10 Secrets to a Great
Donor Gratitude Program

Susan E Mangels Senior Vice President Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald Author

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Consulting Services

As development professionals, we charge forward every day, working to bring in new support for our mission. In the midst of the hustle, I urge you not to forget an often quiet, but extremely important component of your fundraising health – your donor gratitude program.

High performing nonprofits prioritize donor gratitude and embed it as part of the ‘brand experience’ of the organization. A well done gratitude experience builds donor trust and engagement and encourages sustained giving.

Like all things in fundraising, the gratitude process has changed and evolved with technology, but fundamentals remain:

  • Thank donors as quickly and as personally as possible when they make gifts.
  • Make additional gratitude part of your donor communications throughout the year.

Philanthropy scholar Adrian Sargeant notes that, the thank you is the single most important piece of communication that your donors get. They have a higher recall of it than the appeal that generated the gift.”  Wow!

Donors really remember how we thank them. This needs to be a priority! Here are some secrets to running your first-rate donor gratitude program:

  1. It’s not one-and-done. Recognize that gratitude must be integrated in your whole cultivation and stewardship plan. You should aim to thank donors, in one way or another, seven times before you ask for the next gift.
  2. Personalize as much as possible. Think handwritten cards; a call from you at the event that the donor has helped to make possible; I’ve even seen a gingerbread house with the donor’s name frosted on the front door.
  3. Know your donor. How do they like to be ‘loved?’ Some donors like calls. Others, gifts. Some feel most appreciated by talking with a staff member over coffee. Tailor your approach much as you can.
  4. Update your template thank you language. This should be done periodically so that your letters reflect the latest in your organization and in the world.
  5. Get the facts. Make sure you have your donor’s name and address right. I’ve heard more than once, “in the thank you note they spelled my name wrong!” They’ll remember that.
  6. Act with alacrity. Send out thank you notes within 48 hours of receiving the gift. For larger or more significant gifts, give the donor a call the day it’s received.
  7. Have the right signature. Determine who is the best one to sign or communicate the particular thank you. Who will the donor get a kick out of hearing from? Who does the donor know personally?
  8. Acknowledge upgrades or repeat donations. Donors will see that they matter long term and not just for one gift. You can remind them that they are part of a select and core group supporting your mission over time.
  9. Consider a personalized donor report. This is a great way to demonstrate the impact of a gift, while saying thank you, emphasizing your organization’s accomplishments, and encouraging an upgrade!
  10. Encourage communication. In your thank you, indicate that you welcome communication with the donor, and be sure to provide a contact at the office.

Remember, your donors are a precious asset. They are essential to achieving your mission. Thanking them is the right thing to do … and it’s also an investment in your organizations future!

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D. serves as Senior Vice President of Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald. She uses her expertise in fundraising, management, and leadership development to oversee our consulting efforts and deliver exceptional service to clients.

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