Feb 10, 2022

Guide to thanking donors


As a nonprofit, you know you need to thank your donors. You do it year after year, donation after donation. But why is it so critical?

We all know that it is more expensive to acquire a brand new donor rather than retain an existing one. Every time your organization is not retaining these one-time donors, it costs your organization valuable dollars. It is simply more cost-effective and efficient to focus on retaining your donors.

A timely and sincere thank you message that provides evidence of how funds raised are making a difference will help you keep donors interested and build a trusting relationship with them. This will set them up to be more engaged with your organization in the future and become a potential recurring donor.

You’ll want to thank your donors immediately and often. Following this donor thank you timeline can help you achieve maximum donor retention. 

Immediately after a donation

Timing is everything when it comes to your thank you message. Penelope Burk explains in her book Donor Centered Fundraising that “Your thank you should get out the door within 48 hours. Period. No arguments… If you don’t thank donors promptly, you’re destroying all the rest of your hard work… Timely follow-up matters. A lot.”

Your first thank you message should be immediate. Recognize your donor and show your appreciation with an automated or timely email. Email receipts will usually include transactional information for donors. However, it’s also important to use your receipt to your donor as an opportunity to begin your thank you message and storytelling. This thank you should leave the donor feeling instant gratification for supporting your organization.

If your supporter made a donation at your event, adding the bonus of displaying real-time donations on-screen that include their name can leave donors feeling instant gratification for supporting your cause.

A step ahead, an animated thank you message on-screen after their donation creates a unique giving experience they’ll never forget. Thank yous like this help inspire that donor, and other donors to continue supporting your cause again and again.

Would you like to know more about using an animated thermometer for your next event or campaign?Request a Free Demo of Our Live Thermometer

Within the first few days of your campaign

You’ve sent out an immediate thank you email, but your work is not done. Multi-channel communication is crucial when asking for funds and every channel should be used in communicating your results.

By communicating through multiple channels, you are helping ensure that your message is being seen. Did you send emails, make social posts and send texts for your donation asks? Then your thank yous should follow the same strategy. In the weeks that follow the end of your campaign, use this time to make sure everyone on all channels know your results.

This is a great opportunity to be creative and specific about the impact metrics of your campaign. You can create fun, attention grabbing graphics that help demonstrate the impact of your campaign. Posting on social media also allows your supporters to be part of the conversation!

A fun and dynamic example of LoveOne’s Instagram Thank You post updating their followers on the success of their campaign.

Be specific when sharing your campaign’s success by including impact metrics whenever possible. Complete your story through each channel you use and share your progress. By doing so, you are making it more likely for their participation in the future.

Within the first week after your campaign

Lack of communication about the results of a fundraising campaign is one of the main reasons that donors do not give again. You want to be as thorough as possible when updating your donors of your campaign results and make sure to thank them again within the first week after the campaign ends. This thank you message is meant to demonstrate your organization’s impact as a result of the campaign. This will help you attribute how your single donor helped with part of something much bigger.

While running the campaign, your organization likely went deep into storytelling. You presented the problem and your proposed solutions. But was there a resolution? Your donors need (and want) to hear the end of your story!

You can start by answering some of these questions and communicating the answers to your supporters:

  • Did you reach your goal for your campaign? What was your total raised?? 
  • What will you be able to do with the total amount raised?
  • Can you break it down further, for example, does every $100 raised help something in particular?

Did you receive help from supporters that weren’t donations, like volunteered time or help sharing on social media? They need a thank you, too!

See an example of an impact report that The United Way of Ventura County emailed to update those who supported their Thomas Fire & Flood Campaign.

Within the first month

When making your thank yous, the best way to build that personal connection with your donor is to be creative! In the month that follows the end of your campaign, use different types of media to share your message. Some ideas include:

  • Handwritten Notes: Even with the huge shift to digital messaging, nothing beats a handwritten thank you note. Who are your beneficiaries? Have them write the thank you. 
  • Thank-A-Thon: Phone calls are another great, personal way to connect with your donors. Get your board, staff and/or volunteers together to make a round of phone calls to tell your donors how much you appreciate them. 
  • Create a Thank You Video: Get together members of your organization, volunteers, or better yet, beneficiaries to share the progress of the campaign, why it’s so important, and of course, a big thank you!

