Nonprofits have long depended on charitable contributions from supporters to fund their philanthropic programming and day-to-day operations. This hasn’t changed since entering a global pandemic—but it has become a bit more difficult.

Due to the significant public health crisis and following social distancing guidelines, organizations everywhere have turned fairly exclusively to online fundraising efforts. Yet while these online strategies can be a handy way to receive donations while generous donors are sheltered-in-place, it doesn’t negate some of the other challenges that can come along with online fundraising.

For example, what do you do when some of your top donors have been hit hard by the receding economy? Millions are out of work, and when families are struggling to put food on the table, charitable giving is likely not top-of-mind.

However, the need for charitable services has not diminished. In fact, due to the current social unrest and calls for justice, many organizations’ needs have significantly grown. That means that in order to continue supporting their communities and providing for constituents’ needs, nonprofits must find innovative ways to stay funded.

Luckily, despite these difficult times, it’s more than likely that many dedicated donors have continued to support your nonprofit through the convenience of top digital fundraising tools. After all, sometimes seeing a substantially growing need can be a factor that leads individuals to increase their community support.

While there’s no easy solution for donors who are simply unable to give at this time, there is a way to keep your able donors increasingly engaged. That is, effectively communicating your appreciation of donors’ generosity. In order to do so, we’ll walk through six key ways you can say thank-you to your nonprofit supporters in a time of crisis:

  1. Personal phone calls
  2. Handwritten letters
  3. Virtual events
  4. Branded merchandise
  5. Donor-centric messaging
  6. Demonstrations of impact

While donor appreciation has been a crucial element of many successful fundraising strategies for some time now, it’s importance has skyrocketed more than ever before. Ready to get started? Let’s jump in.


1. Personal phone calls

One of the best and most personal ways to say thank you to your donors is over the phone. In the midst of a crisis like the coronavirus or various social justice movements, this is more important than ever. However, the way you do so can make a huge difference. Take a look at these donor phone call best practices:

  • Encourage leaders to make thank-you calls. For an even greater impact, consider having someone higher-up in your organization, like an executive director or board member, make the calls. This shows donors that they, and their contributions, are  important enough for a nonprofit leader to take the time out of their very busy day to chat.
  • Focus on thanking, not requesting. So you’ve got the donor on the phone and you’re ready to chat. It’s vital that you use this time to thank the donor rather than request a follow-up contribution. Not only are many donors unable to make another gift at this time, but it can also come across as insensitive or offensive—you’ve called them up under the guise of gratefulness, only to attempt to pry another donation out. That can turn donors away from ever giving again.
  • Consider implementing video calls. Before the pandemic, you might have set up in-person meetings with top donors. Now, due to social distancing guidelines, that’s probably not an option. Thanks to video technology, however, you can have the next best thing. Video calls are even more of a personal option than traditional phone calls, providing that face-to-face aspect.

These calls are a great opportunity to check in with your donors and see how they’re holding up in the midst of a global health and social crisis. When donors recognize that you care about their well being more than just their wallets, you can continue to build and strengthen relationships with those supporting your mission.


2. Handwritten letters

Everyone loves getting a handwritten letter in the mail. Whether it’s from a friend, family member, or a charitable organization, knowing that the sender took the time to create and send something so personal can mean a lot to the recipient. Especially in a world where the majority of correspondence is completed digitally, a physical letter (although it might seem like a little thing) can really make your efforts stand out.

Your letters should be customized to reflect your organization and the relationship you have with each donor, so there’s no “perfect” thank-you letter. That being said, here are a few best practices to get started:

  • Begin with a personalized greeting. It’s important that your letter opens with a personal greeting, addressing the donor by name. It’s a much better attention-grabber and it shows the donor the message was hand-crafted for them from the very beginning.
  • Specify the donation you’re thankful for. Similarly, thanking the donor for a specific gift is much more meaningful than a generalized “thanks!” Instead, recognize the amount of the gift and how it played a significant role in reaching (or approaching) your overall fundraising goals.
  • Explain how the gift helped further your mission. Especially if the gift was directed toward a particular project or program, a great way to show appreciation is by keeping the individual updated. After all, they have become a stakeholder so it’s a good idea to treat them like one!

Check out this compilation of free, downloadable thank-you letter templates here, or this breakdown of key sections to include in any thank-you letter (whether handwritten, printed, or emailed).


3. Virtual events

According to Fonteva, virtual events are the future of successful nonprofit operations. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing practices, nonprofit fundraising events have been increasingly transitioning to virtual alternatives over the past several years. In the past few months, this transition has skyrocketed.

