Why Donor Appreciation is Crucial This Time of Year!

Guest blog post by: Margaret Battistelli Gardner

A special holiday poem (with great apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and Henry Livingston Jr., each of whom was credited at different times with writing the original “Twas the Night Before Christmas”)

Why Donor Appreciation Is Crucial This Time Of Year

‘Twas a few days before year-end and all through the land
Nonprofits were scrambling to put out a hand.
Donors’ mail and inboxes were stuffed to the hilt
With asks and appeals and a wee touch of guilt.
Fundraisers were huddled, awaiting the cash,
Ignoring, just maybe, they’d been a bit crass.
These donors, they knew, keep them sustained
And deserve so much more than the same old refrain.
When out of the slush pile arose something new –
A note from an org, just to say thank you.
Donors were shocked, and didn’t know what to do.
Not an ask was in sight – again, just … Thank you.
All over the land, fundraisers awoke
To the power of gratitude… this wasn’t a joke.
Appreciation is key, they thought to themselves
And got down to work like development elves.
They picked up their phones and called Mary Smith;
They jotted a note and didn’t ask for a gift.
Then they turned to the web, their eyes all a glitter:
On Instagram! On Facebook! On Snapchat! On Twitter!
They gathered their staff and a camera to click;
They all shouted “thank you” and posted it quick!
They made thank-you calls with the help of their board
Because donor appreciation is its own reward.
They held little parties – not big fancy dinners –
Just to tell donors, “Hey, you’re all great big winners”
And to get their input, their thoughts and their banter
Because, as you know, what donors think matters.
With just days to go if you’ve got nothing going,
Don’t throw your hands in the air and start oh-no-no-ing.
Yes, it’s quite close, and as you’re reading this still,
your options are few, but really not nil.
Write a sweet email, make a few calls.
Show them some love on social media walls.
Hold out your hand to give, not receive.
Open your heart, make them believe.
Then think about next year, how you’ll keep in touch
To let donors know that they mean so much.
For now, keep it simple and offer some cheer.
Happy thanking to all, and to all a great year!

We all know that the next week or so is prime time for charitable giving. And that means donors’ mailboxes, inboxes and, increasingly, social media feeds are jam-packed with communications from nonprofit organizations.

More precisely, they’re jam-packed with appeals, warm and fuzzy messaging that’s meant to tug at heart strings and open checkbooks and, on the more pragmatic side of things, reminders about the tax benefits of year-end charitable gifts.

But something is missing – in a big way. A couple of things, actually. 

First and foremost is donor appreciation. 

Among all of the year-end noise, there’s very little unabashed donor appreciation… of their support, of the time and treasure they share, of their advocacy and evangelism among their friends and social networks.

And opportunity. To grow and nurture those critical donor relationships. Nonprofits that show genuine donor appreciation are rewarded with deep engagement and more committed donors. 

Ideally, that appreciation happens throughout the year. But year-end is a natural time to kick it up a notch – or start doing it if you haven’t at other times (tsk tsk). 

How do you show donor appreciation at year-end? 

Year-end donor appreciation hits all the same check boxes as year-round efforts. But maybe with a twist or a little extra oomph.

Unless your organization serves people of a specific faith, it’s best to stay secular with your year-end touches. Only you can make the call about whether or not to use Merry Christmas or another faith-specific greeting, or none at all. 

Gail Perry, the effervescent head of Fired-Up Fundraising gets, well, fired up over donor appreciation. Some ideas that she recommends:

