It’s well known that a handful of major donors often bring in the bulk of a nonprofit’s funding. While every donor matters and deserves to be thanked for their generosity and kind support, major donors require a more thorough thank you, meaning avoiding the mistake of just sending an automated email after their latest donation. 

Fortunately, there are many creative methods to show major donor appreciation in a meaningful way that sets donors up for future engagement with your nonprofit. Remember that cultivating relationships with major donors is an investment in your nonprofit’s future, meaning you may need to spend resources to show donors how much you value their support. 

In addition to maintaining regular contact to steward these relationships, consistent gestures of appreciation emphasize how meaningful their donations are to your nonprofit. Saying “thank you” also gives your nonprofit more opportunities to interact with donors, which in turn provides more chances to strengthen your ongoing relationships with them. 

To help your nonprofit find new ways to thank major donors that are both memorable and impactful, this article will explore six strategies for showing your appreciation:

  1. Give Them a Call
  2. Mail a Thank-You Card
  3. Send a Gift
  4. Honor Them at Events 
  5. Spotlight Them on Your Website
  6. Create a Donor Wall

As you refine your ongoing approach to thanking your donors, keep in mind that each of your major donors has a unique relationship with your nonprofit and not everyone likes to be thanked in the same way. Take into account what you know about each donor and tailor your message to make sure they feel comfortable and valued. 

1. Give Them a Call

One-on-one interactions take more of your team’s time, but they can also create deeper connections that are fundamental for cultivating relationships with major donors. A personal phone call to a major donor can go a long way towards showing them that your nonprofit sees and appreciates their generosity. 

Some fundraising campaigns specifically require one-on-one conversations, and establishing a personal rapport early on will make a request for a major donation down the road more natural. For example, the quiet phase of capital campaigns involves multiple rounds of one-on-one conversations with prospects, and while some of these conversations may occur in-person, many of them will be phone calls. 

Those who agree to contribute to your capital campaign should also be kept in the loop to confirm that their donation is being put to good use. Maintaining regular, personal contact where donors can quickly ask questions and receive answers establishes a sense of trust, and will encourage major donors to speak highly of your nonprofit to others. These conversations build your organization’s reputation over time.

Your current major donors can also help your nonprofit find other major donors by reaching out to their friends, family, and colleagues. In the case of a capital campaign, there may be situations where it’s appropriate to ask for the contact information or to join in on a call with new prospects who were introduced by your major donors. 

However, while thanking donors over the phone is relatively straightforward, actually soliciting a major gift requires a longer, more researched and strategic approach. Draw on donor research and past interactions with the donor to understand their motivations for donating. Making note of personal details from previous conversations can go a long way to building a closer relationship. 

2. Mail a Thank-You Card

Think about how you first discovered your major donors. It’s rare that a major donor will begin their engagement with your nonprofit with a major gift. Many nonprofits conduct wealth screenings and donor prospecting to find donors who are inclined to give major gifts in the future and then proactively build their relationships over time. 

A major component of prospect research is identifying affinity for giving, which can be studied through a donor’s history with other nonprofits. This means that your major donors likely already have expectations for how a nonprofit should go about appreciating its major donors, and they may feel slighted if your nonprofit doesn’t live up to them. 

Even if you plan to thank your donors in another way, it’s best to follow standard appreciation practices as well. Chief among common methods of showing gratitude for donors are handwritten thank-you cards. 

However, this doesn’t mean your cards need to be boring. In fact, putting extra effort into your thank-you cards to make an attractive final product that donors will want to keep in their homes goes a long way towards keeping your nonprofit in the back of their minds. A few ways you can make your thank-you cards stand out are: 

  • Use high-quality materials. 
  • Include compelling photos and visuals. 
  • Convey the donor’s specific impact. 

If possible, recruit your board members and nonprofit leadership to take a few hours to sign each of your cards as well, to let donors know your entire organization appreciates their support. If you’re looking for some inspiration to get you started, check out Fundraising Letters’ guide to donor thank-you cards to see some handy templates that will help you know what to say. 

3. Send a Gift

Sending donors a physical gift as a thank you for their monetary gift may seem reductive. But surprising your highly-committed supporters with your organization’s merchandise or other personal and meaningful presents not only shows your deep appreciation, it gives donors something physical to hold onto that reminds them of your nonprofit. A small gift like this can even coax a disgruntled donor into renewing their engagement with your organization. 

