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The following piece is a guest post written by Derrick Spitler, Business Strategist at Eleven Fifty Seven.

Effective fundraising professionals are well aware of the importance of donor recognition. Acknowledging donors and thanking them for their contributions is essential for building long-term relationships, especially when it comes to your major donors. While you should work to cultivate relationships with your major donors at all times, your nonprofit should make an extra effort to recognize donors who contribute to your capital campaign.  

Donors who give during the quiet phase of your capital campaign determine whether or not your project will meet its fundraising goals. These donors give in large quantities, and their gifts can shape your nonprofit’s future. This means knowing how to thank them is vital for honoring their generous gifts, as well as earning their continued support. 

To help your nonprofit develop your donor recognition strategy for your next capital campaign, this guide will explore our top five ways to say thank you, including how to:

  1. Implement a donor wall. 

  2. Host donor appreciation events. 

  3. Honor donors in speeches and presentations. 

  4. Send handwritten thank you letters. 

  5. Create donor spotlights. 

For your major donors, it may make sense to use more than one or even all of these strategies to show your appreciation fully. Different nonprofits will have different cut off points for what counts as a major contribution, so make sure your level of appreciation corresponds to the amount donated at your organization. Let’s get started!

1. Implement a donor wall.

Major donations are a financial investment in your nonprofit, and sometimes it’s appropriate for your nonprofit to make a financial investment in your donors. For donors such as major capital campaign contributors, it’s often necessary to make a permanent show of thanks to demonstrate your appreciation. \

When planning your capital campaign donor recognition strategy, consider constructing a donor wall. Donor walls are permanent physical structures that list your donors’ names, celebrating their support and giving them a fun spot to visit with friends and family. Donor walls are a greater financial investment than other donor appreciation methods, but can help cultivate lasting relationships with the donors your wall honors. 

There are also many variations on the classic donor wall to explore. Eleven Fifty Seven’s guide to donor wall ideas offers a variety of options to inspire your nonprofit such as: 

  • Multimedia donor walls. Multimedia displays allow visitors to interact with your donor wall. These donor walls feature touchscreens and other interactive elements that either cycle through donors or allow visitors to look up specific donors. 
  • Branded spaces. Instead of creating a wall alone, branded spaces allow you to recognize your donors and promote your nonprofit’s brand identity on a larger and more impactful scale. While these spaces may require more construction and design work, they also offer more interactivity, creativity, and engagement than a traditional wall. With branded spaces, your major donors can explore and relax in environments created to honor them and the cause they supported. 
  • Outdoor signage and displays. Many donor walls are kept indoors to protect them from the elements, but outdoor signage and displays honor your donors with permanent statues. These displays have increased visibility as passersby will see them and are invited to read their plaques, helping them learn about your cause and the donors who fund it. 

Each of these options has its own unique benefits, so be sure to choose a solution that fits with your nonprofit’s brand and your donors’ interests (and don’t be afraid to ask for their opinions!). Then, when your donor wall is finished, invite all of your recognized donors to its grand unveiling. Consider live-streaming your event as well so donors can see your new donor wall, no matter where they are. 

2. Host donor appreciation events.

Maintaining strong relationships with donors requires continually giving them new reasons to stay connected to your cause. This means that your engagement opportunities should vary and include far more than repeated asks for donations. 

You can connect with your donors and help them forge a community with each other by hosting donor appreciation events. These events can be hosted at almost any time of the year, but for your capital campaigns, you’ll definitely want to plan one as a celebration for your campaign’s end and success. 

However, like all nonprofit events, donor appreciation events require planning to achieve their intended goals. When planning your donor appreciation events, consider:

  • The guest list. Your nonprofit’s capital campaign will receive many donations, especially when you open it up to public contributions. To show all of your donors your appreciation, you may need to host multiple events with varying levels of exclusivity. For example, your initial celebration for the end of your capital campaign may be open to all donors, but you might also create a VIP area for your major donors or even plan another appreciation event just for them. 
  • Venue. When gathering your donors together, make sure your venue is large enough to accommodate all of them safely. For example, if your nonprofit is building a branded environment, the space will represent your nonprofit well. Then, consider inviting a select group of major donors to have a small get together there as part of its unveiling ceremony. 
  • Event activities. For some of your donors, it may be enough to gather together with new people who share a mutual interest in your cause. However, most of your donors will likely need some activity or form of entertainment to help break the ice and make your event a memorable one. Consider hiring live musicians, caterers, and other activities based on your event’s theme and formality. 

