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Acknowledgement: Making Donors Proud of Their Gifts

Resource Center - Foundation

By Kim Strydonck, CFRE

(Feb. 9, 2009) Donor recognition needs to be sincere. I prefer to think of it as “stewardship” rather than “recognition.” The whole point is to build a relationship that makes the donor feel proud of giving to your cause. We as professionals should feel good about building this relationship.

I feel that donor recognition should not be “something separate.” It should be an integral part of all we do. The entire process of donor identification, research, cultivation, solicitation and recognition should be done from a stewardship perspective. It’s about being donor-centered. For example, when you start getting to know a donor, show interest in the donor’s story (his or her background and interests) as well as providing information about your charity. This shows the person that you care, not to mention that the information you find out might help identify him or her as a prospective donor for another project or higher level giving. Showing interest in the donor is part of the recognition/stewardship philosophy. It’s about treating the donor like a person and a friend, rather than simply a “donor.”

I’m a fan of Penelope Burk’s book, Thanks!: A Guide to Donor-Centred Fundraising. I agree that the most important way you can recognize donors is by confirming that their gift has been set to work as they intended, and by providing information (measurable and qualitative) about how it is making a difference. Magnets, certificates, address labels and all the rest might have a place from time to time but, in my experience, donors most appreciate information about how we have used their donations. Other recognition that I’ve found to be most appreciated is in keeping with the idea of sharing information:

  • A newsletter with articles and photos showing donor dollars at work
  • A donor recognition event with a behind-the-scenes tour, or with the participation of beneficiaries (scholarship/bursary students, etc)
  • A thank-you letter or card from the beneficiary (for example a student, or someone who had the chance to participate in a program because of a donor’s generosity)
  • A photo showing the result of the donor’s gift
  • A newspaper article or research paper with a note saying, “This project happened because of your gift.”

What should you include in a thank-you letter? I’ve seen some letters that are just a few lines and simply say, “Thank you for your gift, it is appreciated. Here is your tax receipt.” I’ve seen other thank-you letters that are longer and that provide specific information about how the gift will be used, focusing on the project or program in which the donor is interested. In my experience, donors prefer the latter. I’ve seen charities receive donations because of such thank-you letters; in some cases, significant gifts. Other points to include in letters are answers to donors’ questions or a mention of something they have previously shared with you. This shows that you are paying attention and are interested in who they are, not just what they contribute.

While a policy with standard recognition for each donor level is important, consider allowing some flexibility to ensure that recognition is appropriate to the nature of the donor and his or her gift, in the same way as you would with family or friends who give you a gift. If your mother and your mother-law both give you a holiday gift, you might think of phoning both to say thank you. However if you know that one of them really likes getting greeting cards, then you might phone one of them and send a thank you card to the other. In other words, keep it donor-centered, while still operating within a logical and achievable structure.

Gifts on Occasion

There are definitely times when a more tangible gift might be sent to a donor.  Some donors really appreciate this. In this case, I suggest ensuring that it is something usable, interesting and that it has a link to your charitable mission. Perhaps a book written by a researcher at your charity; a video after a building goes up or when renovations are done; a lapel pin can also be nice. By being donor-centered and getting to know your donors, you will know which ones like such gifts once in a while. But even then, I suggest not making a habit of always sending a gift.

You don’t always need to (and shouldn’t) always send donors a gift in return for donations. Donors give out of passion for the cause, not in order to get something back. But you should always say a sincere “thank you” and provide information about how their gift makes a difference.

Kim Strydonck, CFRE, is coordinator of philanthropy at the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, which includes the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec, and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

Penelope Burk’s book, Donor Centered Fundraising, is available in the AFP Bookstore.

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