Best Ever Donor Appreciation Ideas: All the NNN Contributors Share a Favorite Example of Donor Love

BEST EVER Donation Appreciation Ideas: All the NNN Contributors Share a Favorite Example of Donor Love
February 2017 by Emily Anthony, Dani Beam, Donna Bellew, Julie Edsforth, Sara Lawson, Heidi Thomson-Daly, Jennifer Weber

Donor Appreciation

“Best Ever” is the debut of a new feature at Northwest Nonprofit Notes, an article with one favorite idea from each of us on the same topic.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, this month we asked our contributors to share one of their “Best Ever” donor stewardship ideas, extra special and meaningful ways that they had thanked a donor or been thanked as a donor.  We hope this collection of memorable ways to appreciate donors and board members – yours for the taking! – will inspire all of us to find creative ways to share the love with our donors, this month and all year round.  

Homemade and Hand-delivered Valentine Love

There is nothing like Valentine’s Day to show your donors how much you love and appreciate all they do to support your mission.  Many years ago, when I was the head of fundraising for a girl-centered youth organization, I decided to create an annual stewardship tradition around this very holiday.

The concept:  Valentine’s Day cookies on a personalized plate designed by girls in our program, hand delivered to the donor by our Board members.

This is how it worked:  Each January we would build a list of 20 – 30 donors who had gone above and beyond for us in different ways.  Yes, it included some of our major donors who had made special or increased gifts that year, but it also included a number of others.  For instance, the Table Captain who filled 4 tables, the donor who volunteered in our tutoring program every week, and the brand new donor who leveraged her connections to secure us a big sponsor.  After the list was made, we would take a group of girls on a VIP field trip to a paint-your-own pottery studio.  Once we arrived, I would give each girl the names of two donors and why they had been selected for a special thank you.  We’d then spend the afternoon at the studio, each girl painting personalized plates for their donor complete with mission inspired sentiments like, “Because of you I know I am a strong, brave leader.”  Before we left each girl would also write a short, personalized Valentine for the donor. 

A few days before Valentine’s Day, staff would descend on the office with dozens of homemade cookies.  As a group we’d assemble the platters, wrap them up with beautiful cellophane, and carefully secure the handwritten cards to each one.  Then, on the big day,  our Board members would swing by the office for their assignment, enthusiastically dispersing across the city to hand deliver the packages to donor’s homes and offices.

The result:  The tradition had so many pay offs.  Not only were the donors surprised, overjoyed and thrilled, but the team effort it took was win/win.  Board members loved making the deliveries, program staff loved helping by making the cookies, and the girls, of course, were at the center of it all.  Ultimately, everyone felt the love, which is what stewardship is all about.

PS.  I took photos of the girls making the platters and included those in the cards.  –Heidi Thomson-Daly

The Party Starts Now!

Several years ago I worked with an organization that had a box of party hats and big thank you signs tucked in the closet.  When a new or special gift came in, we would all don the festive hats and gather around to take a picture of us holding the big thank you sign.  We’d send it off within the hour of receiving the gift either via email or txt with a big friendly “WOW, we are all dancing in the office with gratitude for your gift, thank you for making our day!” or something similar to express our very real and heartfelt thanks.

It can be easy to under value the importance and delight of being thanked immediately.  This kind of thank you has a spontaneous freshness that makes the staff and the donor both feel great! –Donna Bellew

One-of-a-Kind Board Members

One of my clients developed this powerful, creative way to thank their board members for their leadership at the end of the year. Here’s what they did:

The Executive Director, Cindy, with input from staff members who had gotten to know board members fairly well, hand-wrote personal notes to each board member.  She thanked them for specific things individual board members contributed throughout the year.  Then, she and the rest of the staff presented small, personalized gifts to the board members.  For example, one board member, Maria loves her labradoodle.  She received a bag of homemade doggie treats.  Another board member, Diane, who had been taking water color classes, received a few new paints.

