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Donor Appreciation Done Right: A Quick Guide for Nonprofits

Donor Appreciation Done Right: A Quick Guide for Nonprofits

Your donors are the engine of your nonprofit. They provide the necessary funds to help you achieve your mission. That’s why every donor, from your most passionate supporter to a one-time giver, deserves to be thanked for their contributions. 


Not only does donor appreciation demonstrate that you value your supporters, but it is also one of the best engagement strategies you can use to avoid donor churn. You want to do everything in your power to retain and engage the donors who have supported your cause. Consistent and heartfelt thank-yous are an essential factor in helping you do so.


However, getting donor appreciation right can sometimes be a challenge for nonprofits. There are so many options for expressing gratitude and it can be hard to know which ones to include in your donor appreciation strategy.


Regardless of which options you decide on to thank your donors, there are some best practices you should follow to ensure that your efforts are effective. To get donor appreciation right, you should: 

  • Take a personalized approach.
  • Be timely.
  • Highlight your donor’s impact. 
  • Use your creativity.
  • Recognize your donors in your facility.

Being genuine in your donor recognition efforts will go a long way to show that you truly appreciate your donors’ generosity and to build stronger relationships. Ultimately, donors want to feel connected to your organization, so a personal and sincere thank you will help them feel integral to your cause — which they are!

Take a personalized approach. 

Have you ever received a letter that said, “Dear valued customer?” If so, it probably didn’t make you feel very valued. That’s because whoever sent that letter didn’t take a personalized approach to their outreach method and instead made you feel like a cog in a machine. 


Personalization is an essential part of donor appreciation. Your donors don’t want to feel like they’re just part of a mass of people — they want to feel like individuals who are important to your organization. Here are some tips for personalizing your donor appreciation efforts: 

  • Use the donor’s name: Whether you’re sending a handwritten thank you note, creating a video message, or designing a donor recognition wall, you should use the donor’s name. Doing so helps the donor feel seen as an individual rather than an ATM. And by using the right software, you can automate this process so that every donor can be addressed by name quickly and easily. 
  • Segment your donors: Donor segmentation is the process of categorizing donors based on shared characteristics. For instance, the strategy you use to thank large donors will likely differ from how you show your appreciation for smaller donors. Segmenting donors by gift size allows you to tailor specific messages to each group while still giving both of them the attention they deserve. 
  • Pick the right marketing channel: Perhaps your donors have told you how they prefer to be contacted or maybe you’re making an educated guess based on their demographic. Regardless, different types of donors will use different marketing channels, and the tone and messaging you use on each channel should reflect the type of donor who uses it. For example, your donor recognition messaging on social media might target a younger audience, while direct mail content is intended for an older audience.

Taking a personalized approach in your donor appreciation efforts makes supporters feel appropriately recognized for their deeds. Although it might seem time consuming, it doesn’t have to be! With the right donor management tools, sending a personalized thank you note can happen automatically and can make all the difference. 

Be timely. 

Time is of the essence when it comes to donor appreciation. In fact, according to this resource on donor appreciation, nonprofits should send some sort of thank you note within a week of the donation. Doing so can improve relationships with donors and might even secure a long-term connection.


Conversely, sending your token of appreciation months after a donation has been made can harm your donor retention rates. A donor might think that your nonprofit is disorganized or doesn’t value their contribution, which is certainly not the case! To keep donors engaged, express your appreciation sooner rather than later. 


And, even if you have bigger things in store for your donor appreciation efforts, such as a donor wall or gala, it’s still important to send a smaller acknowledgement soon, or automatically, after the donation. This way, donors will receive some instant gratification, and they might feel more inclined to check out your latest donor recognition display or attend an event celebrating their support later on.

Highlight your donor’s impact.

There are lots of reasons why donors contribute to nonprofit organizations, but for many donors, the reason is to make a difference for a cause they care about.


That’s why it’s essential that you highlight your donor’s impact in your appreciation or recognition strategy. Here’s how: 

  • Translate dollars into real action: On your campaign materials, explain what certain donations can help your nonprofit achieve. For example, “A $50 donation provides textbooks for a student in need.”
  • Publicly thank large donors: Consider giving your larger donors a shoutout, whether in your nonprofit’s annual report or in a newsletter. But don’t forget to obtain the donor’s permission before sharing anything!
  • Share your accomplishments in your annual report: In your nonprofit’s annual report, outline everything you’ve achieved in the past year thanks to the help of your generous donors. Then, email a copy to everyone who contributed to your nonprofit so they can see how their donations made a difference.

Emphasizing impact within your donor appreciation strategy can help grow your relationships with donors. With a better understanding of how their donations make a difference, they will be more inclined to continue giving to your trustworthy organization. 

Use your creativity. 

Donor appreciation is a great place to channel your nonprofit’s creativity. Designing a unique appreciation experience, whether it’s through a fun event or a commemorative t-shirt, demonstrates that you value your donor’s interactions with your organization even after they’ve contributed. 


Here are some creative ways you can show your appreciation: 

  • Social media shout-outs Giving your donors a shoutout on social media is a great way to publicly thank them for their contributions. It might even inspire others to donate, especially if you spotlight donors who have a personal connection to your cause.
  • Care packages: Send a small care package with some merchandise or information about your nonprofit. The care package and the goodies inside will be a long-lasting reminder of your nonprofit and your donors will appreciate that you went the extra mile. 
  • Tours of your facility: If your nonprofit runs an active facility, donors might love to see how everything happens on the ground. A tour of your facility will also give your staff a chance to connect with donors on a personal level. 

It’s even better if these creative approaches to donor appreciation are branded to your nonprofit, which will make them more memorable and enjoyable for supporters passionate about your organization. This Eleven Fifty Seven guide to nonprofit branding can help you elevate your branded experiences to the next level. 

Recognize your donors in your facility.

Physical donor displays recognize the supporters who have made your work towards your mission possible. By building these displays in your facility, you remind your staff, beneficiaries, and supporters that donors really do make a difference. While there are all kinds of possibilities for donor displays, these three are the most popular: 

  • Donor wall: Donor appreciation walls publicly thank your donors for their contributions and bring a beautiful display to your facility. They can also provide donors with different donation tiers, which might encourage more people to get involved. For example, if a donor wants their name printed larger, give them the option to provide a bigger donation.
  • Plaque: Plaques are a great way to recognize a large donor who sponsored the expansion of your facility or a recent renovation. They clearly care deeply about your mission, so recognizing the specific impact of their contribution within your facility is a powerful way to say thank you! Additionally, plaques can commemorate someone who cared about your cause or contributed greatly to your mission.
  • Donor spotlight: Donor spotlights allow you to recognize different donors on a rotational basis in your facility, such as by spotlighting a particularly active supporter each month. Doing so can help your team get to know important friends of your organization.

A physical display of your appreciation for your donors is a special and memorable way to honor your generous supporters. You could even host an unveiling party to celebrate the amazing impact that your donors have made!


Donor appreciation is one of the most effective ways to build strong relationships with your donors and to retain their support over time. Whether it’s simply using the donor’s name in thank you letters or designing a donor wall for your facility, any token of appreciation can go a long way. Invest a little extra time into your donor appreciation efforts so that your supporters will see that you truly value their generosity. 


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