How can we show our supporters our heartfelt thanks without using their donated money to do it? The best suggestion is to take the lead of your donor community and incorporate some inexpensive ideas to show your appreciation.

We can fully understand why some donors may get upset that a small (even miniscule) portion of their donated money is going back to thanking them. This is a subject that many groups wrestle with… the fine line between building a good relationship with donors and spending the money improperly.

Some of the bigger fundraising groups, like Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, don’t give out ‘things’ in return for a donation. Others, like The Humane Society of the US or The Nature Conservancy, give you calendars, mailing labels, umbrellas…. which means that a small portion of your donation goes to buying your gifts.

There are a number of ways that you can ‘thank’ the bigger spenders without using up all the money they’ve given you in their gifts! Here are a few examples:

Make Thank You Gifts Available But Optional

If you send out a donation request letter, include a spot under the amounts for people to check if they don’t want to receive your token gift item, such as a t-shirt or calendar. Many people will check that spot encouraging you to use your money on just the cause. This also puts the donors in charge of where their money goes. :)

It makes it harder to predict how many items you’ll have to buy in advance (how many bumper stickers, calendars, static clings, shirts) so I’d recommend getting something that you’d plan to sell later on, and are offering it to your donors first as a thank-you. This can also apply to those lovely mailed thank-you acknowledgements. Leave a line to allow the donors to put in their e-mail address to receive an electronic copy of their donation receipt in a pdf file from your group in lieu of a mailed thank you card.

Thank You Reception

You can also host a small behind-the-scenes reception for just the BIG donors to help make them feel a part of organization. This private tour for your top donors should be ‘classy’ in that it has some hors d’oeuvres, some donated wine, the tour guides are the board members or the president, and a private Q&A session afterwards.

This is one of those special touches just for the big donors, a behind-the-scenes look at where their money goes. This would work for most organizations, from animal shelters to theatre groups, and from cancer funding groups to domestic violence awareness centers.

Special invitations to a donors’ picnic, a special reception at the home of the group’s president or a special cocktail hour before the formal ball or auction only for the high donors are other variations.

Honorary Naming Privileges & Plaques

Of course, you can always name something in honor of a large donor, or place their name on a brick or engraved plate in your walls, or on a leaf in your family tree mural. This costs very little (except for engraving), and leaves a permanent thank-you visible for everyone to see.

There are so many things you can name in their honor, from a tree, a memorial garden, a bench, have a picket fence engraved with donors’ names on each picket, special kitten rooms, surgery rooms, nurseries for at-risk mothers and their babies, name some rescued animals after them or give the donor carte blanche to name the rescued animals. One church asked their members to sponsor the building of their new fellowship hall. This gave them the opportunity to ‘buy’ a toilet, urinal, stove, sink, tables, chairs and over 100 other items for their church. Just about everything bought was able to have a ‘label’ on it of some sorts, thanking the donors.

Sponsorship Programs

The previous comment can go further through an annual sponsorship of cages/ kennels for an animal rescue, sponsorship of a project, or a child in a program. This can be done by families, businesses, co-workers, etc. Some people give these sponsorships on behalf of their office-mates as a Christmas present. Others give it to Great-Grandma Betty since she doesn’t need another tchotchke in her home which is already filled with a lifetime of memories.

Electronic Thank-You’s

Creating something special for your donors… a special booklet, newsletters, screensavers, desktop wallpaper… Anything electronic in nature will reduce the amount of money needed to produce it. A slideshow, screensaver, wallpaper on your computer’s desktop or other electronic ‘gift’ can be created specifically for your group, without incurring a high cost in production.

Business Partnerships

Secure special ‘memberships’ or ‘offers’ for your annual donors. Contact local businesses and services and ask them to offer your donors a special discount as a thank-you for their support. This will help both the business AND show the donor your appreciation. This discount card can be made inexpensively on your own computers and laminated with self-stick laminating paper.

Personal Phone Calls

The highest donors should get a prompt phone call and thank you card from the board president (or other highly respected member) to show that the donation was received, it was truly appreciated, and that it required the highest level of acknowledgement. I’ve heard horror stories where the front staff forgot to give the special donation to the president, or it was lost in transit or on the president’s desk, and a $100,000 donation was not acknowledged! GASP!

Set up a routine where all donations that come in are recorded in one journal, then list how they are responded to and by whom. Have people initial their actions in the journal/ database. There should be a record of how a check gets from the mail to the bank and what thank-you was sent and when. “THANK BEFORE YOU BANK!” as Kim Klein, a fundraising guru, always recommends.

Special Touches

Sometimes it’s not the expense of the thank-you that donors want to remember, but the special touch that you give with it such as a personalized card or the special note inside a card that really makes it personal.

Specially created cards by members of your organization are just small touches to say we’re thinking about you and appreciate your generous support of our efforts. Perhaps take a photo, and have the mat of the frame be ‘painted’ by the animals in a rescue, or painted by children in an after school art program for a special touch.

A personalized message and hand signed by the president also makes the thank you more personal.

I hope this gives you some ideas to help you brainstorm ways to thank your donors without breaking the bank!

About the Author: Danielle Hamilton is the editor of HumaneFundraising.com and moderator of a Yahoo group dedicated to helping animal rescue groups raise money for animals.

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Posted on 10 February 2006

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