Donor Recognition

Give them a reason to be proud of their support

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People give their time and money to a cause they care and want to feel good about. It’s that simple. We already reiterated in the section about volunteer recognition that one of the most important things is to thank people. You literally can’t thank them enough, because at the end of the day they gave voluntarily. They didn’t have to, and they chose YOU and YOUR cause.

When we think of donor recognition, what comes to mind is a flood of paper and emails. Have you ever donated spontaneously online and in return were inundated with emails you did not sign up for? Or you first got a thank-you card in the mail, not always personalized or hand-written, which was inevitably followed right after by more requests for donations? This is exactly the way not to do it, but if you are a large non-profit organization, you can afford to throw money in the wind for things like this, hoping some of it will blow back your way.

Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with other important holidays, are a time of thanks. Donors get thanked a lot around those calendar dates, and invited to more giving, and gala dinners. Instead of concentrating your appreciation like this, you should make it a habit of recognizing your donors year-round.

The main focus should be authenticity. If it sounds like it comes from the heart, no matter what you do will go a long way.

Not Just for the Holidays: Make a List, Check it Twice

Come up with a list of meaningful things for your particular group of donors. Not all of them are the same, and what works for one group’s givers doesn’t necessarily work for somebody else’s. Nothing in this list has to actually cost any money. On the contrary, your donors want their money to go to the cause, not be spent on them.

Following are a couple of ideas of donor appreciation that cost if not nothing, then next to nothing.

Call Your Donors

When you receive a donation, be sure you have as a minimum their name(s) and an email address/phone number. Instead of sending them only an email with a quick “thank you”, call them personally. Leave a message if they are not home.

It should contain a personal note, not simply be a script you’re reading from. You may of course work off of a script, especially if you’re by nature shy or if you’re not sure you will find the right words spontaneously. Call them all, regardless of how much they gave; somebody not making a lot of money donating $5 should be equally important as the person who could afford it and gave $500.

Make a Thank-You Video

Most everybody has a smartphone, and all of them take video. They are so good now that even without a tri-pod you should be able to take a short video without much camera shake. Worried that you have no idea about video editing? It doesn’t matter: people want authenticity, and nobody expects this to look like a professional made it (that said, if you have a professional willing to donate their time and expertise for one, it obviously doesn’t hurt).

Make a short “story board” outlining what you are going to do or say. You can feature staff and/or recipients of your services directly impacted by donations. Be sure that you have releases on file for anybody appearing in your video.

The main advantage of a video is that they are also very shareable, and the possibilities are virtually endless. If you happen to have somebody on hand who knows some basic editing, you can make short, funny videos that will hopefully be widely shared.

Write a Personal Thank-You Note

We have all seen pre-printed mass mailings from organizations we have donated to. If we’re lucky, they got the spelling of our name right. This is not what we’re talking about here. Instead, opt for a personal, handwritten note. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple “Thank you for your donation.”, signed yours truly.

What matters is that it has a personal touch at a time when most of what we are sent does not. Plan this into your weekly routine so your hand doesn’t fall off if you have a lot to mail.

Worried about postage? Yes, an email will be OK – just make sure it doesn’t sound like a mass mailing.

Highlight Your Donors on Social Media

As much as we all would like to go offline some days, social media won’t go away any time soon. It is also a way for you to stay in touch with the people who care about you.

Besides the video mentioned above, feature a donor here and there. If possible (and if they’ve agreed to it), do a personal profile with a picture. Personalize things as much as you can, and consider a hashtag like “#thankfulthursdays”.

Personalize It

If and when you post updates to your social media and elsewhere, be sure to include the stories of real people, if possible. That means if you serve a certain clientele, where you can collect their story, get photos and releases. It sounds exploitative, but at the end of the day the people helping you want to know they made a difference. So, if your clients don’t mind and sign you a release, by all means, whatever you do should feature “real people”.

A Word On “Tchotchkes”

So, you want to express your gratitude, and let’s just assume you have some money left in your coffers. You can, of course, spend that money on “branded” key chains and the like. And some people would probably “dig them”. That said, most other folks would prefer that that money went to the cause or people whose welfare they donated towards. If you spend too many funds on branded “tchotchkes”, at some point you will face the scrutiny of somebody asking, “Why?”

In our estimation “tchotchkes” have yet to make a donor happy. Our advice: don’t buy any, invest in any, they will not get you more donors or donations.