  • Create a personal “insider’s briefing” for donors. This can be a Skype chat, webinar, conference call… whatever works for you. Since you might not be able to do this very frequently, it works well for a special, annual event at year-end. Be sure to let your guests know you want to hear their thoughts – and give them opportunities to share them.
  • Hold private tours for donors. Invite them to visit your offices or, where appropriate, sites where your work shows. 
  • Host a social or series of socials for donors. Gail is adamant here that she’s not calling for donor appreciation events. “Who would want to come to that? Hold a porch party or a cook-out. Be sure you have a fun, not dreary event,” she says. “Turn it into a party!”
  • Send a newsletter just for donors. Easy-peasy… make it informal with lots of photos, stories, and information on what their support is helping you achieve. When it can be done with dignity, have beneficiaries of your work share their stories and how things have changed for them because of your donors’ support. 
  • Survey your donors. Year-end is a perfect time to get their insights on what they hope to see happen with their gifts in the coming year and beyond. A special donor-only survey can go a long way toward showing them that you value them and their opinions. 
  • Enlist board members to make calls to thank donors. Just to thank them. This is a great way to include board members on the fundraising side of things at your organization, especially those who might not feel comfortable actually making asks.
  • Organize a mission-specific service event where donors can take part in the work of your organization… cleaning up a community park, handing out food at the pantry, for example. This gives them a chance to feel truly connected, to meet your staff and maybe interact with the beneficiaries of your work.
  • Create a special “donors only” website where they can tell their own stories, interact with other donors, and find a sense of community and camaraderie with others who feel, as they do, that your work is worth supporting. And it’s a convenient place for you to share stories of impact, give real-time updates and engage in conversations. Of course, this is a year-round effort, but year-end is a great time to kick it off.

Direct-mail letters are, of course, another way to go. It’s kind of late at this point to orchestrate a mailing, but if you’re nimble enough to do it, go for it.

In his CharityHowTo webinar, “How to Write a Thank You Letter That Makes Donors Smile and Want to Give Again,” management specialist Simon Scriver speaks to the importance of donor appreciation as a foundation for donor-centered fundraising, which is crucial in building trust that your organization does worthwhile things with donor gifts and conducts its operations efficiently. And, therefore, is crucial to continued donor support.

The thank-you letter, he says, is a critical element in showing appreciation. In his webinar, he offers these suggestions on writing impactful thank-you letters.

Understand that acknowledgment letters and thank-you letters are two different things.

 One will go to the IRS and the other, if done well, will go to your donor’s heart. It may be tempting to save time and combine the two… but don’t.

  • Speak informally, in your organization’s authentic voice.
  • Personalize, personalize, personalize. 
  • Use images or graphics. 
  • Tell or a story. 
  • Be positive and hopeful for a brighter future, with your donor’s support. 
  • Send a handwritten note or add a handwritten note to the printed letter. 
  • Write shorter sentences and use shorter words in a one-page letter. 
  • Be donor-centered – eliminate “we” and replace it with “you.” 
  • Be specific about what you’re thanking them for… what they gave or did and how they made a real difference in the world. 

While it might be tempting to send out tchotchkes to thank your donors, remember… they trust you to be good stewards of the funds that they give your organization.

Ask yourself… is mailing out 10,000 pens with our logos on them really a good way to spend their hard-earned and humbly given money?

Except for those with the shallowest of connections to your organization or cause, donors at any level are sure to feel more respected by a genuine show of appreciation than even the nicest item you can shove into an envelope.

In any form of communication with donors, Scriver says, remember that these three things are key:

  1. Authenticity 
  2. Personalization – especially those handwritten notes! 
  3. Visual elements

Sciver cites storyteller Brene Brown on authenticity: “Authenticity is the choice to be honest, the choice to let our true selves be seen.” At year-end or any time, a disingenuous show of appreciation is just that – a show. 

And more likely than not is worse than no effort at all.

For more ideas and inspiration on how to engage with your nonprofits donors, check out these webinars.

Guest Blog Post By: Margaret Battistelli Gardner

Margaret is a collector and teller of stories, and a starry-eyed champion of the people and organizations. She’s been in love with the nonprofit sector since becoming the editor of FundRaising Success magazine in 2003, a position she held until 2015.

From 2016 to 2018, she was the chief scribe and content manager for The Resource Alliance, a global organization dedicated to cultivating new ideas around social change around the world. Currently she is a freelance writer and editor, and president of her fledgling consultancy, LunaSea Communications.

Margaret has been honored to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to help support amazing, life-changing organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Washington, D.C.), City Harvest (New York), The Resource Alliance (UK), and many more.