Your donors give to your nonprofit because they believe in your cause, but the added bonus of receiving little gifts lets donors know that your nonprofit also recognizes and acknowledges them in turn. Major donor relationships require more than sending these gifts, but if your nonprofit has them on hand, these gestures can add up and help maintain regular contact. A few gifts that are usually well received are: 

  • T-shirts. T-shirts and other wearable merchandise are fairly standard thank-you gifts for several reasons. Branded clothing and unique items that can only be obtained through your nonprofit make supporters feel as if they are part of a community, and when they wear them in public, they can show off a little to others. 
  • Mugs. Mugs, water bottles, and other everyday items are useful gifts that your supporters could likely always use more of, which makes them safe to send to almost any donor. Items that donors are likely to use everyday also means your supporters are looking at your logo and reminded of your nonprofit every time they pick up your gift.
  • Framed photos. Donors want to know their impact, and pictures can tell a thousand words. Take photos of your nonprofit in action to send to your donors so they can see the good their money is being used to create. Some nonprofits go a step further and create videos for donors featuring constituents personally thanking them for their generosity. 

As you choose your gifts, take into account what your nonprofit knows about its donors. For example, an elderly donor may appreciate a t-shirt and a water bottle less than a donor who has participated in your nonprofit’s 5Ks. 

4. Honor Them at Events

Along with bringing in donations, fundraising and stewardship events serve as opportunities to connect with donors. Whether your event is online, in-person, or hybrid, you can engage with your supporters, new and old, and offer benefits or perks to major donors. 

Some nonprofits hold events or gatherings specifically for major donors, while others set aside special tables or areas of their venues as a major donor gathering area for them to socialize with each other. 

Certain events lend themselves to honoring major donors more than others. For example, an event to celebrate your successful crowdfunding campaign would be a logical place to recognize all of your donors relatively equally, while major donors to a capital campaign likely expect a greater degree of recognition at your ribbon-cutting event or annual gala. 

No matter the event type, your event will have speeches throughout the night to remind everyone why they have gathered together. Opening toasts and closing speeches (or both) are logical places to spotlight the donors who contributed major gifts and sponsorships and thank all of your supporters for attending. 

5. Spotlight Them on Your Website

While honoring donors at events allows them to receive recognition from your event’s crowd, sometimes a more accessible thank you is appropriate. 

For donors who want to be publicly recognized by your community, creating a dedicated space on your website to spotlight supporters honors them the moment you hit post and allows them to send a link to their friends and family. Your donors’ stories also give more credibility to your organization and can help attract prospective donors. 

Along with your website, you can also spotlight donors in blog posts, your newsletter, and social media. Donorly’s guide to creating a fundraising plan recommends scheduling donor appreciation into your campaigns, so create a timeline for when posts go live to maximize donor retention. 

Above all, make sure that your major donors are happy that they chose to support your nonprofit. This means that you should be sure to thank them in ways that they are comfortable with, so always check with them first as some may want to keep a low online profile. Some donors will prefer to remain anonymous or not be publicly recognized, and you should respect their wishes.

6. Create a Donor Wall

Sometimes it’s necessary to make a greater, permanent investment in your major donor relationships. Donor walls are physical structures that recognize your donors and can be visited at any time by those honored, their families, and anyone who visits your nonprofit’s headquarters or facilities. 

When creating a donor wall, your nonprofit will need to determine who it wants to honor. Some nonprofits choose to create donor walls as parts of specific capital campaigns, while others might create a display with room to add future donors who contribute above a set amount. 

There are also several different types of donor walls, such as: 

  • Classic Walls. As the name implies, classic walls are traditional donor walls that list the names of honored donors. These walls can be designed to reflect your nonprofit’s brand and the type of recognition being given. For example, you might choose to display the names of your top donors in larger print or give them some other distinguishing feature to make them stand out. 
  • Multimedia Displays. Instead of physically listing out your donors’ names, multimedia displays feature interactive screens that visitors can use to virtually sort through and view each donor individually. Multimedia displays allow your nonprofit to present more information about each donor, such as a profile picture and short biography, which can be more meaningful for your donors’ friends and family. Plus, multimedia displays can be cheaper to create, meaning you’ll have more room to feature a wider swath of your supporters, like mid-level donors, in addition to major donors. 
  • Branded Spaces. If a wall isn’t enough, your nonprofit can dedicate an entire room or other space towards recognizing your donors. These spaces usually include a display wall with donor names, but also prominently features your nonprofit’s logo, color scheme, and promotional photos. Branded spaces integrate recognized donors more thoroughly with displays about your nonprofit’s history, and they give visitors a physical location to spend time in. 

Donor walls are an investment, so before starting construction, seek consultation on your design and resource allocation to make sure you’re building the structure that you want without going over budget. If you plan on building a donor wall as part of a capital campaign, plan ahead to incorporate its cost into your overarching fundraising goal.


Major donors have made an investment in your nonprofit’s success, and you can show your appreciation for them by including them in your nonprofit’s community. Saying thank you directly over the phone or through the mail can help build and maintain a connection. Elevating your shows of gratitude to public and permanent displays of major donor appreciation can help confirm that they are a vital part of your nonprofit’s story.

 

About the Author

Image: Sandra Davis - Donorly Founder and PresidentSandra Davis, Founder and President, Donorly

Founder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts, and managed board development and recruitment efforts, planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.

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