Donor Appreciation: 4 Effective Strategies for Nonprofits

Donor Appreciation: 4 Effective Strategies for Nonprofits

When was the last time you received a really good “thank you” from someone? Did someone send you a note thanking you for a birthday gift? Did a family member thank you for a favor you did for them? Chances are, if the appreciation note came as a letter, you didn’t immediately throw it away. And if it came in person, you may have thought the words over during your next commute. 

The fact is that a note or token of genuine thank you sticks with us for a little while. You receive a warm, fuzzy feeling in your stomach when you know that someone truly appreciates you. 

Nonprofits often don’t put enough stake and effort into their appreciation of supporters.  They frequently think a simple “thanks” will be enough. However, when you show real, genuine, heartfelt gratitude for your supporters, they remember it. 

Showing appreciation to your supporters is a crucial part of developing a sustainable system for your organization. That’s because it plays directly into your donor retention strategy. 

Retaining supporters is the best way to bring in consistent revenue, increase that revenue, and spend less on fundraising acquisition activities. On average, donor retention rates rest around 40% to 45%, but thousands of dollars more can be saved simply by increasing this by a few percentage points. Those percentage points become attainable when you work to build stronger relationships with your supporters, starting with (you guessed it) appreciation. 

In this guide, we’ll walk through a few of our favorite strategies that nonprofits can use to improve their appreciation programs and increase retention with supporters. Specifically, we’ll cover: 

  1. Calling your donors. 
  2. Creating a timeline specifically for first-time donors. 
  3. Focusing on the impact supporters have made. 
  4. Responding directly to supporters’ interests. 

Ready to jump into appreciation strategies? Let’s get started. 

1. Call Your Donors

When a donor gives online to a nonprofit, they expect a confirmation email. It’s become common practice for them to receive a combined confirmation and appreciation email in response to their contribution. If this constitutes the extent of your appreciation efforts, you’re likely leaving donors feeling cold. 

Ideally, your organization should be reaching for the stars to stand out from the crowd. That’s what helps build relationships and keeps them coming back. Therefore, it’s necessary to find a new and more personal way to communicate your appreciation. 

We recommend calling your donors. When nonprofits call their donors within at least 90 days of their contribution to say “thank you,” first-time donors are more likely to give again, to give sooner, and to contribute more to the organization. 

This graph displays the impact of phone calls on donor retention rates.

The graph above shows the immense impact that a phone call can make on the likelihood of a donor giving a second time. No phone calls lead to about 33% of donors giving a second time, one call results in 41% of donors giving again, and more than one call results in 58% retained supporters. 

When you make these calls, they shouldn’t be completely aimless or unscripted, although they also shouldn’t be unfriendly or rigid. We recommend taking the following steps to prepare for these calls, while also ensuring they’re as natural as possible: 

  • Check out the donor’s information in your donor database. Take note of how much they contributed, how long ago, what campaign it was for, and other important details that can help lead to a more personalized conversation. This is one reason why it’s so helpful to have access to your database as a part of a fundraising mobile app. You can do your research from the same device you call with!
  • Plan out what you’ll say ahead of time. Planning conversations beforehand can help them be more straightforward and minimize rambling. The main purpose of the call should be appreciation, but donors do frequently want a “next step” as well. However, make sure this “next step” isn’t to donate again. For example, if you send a welcome packet after a first donation, ask donors if they’ve received it or if they have any questions for you. If they haven’t read it, then ask them to take a look so they can learn more about your mission. 

As our world has become more and more digitally minded, we have inadvertently taken the personalization out of many of our communication strategies. How connected do you feel reading an email or a social media post versus actually talking to someone on the phone? Picking up the phone or scheduling a time to connect via Zoom is a way to add that personal touch back into interactions. 

These personal connections are what drive supporters and help you develop relationships with them. The next step you should add into your organization’s strategy is ensuring these relationships are cultivated early, as soon as you know someone has taken interest in your organization. 

2. Create a New Donor Timeline

Not all donors should be treated the exact same way. Everyone is unique and, therefore, different appreciation strategies will resonate more effectively with different groups of supporters. That’s why nonprofits group supporters into carefully selected segments for marketing and communications. 

One of the most important segments you can create for your donor appreciation strategy is new supporters. These are the people with whom you have an early opportunity to establish a relationship. More importantly, you may not know much about them, and they may not know much about you yet.

New supporters are also those who have the ability to give a “golden donation,” or the second gift that any individual gives to an organization. The majority of donors will only give a single donation to nonprofits. However, repeat donors (those who give the “golden donation”) are much more likely to continue contributing in the future. You can see the comparison of the new versus repeat donor retention rate below:

These graphs display the difference between first-time donor retention rates and repeat donor retention rates.