Trinity Classical Academy’s #GivingTuesday Thank You video featured staff, teachers, and students to connect on a more personal level with their donors. They even displayed a digital thermometer showing donations come in, along with their names. 

Throughout the year

Another big reason donors don’t give again is they simply were never asked again. Be mindful about the data you’re collecting from donors during a campaign and put that data to good use. Develop a cadence to keep in touch with these donors throughout the year, at least once a quarter, ideally once a month. In these communications, share your organization’s success stories and also make sure to remind your donors just how their funds are making a difference.

If you run your campaign annually, consider special communications to donors you know have given in to past campaigns. Acknowledging them for their previous gift solidifies your relationship with them as well as the importance of their past and future support.

For any and all types of fundraising campaigns, thank yous should never be overlooked. They help resolve the campaign and allow your organization to be as efficient as possible. By being heartfelt with your thank you messaging you will leave your donor feeling great about their participation and you will increase the likelihood of them getting involved again in the future. Bring in your creative touch and let everyone know the happy ending to your story!

Top 3 tips for thanking your donors

The holiday season provides nonprofits with the perfect reason to reach out to donors and constituents with a message of gratitude. Thank you communications are vitally important and, all too often, are one of the first to be dropped when an organization is stretched thin. While they may feel like a mere nicety, messages like these cultivate your relationship with donors and will stay with them long term. 

In fact, seven out of ten people say they remember a thank you letter from an organization more than they remember an appeal or ask. 

Thank you messages attached to automated email receipts can go a long way for immediate response, but don’t let it stop there. Why not use year’s end as a chance to reach back out to your donors and remind them of the difference they made. This creates goodwill and opens the door for them to consider making a future gift.

Here are 3 tips to craft the perfect thank you so you can create deeper connections with donors and inspire more giving.

1. The donor did it

Start by directly connecting your donor to the results of your organization’s efforts. After all, you couldn’t accomplish any of it without them. 

For example: “Your gift helped provide 10 new students with a scholarship that sets them up for post-college success.” 

Notice that your organization isn’t mentioned when describing their impact. The shorter the distance from the donor and the results, the more emotionally rewarding it is for them, and therefore more likely they’ll want to recreate that good feeling. 

2. Storytelling is key

We say this a lot because it’s true. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to motivate people to give. But the story doesn’t end with their donation. Keep communicating your mission and impact in order to continue the donor’s journey toward their next chance to donate. 

When thanking your donors, look for opportunities to feature a beneficiary with a success story. Donors want to hear the happy ending, especially if they know their individual contribution is going to help create more of them. This heartwarming approach is what helps your thank you stand out and keeps your organization in the forefront of a donor’s mind.

Would you like more assistance writing donor thank yous? Download our customizeable Thank You templates. Simply add your own images, message and logo to easily share your gratitude and inspire more donations.Download Free Thank You Templates

3. Share your thanks everywhere

Every channel you use to communicate is up for grabs when it comes to gratitude. Sending thank you notes by direct mail and email should be only the beginning. Your donors are also on social media. So, post a thank you video, or spotlight a donor and tag them. If resources are thin, you can repurpose the content of the direct mail or email into a post on Facebook or Instagram, and include a moving picture. 

Thanking on social media makes your message shareable, helping to further spread awareness of your organization and its work. This also shares the personality of your organization, drawing people in to join your cause and be recognized too.

Holding a Thank-A-Thon can be a fun, unique way to really lean into gratitude. Use your board and volunteers to make phone calls thanking your donors. Some recipients might even be so touched, they’ll want to make another gift. You can even create a virtual event by live streaming with a service like Facebook Live.

In-person events are another great way to show donors how much you appreciate them. Try inviting beneficiaries to attend. Allowing donors and beneficiaries to connect in-person will deepen the emotional impact of donating. 

And of course, don’t forget text messages! Receiving a simple text message of thanks is an easy way to bring a smile to your donor’s face. You can link to content you’ve created on other channels, such as a thank you video on YouTube or a Facebook post, to make sure they see it. These small reminders of appreciation are the building blocks of meaningful donor relationships.

However you choose to thank your donors this year, keep it sincere and heartfelt, and be sure to save the ask for another day. Remember: Year-End Giving is right around the corner, so you’ll get plenty of chances to ask for gifts later. This time around, send a message that is purely meant to make your donors feel truly appreciated.


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