Learning to Say Thank You


by Veronica Bainbridge, Chapter Board Member

Director of Development, Madison Square Park Conservancy


I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!  As fundraisers, we think a lot about giving thanks. AFP’s Donor Bill of Rights affirms the expectation of appropriate acknowledgement and recognition. It’s good manners to thank your supporters, and in some cases it’s a legal requirement (above a certain level).

But we all seek ways to ensure that donors truly feel thanked beyond the print or pixels of the basic acknowledgement. Philanthropy is a choice, and our donors don’t have to choose us.

I just read the new report by The Philanthropy Centre called Learning to Say Thank You, which concludes that an investment in building out acknowledgements can pay real dividends.I use the terms deliberately. Donations are investments, with a return expected in the form of mission accomplishment and social good. And it’s becoming increasingly important to share your impact – which is also their impact – with your donors in creative and compelling ways.

Our business calls for the development of authentic relationships supporting a financial goal. The better the relationship, the more accurately you can project future revenue.

Here are some thoughts on ways to thank donors in order to enhance their experience, build your relationships with them, and thus help sustain the vital work of your organization.

  • Credit them. You may already publish a list on your website or in your annual report, but your executive director or Board leadership can also thank donors in a speech at your next event. Print and e-newsletters should always state that donations make your work possible. When it comes to major gift prospects (whatever that means to you), perhaps you can turn a particular project element like a catalogue or research publication into an opportunity to inspire and recognize an increased contribution. Bonus – when you publicly credit donors, it helps convey the message that your cause relies on philanthropic investment.
  • Value them. Make it clear to your donors that you don’t just think of them as sources of money. “Saw this and thought of you” strikes a great note if you know a donor well enough to send something (even just a link to a news story) related to their personal interests. If they are attending an event or program, can you greet them personally or ensure that they get special treatment when they show up? Or perhaps a subset of donors gets a note of thanks from your staff or beneficiaries. It doesn't have to be something costly to pull off, but those unexpected moments of appreciation can truly resonate.
  • Delight them. It might not be why they signed on, but if you can make your donors’ experience exciting or enjoyable, it adds real value to the relationship. It’s also fun to create memorable experiences for others – whether it’s an introduction to an artist or insight from an expert, access to somewhere special or private, a call from a Board member, or just a great party which makes them feel proud to be on your team.
  • Enlighten them. Particularly if your work involves advocacy, you will be thinking about turning donors into ambassadors. I always find it rewarding to learn and share the details of exactly how the work solves a problem or serves a need, and also how decisions are made within the organization. This ensures you’ll be in close communication with program staff – which gives you a chance to build your culture of philanthropy – and means you'll be well-informed in conversations about major gifts. 
  • Empower them. While you will always need to ensure the integrity of your organization’s vision and protect the expertise of the program staff, is there a way that you can include donors in decision-making that relates to the mission and core activities? A group of educated major supporters might vote on where their contributions are directed, or a survey might make your community feel involved.

Lastly, don’t forget to join AFP in 2019 for professional advancement events which will provide even more ideas for stewardship. Thank you again for all your hard work!

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