Plan Your Thank You Campaign Now

With end-of-year giving descending upon us quickly, you need to create a thank you plan now and it should be crafted as carefully and with as much attention to detail as your appeal.

Maybe your organization practices great donor stewardship throughout the year and you don’t need to do anything differently. Maybe the ways that you thank donors throughout the year is creative, fresh, timely, and personalized. If that’s the case:  Kudos.  You’re part of a small minority.

Most organizations, in contrast, have strained thank-you processes that typically don’t function in a timely fashion under normal circumstances.  For them, the volume of end-of-year giving is a significant challenge.  With some advance planning, though, all of us can be prepared to handle the volume swiftly and to show our donors the love they deserve.

Thanking donors well is critical to donor retention.  According to donor communications expert Tom Ahern and donor stewardship expert Penelope Burke, we know that timely, personalized expressions of appreciation are critical to getting the next gift. Ahern tells us that donors that are appropriately thanked in a personalized way within 48 hours of receiving their gift are more than twice as likely to give again.

In addition, you may be thinking of doing something special at Thanksgiving or for the holiday season for your donors–an extra thank you or thank you gift.  Thanksgiving in the US is always a wonderful time to express appreciation for our donors and sincere, heartfelt appreciation is a wonderful holiday gift.

Here are a few inexpensive, creative ideas for thank you’s:

  • Call:  Among other reasons to pick up the phone, large donors often worry about whether or not their check arrived safely.  Calling to say thank you, let’s them know that it did and adds to the trust they have in your organization.

As a bonus, I often find that if I call immediately to express appreciation and reassure donors that their gift arrived and will be used according to their wishes, it buys me a little extra time to get the thank you note out the door and still have the donor feel that they have received the thank you in a timely fashion. 

Calling is also a great way for Board members to get involved.  There is no asking (which so many board members fear).  Gail Perry, author of Fired-Up Fundraising:  Turning Board Passion Into Action, tells us that  donors who receive a thank-you call from a Board member within 48 hours, are 37% more likely to give again.

  • Send Art:  None of us has the budget to send Picasso’s to our donors to say thank you, but a picture drawn by a child you serve (or whose parent you serve) can be very touching.  For many years, I worked for a counseling agency that worked with traumatized children.  We couldn’t share pictures of our children with our donors or of us working with the children, but we could share artwork from the kids.  The children always loved creating it.  

My favorite things the children made involved their handprints or footprints like the Angel above.  The inside of this particular card read “You’re an Angel for Sponsoring a Child.”  One donor liked it so much, he immediately sent a second check for an additional $500.  

Want to use the handprint or footprint art idea?  Take a look at my Pinterest Board of Handprint Art for some cute ideas.

If you’re organization doesn’t work with children or doesn’t serve humans, consider variations on this—for examples, a paw print, a picture of an animal rescued, a print of a special painting by a local artist.

  • A Thank You Video.  With videos as easy to make as they are today, it’s great to show your donors the impact of their gifts by offering them a video.  The video can showcase your programs or the people you serve or it can just creatively list what gifts do.  One school made a very visually appealing, low-cost video and posted on YouTube. With your most significant donors, you can personalize the video, making it specific for him or her.  See the video here.


  • Share Your Love on Social Media:  Tell your donors thank you by Tweeting about them or giving them their props on Facebook.  This is especially appreciated by business donors.


  • How about a good old-fashioned, handwritten note?  In an era of canned email messages, everyone loves to receive a handwritten note.  The dividends from taking the time to do this are always good.  I recently came across a service that creates handwritten notes for you, using a simulation of your handwriting.  I’ve never used it and don’t know if it’s worthy of a recommendation or not, but check it out if you’re a larger organization.
  • Certificates of Appreciation:  Don’t bother with the boring, cheesy kind that no one really likes, but give someone a creative, limited edition certificate and they’ll love it. Years ago, I made  Green Thumb Awards for my community’s Master Gardeners and others who volunteered for many hours to landscape a newly constructed children’s shelter. 

Once, to express appreciation for the support my development staff received on our organization’s annual fundraising campaign, I made unique certificates for each staff member.  They were all tied to something that particular staff person had done during the campaign and most of them were laugh-out-loud funny (at least to us).  For example, one staff member had been kind-of bullied by a very bossy volunteer into personally cleaning a very disgusting bathroom at the venue where we were holding an event.  (I understand multiple bottles of bleach were involved). That staff member received “The Outhouse Award” “For Boldly Cleaning Bathrooms That Have Never Been Cleaned Before.”

Use your imagination.  Get a creative colleague, volunteer, or friend to help.

  • Small Tokens of Appreciation:  A small token of appreciation is a wonderful way to say thank you. A camping organization my husband used to work for sent s’more Christmas ornaments to everyone who had donated over a certain amount.  Each year, the ornament was different.  People loved them.  The s’mores were also very mission-aligned.

Hand-made gifts are another great way to express heart-felt appreciation without breaking the bank.  You don’t have to do them all yourself.  Your clients (adults or children) can help.  Your volunteers can help.  Board members might help.  I’ve often recruited family members to help.

Take a look at my Pinterest Board of Creative Thank You Ideas for inspiration.

  • Visit:  Finally, you can pop-in and say thank you personally to many donors (note that if you do this during the day everyone’s work place won’t be appropriate).  Combine a visit with a certificate presentation or a homemade gift. Keep it brief to respect your donor’s time.  Your donor will love it.


If you’re going to do something outside of your normal thank you routine, you need to plan ahead so you can purchase your craft supplies, print, order your gifts or make them and line up people to help. If you’re going to use Board members to write thank you notes or make thank you calls, put them on notice that you are going to ask them to make calls.

Have a creative idea to say thank you?  Please share it with me!