Customized donor recognition is key to maintaining relationships


Donor recognition and expressing gratitude for gifts received are important development responsibilities for every nonprofit organization.

Acknowledging a donor’s generosity begins with the understanding that receiving a gift is the difficult part. Thanking them, it would seem, should be the enjoyable part. Then why do so many nonprofit organizations skip it – or fail to take time to properly thank their donors? Unfortunately, it is because they have already moved on to seeking that next gift. That is a mistake.

There are different ways an organization can recognize donors for their generosity.

The first is group recognition. Most organizations do this well. They create donor walls, recognize benefactors by listing donor categories in their publications and send thank you notes. All of these steps are important and necessary. Group recognition also provides an opportunity for creativity. Some examples from campaigns the Steier Group has led:

A Plinko board (think “The Price is Right”), with donor names on individual wooden chips. The board was strategically placed in the gathering space where people had to walk by it on their way to Mass.

An oversized tree situated in a school entryway, which bears colorful leaves with individual donor names. Students created the leaves. The campaign raised funds for school improvements.
The key to thanking those who have given to a larger project is to establish the protocol before beginning the fundraising. Create a menu for donor recognition for each level of giving. Involve your leadership in creating that menu.

Next is determining how to thank the individual donor. Figuring out how to creatively recognize individual donors can be a challenge. It takes time and it begins with getting to know who they are and what motivates them to support your organization.

If their motivation for giving is to be recognized, give them that honor. Thank them publicly in front of a group. Feature this individual or couple for a donor spotlight article in your newsletter. If their motivation is driven by devotion to your mission, a personal, heartfelt thank you may be the best way to express gratitude. Send follow-up updates on how their gift has made an impact for your nonprofit.

If their motivation is that they enjoy being part of a team, get them involved in a special project. Let them be a part of a group that accomplished something worthwhile collectively. And thank the team.

Making time for those who give to your cause is something that may be overlooked in the busy days of running a nonprofit or leading a parish/congregation. It needs to be one of your highest priorities.

The executive director of a local nonprofit told me he sets aside 15 minutes every day to either create handwritten notes or to call donors. Fifteen minutes does not seem like a huge time constraint on one’s day, but those minutes can make a substantial difference with your donors. If it was worth your time to call or personally visit someone to ask for a gift, it seems appropriate to afford them that same level of contact to thank them.

How do you describe your benefactors? Are they your donors or are you one of the nonprofits they support? If you view them as the latter, I think you will recognize the importance of developing a relationship with them and expressing your gratitude for their generosity.

For this executive director, and for you, the time set aside to creatively and strategically thank donors is well worth it. If you have more questions about donor recognition or ways that the Steier Group can help, please contact me.

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