding donor relationships.

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    Donor Engagement
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing