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Freshly Baked Cookies and Other Ways to Say 'Thank You'

Resource Center - Foundation

(Feb. 9, 2009) It’s the thought that counts, as they say. But if you want to show donors your gratitude in a memorable way, your recognition should be creative, unique, even personal. Here are some recognition ideas that go beyond the ordinary.

“There are lots of ways to recognize donors, and it is very important to be creative,” says Jill Pranger, ACFRE, president of Pranger Philanthropic in Webster, N.Y. “When I’m working with organizations or a group of fundraisers I often ask, ‘How many of you like chocolate chip cookies? What would you think about cookies for your $500-level donors this year?’”

After the puzzled looks and chuckles, Pranger explains to her audience the value of giving donors something they like, something that reflects your organization and something that is meaningful. For a botanical garden or other nature or environmental organization, a small succulent plant could be a wonderful gift, Pranger says. “What about a simple gift certificate to Starbucks? Recognition does not always have to be public and it doesn’t always have to mean a person’s name is put in lights.”

For major donors, Pranger urges fundraisers to be thinking of suitable recognition even before the “ask.” Is the donor active as a volunteer in the organization? Perhaps she would be a good candidate for a service award, with their gift being one of several reasons why the honor is bestowed.

Outside-the-Box Donor Appreciation

In a recent post to the AFP Open Forum, an email group where members post questions and provide feedback on fundraising topics, a member asked about a meaningful but inexpensive premium to include in thank-you letters to donors. The fundraiser, who works for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, was offered the following advice from Jared B. Hughes, principal of Bellwether Fundraising in Takoma Park, Md.

Hughes writes, “How about you send them a beautifully written thank you letter and enclose a shoelace from the guardsmen and guards-women whom the auxiliary serves with a pull quote from them that tells the donor what their gift means to them and to their fellow service members?

“You will have collected the old shoelaces from service members (so they will be free) or maybe you can find a supplier that can give you a good deal on new ones. In the letter, explain that the Auxiliary is able to do so many worthwhile and important things on a ‘shoestring budget.’  Ask the donor to think of the Coast Guard and the Auxiliary's important work every time they tie their shoes, ‘remembering the critical services you were able to provide as a result of your gift.’

A Simple Phone Call

Thomas Wilson, vice president of Campbell & Company in Portland, Oregon, and author of Winning Gifts: Make Your Donors Feel Like Winners, explains in his book that making calls to large-gift donors can be a fun and worthwhile exercise for board members who are apprehensive about asking for money. These thank-you calls involve simply having a conversation with the donor without asking for money. It is also a great way to gather information about the donor, Wilson writes. He lists the following sample questions that a board member could use in making the thank-you call:

  1. I notice you have been giving since 1995; what got you started?
  2. This is a wonderful gift; what motivates you to give to us each year?
  3. I noticed that you designate your gift to scholarships. Why are they important to you?
  4. I understand this is your first gift to our organization. What prompted you to make this gift?

Wilson incorporates this system of volunteer thank-you calls into a larger program of letters, phone calls and recognition opportunities he calls the “a thank-you system” that he describes in more detail in his book.

The moral of the story? Say thank you with something appropriate and unique to your organization. Meaningful, personal tokens of gratitude will often stick with donors long after other free premiums have run their course.

As for the cookies, at least one organization is taking this home-baked approach. At Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Rowena Griffiths, director of personal and planned giving, began in August baking and freezing cookies to send to her top-tier donors. This year she sent out 200 boxes of cookies and baked 4,000 cookies total. “It’s a labor of love,” she says. But, she gets very warm response for the effort. She raised more than $70,000 this year just in response to these hand-baked tokens of gratitude. No one, she says, wants to be off of the cookie list!

Jill Pranger, ACFRE, will present a session titled, “Annual Giving—How to Do It Well ... Over and Over and Over Again” at AFP’s International Conference on Fundraising, happening March 29-April 1 in New Orleans. Discounted registration for conference is available until Feb. 20.

Thomas Wilson’s book, Winning Gifts: Make Your Donors Feel Like Winners, is available in the AFP Bookstore.

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