That’s why after you’ve acquired a new donor, it’s important to establish a relationship so that they’re more likely to contribute that second “golden donation” and continue giving into the future. 

After you’ve created a new donor segment in your system, you should create a plan that’s devised specifically for them. 

This timeline will give you ample opportunity to show your appreciation by email, phone, and mail. You can send information for the supporter to learn more about the mission, collect feedback, and invite them to get more involved. Then, you can ask for the second gift. Below is an example of a well-planned new donor timeline for nonprofits: 

Take a look at a well-planned donor cultivation timeline.

After you’ve acquired your second donation, that doesn’t mean your job is over. You’ll still need to put in the effort and work to continue stewarding your supporters and encouraging them to get more involved with your mission. However, having that strategy in place for the first few months of your new relationships ensures they’re off to a good start. 

3. Focus on Impact

Donors don’t give to organizations; they give to missions. They’re not contributing to your organization just to help you out, but because they want their funds to go toward a good cause and you can help get it there. 

Emphasizing the impact that donors have on your mission brings the note of appreciation back to the roots of the cause: your mission. 

Your mission is the common goal that aligns both you and your supporters, which is why it’s such a great emphasis for effective appreciation strategies. 

Bloomerang’s nonprofit CRM guide explains that all of the information you’ll need to put together an impact statement for your supporters lies in your donor database. This is where you can find detailed information about the amount that a donor gave and the campaign to which they gave it. From there, you can see the information about what the campaign achieved, and send that information to your donors. 

In the donor thank you templates found from this resource, you can see that almost every appreciation letter has some variation of an impact statement. For example, the major donor appreciation letter includes this paragraph: 

Your gift will provide [describe the actions you’ve taken and the impact the gift has made. Use specific details that correlate with the exact gift amount, like “Your gift has provided X amount of books for kids with low access to education.”] 

Get as specific as possible with these impact statements. Remember the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from a successful thank you that we talked about earlier? Generally, this statement is what accentuates this feeling. It also creates a level of transparency and trust between your organization and the donor, meaning they’re more likely to trust you with their money again in the future. 

4. Respond to Donors’ Interests

When you read up on various donor appreciation ideas, you’ll likely get a list of potential activities and actions that your organization can take in order to say “thank you.” However, you shouldn’t just pick the most creative idea you find (or worse, blindly point to pick one). Rather, you should make sure the idea is well-adept to suit your specific donors. 

Consider your audience. If it helps, create an average persona (or several for each campaign). These personas will likely look drastically between organizations. For one, it might be a 35-year-old woman with children attending the local school. For another, it might be an elderly man dedicated to preserving the history of the town. Either way, knowing these traits will help you choose and design the best appreciation ideas to suit their interests. 

For example, Eleven Fifty Seven’s list of appreciation ideas includes the following: 

  • Host a Tour (Or Virtual Tour). Giving donors the opportunity to see your mission in action will have an enormous impact on their likelihood to give again. Utilize live-streaming on social media or tools like Zoom to make it easy, accessible, and safe.
  • Texting your supporters to say thank you. Text messages have an average open rate of about 98%, much higher than that of email. However, not everyone will appreciate having messages sent in this manner. Generally, your younger, more technologically adept audience will be more accepting of this type of appreciation message than other segments. 
  • Spotlighting donors on social media. Carefully consider which social media platform you want to use to get the most attention from your audience. For example, if you’re trying to reach people ages 30 to 49, you might consider using Facebook because 77% of this age group is on that platform. However, if you want to use Instagram, you’ll want to tailor your message for those ages 18 to 29 as 67% of that age group uses that platform. 

Communicating appreciation for your donors is never a random process. It’s a very important part of your organization’s strategic plan and should be dealt with methodically. Carefully consider each element of the process from the platform, the message, the images, and the other elements you use to craft your note. 


Showing appreciation for your donors is more than simply saying a quick, “thank you.” Rather, it’s an opportunity to enhance relationships, build trust, and help supporters dive deeper into your mission. That’s why it’s so crucial to create a concrete strategy for handling donor appreciation at your organization. 

These four tips are by no means the only ways that you can show your appreciation. However, if you’re just getting started building your strategy, they are a great place to start. Good luck!

This was a guest post contributed by Jay Love of Bloomerang.

This was a guest post contributed by Jay Love of Bloomerang.He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.

Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.

Published by

Matt Hugg

Matt Hugg is the president of Nonprofit.Courses.

See his bio here.