In addition to virtual events being a powerful tool for raising funds, they can also be effective for donor appreciation strategies. For example, you could host an exclusive virtual event for past donors to share your thankfulness. Here are some top ideas to consider:

  • Virtual concert: Find a local musician or band that’s willing to partner with your organization for a charity concert, then live-stream the event to donors’ screens.
  • Virtual comedy show: Similarly, you can locate a comedian to put on a show to help you express your gratitude for donors. As a bonus, the comedy theme can relate to your cause!
  • Virtual gala: Invite your donors to dust off their nicest outfits and get all dolled up for a nonprofit gala (even if it’s held online).
  • Virtual auction: Solicit exclusive items, bundles, and gift cards from local businesses that support your cause. Then, encourage supporters to bid high to win their favorites from the comfort of their own homes.

Being invited to an exclusive gathering (even online!) can make anyone feel special, which is why a donor-only event can be an effective way to show your appreciation. However, you could also consider hosting an open-invitation event to all of your supporters and constituents, being sure to give special attention or perks to those that support your cause financially.


4. Branded merchandise

One of the most tangible ways to say thank you to your donors is with a physical gift. Although many will appreciate and cherish your verbal and written expressions of gratitude, sometimes the best way is with a concrete, practical item.

That’s why using branded merchandise as a unique form of thanks is such a great idea! You might consider designing and distributing:

  • T-shirts
  • Coffee mugs
  • Baseball caps
  • Bracelets
  • Tote bags

Each item should be branded with your organization’s logo and color scheme. Not only will this item work as a semi-permanent reminder to the donor, keeping your nonprofit at top of mind, it also transforms the donor into a walking billboard for your cause!

After sending out free merchandise to say thank you to your previous donors, you can continue selling your branded items online for extra fundraising revenue! For those who support your cause but have yet to make a financial donation themselves, this is a great opportunity to build that relationship out by offering a donation perk.


5. Donor-centric messaging

This best practice can easily be intertwined with the other key donor appreciation ideas. After all, donor-centric messaging is a strategy that should be integrated into your overall fundraising and communication strategies.

It’s important to put careful thought into any messages you send to your donors. After all, an effective, well-crafted message can inspire a donor to give or to act as an advocate on your behalf. On the other hand, a poorly designed one can lead to recipients clicking that unsubscribe button more often than you’d like.

That’s where donor-centric messaging comes in. Yes, your donors care about your cause. That’s likely why they decided to give in the first place. However, they don’t want to hear you bragging on yourself over and over again in every line of communication.

Donors want to hear about themselves. They want to hear about how their contributions are helping to drive your mission. They want to know how they can get further involved. What might seem like a slight change in wording can make a huge difference in impact—and set your organization apart.


6. Demonstrations of impact

Most of your donors support your cause because they want to help people. That’s why the best way to show your gratitude is by showing them exactly how they’ve helped people. Here are two key strategies that can help you thank your donors by expressing the value of their gifts:

  • Fundraising thermometers: Fundraising thermometers are a unique fundraising tool that can help track progress toward a goal and encourage new donations through gamification techniques. Sometimes it can be hard to understand what difference an individual donor can make, especially toward a larger goal. Fundraising thermometers can show a tangible, real-time impact of any gift. Check out Snowball’s guide to fundraising thermometers (with a free template!) to learn more.
  • Specific examples of gift impact: Another great way to show donors the tangible value of their gifts is by positioning it in a way that’s easier to understand. Instead of saying, “your generous gift is providing food to many hungry children,” you can say “your gift of $100 is going to feed a family of five for one month.” Although they’re both “thank-yous,” one is clearly more effective than the other at demonstrating specific impact.

Successfully communicating donor impact is both a great way to show donors the effects of their good deeds and a strategic tactic for increasing donor stewardship, as the two concepts often go hand-in-hand.

When you show donors how much you appreciate them, they’ll be more likely to continue supporting your cause. Conversely, an unappreciated donor can become frustrated and apathetic, leading to higher rates of donor lapse. That’s something you definitely can’t afford right now.

By implementing these best practices to show your thanks, you’ll be able to build deeper relationships with donors as they feel more closely connected with your organization. Good luck!

About the Author

Photo of John KilloranJohn Killoran is an inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions, a national lab services company. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations.

Snowball was one of John’s first public innovations; it’s a fundraising platform that offers text-to-give, online giving, events, and peer-to-peer fundraising tools for nonprofits. By making giving simple, Snowball increases the donations that these organizations can raise online. The Snowball effect is real! John founded Snowball in 2011. Now, it serves over 7,000 nonprofits and is the #1 nonprofit fundraising platform.