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10 Ways to show gratitude to major donors

Most CEOs and development directors realise the importance of major gifts to the success of our programmes.

There is a very personal relationship between the major donor and the institutions he or she supports. We should recognise the importance of the giver/gift/receiver relationship and keep in touch with the donor. We must do this continuously and very personally.

Following are 10 principles in a programme of acknowledging and thanking major donors in a personal way:

1. Use a ‘real’ stamp rather than an outer envelope with a permit mail indicia. Personalise your thanks and gratitude. Every request and every acknowledgement are personally dictated starting with what the gift means to our institution. We often use letters to connect the donor with our last contact. ‘I remember your comments when I saw you in November.’

Personalisation takes the form of telling these friends and donors personal stories of our institution and linking their lives in a central way. This can be done in letters, visits, and phone calls. Every piece of mail is personal.

2. Network your thanks – ask others to say thank you too. Most of our major donors receive at least two thank you letters – one from the development office and one from the CEO. Remember special days – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays.

3. Let your fingers do the walking. Use the telephone. Before you write a letter of thanks, call the donors. Tell them what the gift will do for the institution and for society. Phone donors seasonally – at Christmas and on special occasions. Have your CEO make calls by giving him or her three or four calls at a time. Be sure you do your briefing well.

4. Say thanks in person – make personal visits. Some visits are actually for saying thanks. Call them first. Tell them you want to stop by to say thanks. Take them something – a report, a service folder, something you usually don’t send donors. Make it a thank you call. It will surprise the donor when you don’t ask for money.

5. Give donors a gift but be sure the gift says thank you. The gift should be meaningful. Many tangible recognition gifts can be appropriate – paper weights, plaques, jewellery, paintings, desk sets. We have found donors are appreciative of meaningful rather than expensive ones. Autographed books written by faculty, art pieces, cassettes, and recognition pieces can be placed in a prominent place and are appreciated by the donor.

6. Thank donors in print. You can list gifts by category of support. Tell stories of persons whose bequests you received. Interview donors who have included your institution in their plans.

7. Special events for special people. Hold special events at which donors can be thanked. Do this once or twice a year – often in connection with annual programmes. Sometimes it is for a special gift or person.

8. Say thanks by involving donors in the development programme or other tasks at your organisation. Recognise the donor’s special talents and interests. Not all major donors can become trustees. Ask for their advice. Ask them to serve on development, fundraising, or advisory boards. Let donors know you appreciate them for who they are, not just for the gifts they give.

9. Invite donors and prospects to visit your organisation. This is a part of cultivation and is a one-on-one experience.

10. Send invitations to special events. Our major donors receive invitations (four to six times a year) to special events. While most of them cannot attend, they know of our interest in them. But some do attend! On occasion we send them news releases, letting them know about the news story first.

In closing, these 10 principles for experiencing gratitude and appreciation are basic. We should keep in mind that gratitude is not a matter of plenty or big gifts, gratitude is a matter of people, partnership, heart and hopes of commitment, energy and effort.

I read about a development director who was asked. ‘How do you account for the excellent giving at your institution?’ She answered, ‘I get prospects to make the first gift and then I keep thanking them until they give again’.

From the September 1988 issue of Bulletin on Public Relations and Development for Philanthropic Organisations, Agencies and Associations. Published by Gonser Gerber Tinker Stuhr. Source: NSFRE Newsletter, October 1989.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 14, October 1990.

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