– By Laura O’Neill, Vice President/Director, Greater Boston


Happy 2019! Right now, many of you are pulling gift reports, reviewing the outcome of your year-end appeal (we hope it was a success!), looking at LYBUNTS, new donors, and major gift prospects. You are making sure all gift acknowledgements are out the door, while reviewing your solicitation schedules and messages for the months to come. 2018 has barely closed and your head is already in June! As you plan your year of asks, don’t forget to plan your year of thanks.

As fundraisers, we think a lot about message, impact and metrics. You have been working on dynamic storytelling and gathering testimonials. That’s great — keep going! But remember this — no one needs to give to your organization. Sure, your organization does great work, fills a need and strengthens your community. You are worthy of support, but so are your fellow nonprofits, competing for the same donor dollars. This year, as you map your solicitation schedule, try incorporating Newton’s Third Law — for every action (ask), there is an equal and opposite reaction (thanks).

Here are a few simple ways to enhance your donor appreciation in the year to come:

Segment. Just as you segment your asks, try segmenting your thanks.

First-time donors are the hardest to keep, and retention rates in the nonprofit sector are well below the acceptable rate in the for-profit sector. In addition to your standard gift acknowledgment, make it a point to truly recognize them and welcome them to your team. They have chosen to join you in your quest to fulfill your mission. From postcards to phone calls, to handwritten thank you notes, do something beyond the basics.

Don’t forget anniversaries! Pull reports to see who has been supporting your organization for five consecutive years, ten years, longer – and recognize that commitment. Send an anniversary card highlighting milestones over that time period — impact and progress made possible by their participation.

Review how you nurture your relationship with major donors. You likely feel you have a relationship with most. Have you been putting the right energy into keeping the relationship alive? Are you only connecting where there is an ask or a need? Make it a point to continue to build the relationship, and commit to getting to know more about those major donors, and not just sharing more about you.

Don’t take those who have made planned gift commitments, or joined your monthly donor program, for granted. We spend much of our time thinking about those who have not yet given, or have lapsed. Show those who have taken deeper levels of action the love they deserve.

Plan a thank-a-thon. This could be a day, a week or a full month where the messaging is simply this — thank you for your support and your partnership. Consider including board members, volunteers, staff and clients. It’s a terrific way to build an internal culture of philanthropy because it’s easy! Those afraid to ask for money have the opportunity to engage with supporters in a non-threatening conversation where the message is simply, “Thank you.”

Send handwritten thank you notes. It’s easy to have great photos from your activities turned into note cards or postcards. Receiving a card from a board member or recipient of services can be far more meaningful than an acknowledgment form letter.

Make phone calls. It’s amazing how shocked — and appreciative — folks are when you tell them you are just calling to thank them for all they have done in support of your mission. Take the time to ask and hear what your donors have to share about why they support your organization, and use the information in planning future communications.

Consider hosting an open house in 2019. Invite supporters to come to your service site and pull back the curtain a bit. Treat your supporters like part of your team. Make it a celebration of all you and your donors have accomplished together and the opportunities available to you ahead!

These are just a few simple ideas. Be creative, and involve others in the thank you process. Remember — your donors choose to support you. They have taken a bold step in building a relationship with you. It’s up to you to foster that relationship. This year commit to earning support not just through mission and program, but also through genuine appreciation, gratitude and respect.

A thank you plan should be as individual and dynamic as your organization. The Munshine Group is here to help you make the most of your donor engagement, from planning the ask to extending the thank you.


Laura O’Neill brings a deep knowledge of development and the philanthropic and business markets, and has extensive experience supporting nonprofits.