What I love about this example was that the staff not only thanked them for their contributions to the organization, but also demonstrated that they had listening to the board members and had gotten to know them personally.  Plus, it was really fun when the board members opened their individual gifts at the last board meeting of the year.  The gift giving sparked a lot of conversation!  -- Dani Beam

A Book of Stories and Memories

One of the most moving donor stewardship experiences I was a part of was creating a gratitude/memory book for a donor who had given $15,000 to fund a week-long summer camp for children who were patients at Seattle Children’s Craniofacial Center. Some of these children had facial conditions so rare, they had never seen another child with their same condition. The social workers and child life specialists at the center ran the summer camp and knew each child well. The only way the camp was funded was through philanthropy. To show the donor the impact of her gift, we created a memory book for her that contained personal letters and poems written by the children about what the camp experience meant for them. The social workers also wrote letters about what they saw among the children who had, for the first time, met another child who looked like them and shared their medical condition. The book was filled with moving, inspiring, joyful and powerful stories from children who felt they belonged and were understood at the camp. The donor said she had never had a stewardship experience that was more powerful than this. Later that year, she chose to make a million dollar bequest in her will to support the hospital.  –Jennifer Weber

Thank You Tags

The most memorable and meaningful donor acknowledgement that comes to mind was quite simple. I’m a monthly donor to a fantastic arts education organization, and I also sometimes contribute to their project-based campaigns. At some point, I made an online contribution to a travel fund for a group of young poets who were going to represent Seattle at a national gathering. A few weeks after the event, a photo from the organization came across my feed on Facebook: a simple image of hand-written words on lined paper. It was a short, anonymous poem, one of about ten that were posted. A variety of supporters were tagged in the photos and acknowledged in the comments. Together, the poems offered a window into the loving and courageous community that these young artists had created, and I also felt more connected to a larger community of supporters who were rallying around them.  – Sara Lawson

The Gift Comes Full Circle

My favorite example of donor gratitude comes from a personal experience spanning a decade, with local environmental organization, Toxics Free Future (formerly Washington Toxics Coalition).  For many years, right around Thanksgiving, a small parcel arrived containing a beautifully handmade quilted oven potholder, along with a personal note thanking me for my financial support.  Over the years I accumulated 6 or 7 unique potholders. Whenever I used them I was reminded of the work they do - especially poignant while cooking food on pots and pans free of carcinogenic coatings with organic food free of pesticides.  Years later, while working with another organization on their fundraising stewardship practices, I shared this story of meaningful stewardship. Proving the world is small, one of the board members present happened to work at Toxics Free Future and knew the volunteer who hand-quilted all of those potholders over all those years.  She asked if she could share my story with her, and so I took a photo of all the potholders to forward along to her, with my gratitude. I'm not sure if the volunteer had ever received direct feedback from a recipient of one of her potholders - I heard it was especially meaningful for her.  It was a beautiful moment of "full circle" stewardship blending creative and personal acts of mission-centered gratitude across a community of donors and volunteers.  –Julie Edsforth

Not Your Average Photo Book

I'm a huge fan of those hardbound photo books you can order from Snapfish or Shutterfly or iPhoto. They are relatively inexpensive to make (usually around $20), and the professional look of them make them an excellent thank you and permanent keepsake.  Best of all, they give you so much room to be creative! Here are a couple of my favorite, most meaningful examples of online bookmaking:

  • One friend who donated her waterfront home to an organization for overnight retreats several times was given a book of photos of sunrises and sunsets they had taken from her front porch while they were staying there, an incredibly personal and special gift that she treasures. On a similar note, a conservation organization I know who was given a parcel of land by a donor took pictures of the landscape at different times of the year, and presented this book to the donor near the anniversary of the gift.
  • To recognize a special volunteer who we knew spent a lot of time with her twin toddler grandchildren, we made a customized “board book” (yes, you can do that!)  We put a colorful photo and a word or phrase on each page, including of course “Grandma” with a photo of her, and the last page that said “Thank You!”  She was overwhelmed to have a gift she could really use with her grandkids.

Other ideas: I’ve always wanted to try making a simple recipe book, perhaps of traditional recipes for donors to a cultural organization, interspersed with articles about or photos of that country. It would be fun to make a “Then and Now” book for founding board members, with clippings, photos, and nostalgia of what was going on in the world when the place was founded contrasting with now. Remember that anything you can type or scan or cut and paste from the internet will work just as well as your own photos, so there are really no limits. And with a simple "Save As" these books are easy to customize for different donors, often just by changing the names in the dedication on the first page.

And PS, making these books is a great project for teens or other folks who want a creative, short term way to volunteer. True confessions: my teenage daughter made the board book, and being a millennial she did it a whole lot faster than I would have and enjoyed helping out in a unique way. Win-Win!  -- Emily Anthony

Now we want to hear your ideas!  What are some special ways you have found to thank your donors and board members, or that you have been thanked yourself?  Share in the comments below!

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.