Your donor appreciation events are primarily about recognizing your donors and showing them a night of fun. However, they are also an opportunity to continue building relationships. Forging a connection at your appreciation events might even lead to donations for your next capital campaign! 

3. Honor donors in speeches and presentations. 

At events promoting your capital campaign, your major donors should be your guests of honor. While they should enjoy the event as an attendee, make sure you also include them in the event itself by acknowledging them in speeches and presentations. 

Consider crafting speeches that express both your gratitude to your donors and their contributions in general then honor specific donors, rather than just reading out a list of names. Of course, you won’t be able to mention every single donor who contributed to your cause in one speech. When choosing who to recognize, you’ll need to prioritize your major contributors and find other ways to acknowledge your other donors. 

As you make your list of major donors, it may be difficult to determine a cut off point. Resources like Capital Campaign Toolkit’s capital campaign gift range chart can be helpful for organizing your donors and creating strict, numeric based decisions. However, deciding who is and is not a major donor you’ll recognize in your speeches requires looking at your specific situation. For example, you might have a donor who gave less than others but helped introduce your nonprofit to many other major contributors. 

While it might seem like a small decision, recognition can mean a lot to many of your donors. Publicly crediting them with your campaign’s success doesn’t take very much time, but it can be exceptionally rewarding for those who attend your event. 

4. Send handwritten thank you letters.

Big gestures of appreciation can make a large impact, but lots of small shows of gratitude also add up. Additionally, your nonprofit will need to acknowledge donors in between more elaborate recognition efforts in order to respond quickly to donations and maintain a strong relationship throughout your entire capital campaign. 

Handwritten thank you letters are a staple of many nonprofit’s donor appreciation strategies. While there are many ways to say thank you quickly after a donation, handwritten letters have several advantages compared to other methods. For instance, letters and cards are tangible objects that your donors can hold onto for years to come, especially if your letter or card has a compelling design. 

Ultimately, handwritten thank you letters demonstrate that you have taken the time to show how much you appreciate your donors’ contributions. These messages will help strengthen the relationship between donors and your nonprofit even further, hopefully for many years to come! 

5. Create donor spotlights.

Many donors enjoy a little attention, especially from your nonprofit’s community who share the same passion for your cause. As mentioned, speeches are a great way to give your donors positive public attention, but in between events, your nonprofit can continue to highlight donors with donor spotlights. 

Donor spotlights are usually composed of a photo of the donor and a brief paragraph about their contribution and connection to your nonprofit. When creating your spotlights, you should:

  • Choose your spotlights’ platform. Donor spotlights can be shared with your community through several communication channels, including social media, your newsletter, and your website. Each of these platforms has its own benefits, so choose the one that your supporters use most often to  help your donors receive the most recognition possible. 
  • Reach out to donors. Get in touch with the donors you plan to spotlight to collect basic information for the spotlight, including a photograph and a statement from them about their relationship with your nonprofit. Additionally, make sure you let them know that being featured in a donor spotlight is optional and entirely up to them. While some donors may enjoy the public recognition, others may prefer to maintain their privacy. 
  • Tell donors when the spotlight will go live. Once you create a donor spotlight, add it to your posting or publication schedule, and let donors know when it will go live. 

Donor spotlights have another benefit: they can inspire your other supporters to give more! While each of your major donors has unique reasons for giving, others might see your donor spotlights and become interested in what they can do to make a difference like your donors being recognized. 

Recognizing donors, especially those who make major contributions during your capital campaign, shouldn’t be a one-and-done process. Instead, saying thank you to your donors in multiple ways ensures they really understand the impact their gifts have had on your nonprofit. You can create lasting displays with donor walls, but also don’t forget the importance of small gestures such as sending letters when planning your donor recognition strategy.

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