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Executive Director, Good Shepherd Services.
Credit: Volunteers of America
helping individuals and families in need

How to Thank Your Donors: Stop Focusing on the Money!

Stop thinking of your donors as ATM machines and really focus on them as people. Think about what they do for your organization.   That’s the advice we got this week from guest blogger Amy Eisenstein, a top fundraising consultant who has generously shared her terrific advice with our readers this week. Thanks Amy!

How to Thank Your Donors: Stop Focusing on the Money!


Thank You Card

Before you can ask for a major gift, you need to focus on gratitude.

Stop thinking of your donors as ATM machines and really focus on them as people. Think about what they do for your organization. They don’t simply give money. They save lives. They feed the hungry and house the homeless. They educate children. They help cure diseases.

Donors are so much more than simply donors. Until you start treating them that way, they’ll have no real incentive to give you a penny more.

Stewardship 101

Stewardship is often talked about as the last step in fundraising. It’s the thank you after a gift is made. However, you should think about stewardship long before you ask for a gift.

How will you thank your donors so that they understand the impact they’ve made on your organization?

How can you thank your donors so they want to give again and again and again?

Sadly, I’ve come across too many organizations where donors aren’t thanked at all. Staff and board members feel it’s not necessary, and then wonder why they struggle with fundraising! Do you think you would give a second time to an organization that didn’t appreciate your first gift?

Action Item of the Week #1 — Create a Stewardship Plan

This week, determine who, when, and how you will follow up with your donors. Will all donors be treated equally or will you have a different plan for different donors? How will you follow up with and thank major donors?

A good rule of thumb is that a donor should be thanked in multiple ways by multiple people, as well as told how their donation was used (follow up), before being asked for another gift.

Who: Who will thank your donors? Your staff? Board members?

When: How soon after the gift is made will they receive their first thank you? Their second? When will they receive an update on how the gift was used and the impact it made?

How: In addition to a tax receipt (basics), will they get a handwritten card or note? Will they get a thank you call? Will they be listed in your next newsletter or annual report? What about on your website?

Follow Up: Let donors know how their contribution made a difference. How were their funds used? What impact did they have on the mission or cause?

The table below provides some ideas for how you can answer many of these questions.

A Sample Stewardship Plan

DonorsTax Receipt Thank You LetterHand Written Note by Exec. DirectorPhone Call by Board MemberFollow-Up in 6-8 Months
$100 or LessWithin 1 WeekN/AN/AN/A
$101 – $500Within 1 WeekWithin 2 WeeksWithin 2 WeeksLetter or Email
$501 – $1,999Within 1 WeekWithin 1 WeekWithin 1 WeekLetter with Note
$2,000 or MoreWithin 1 WeekWithin 1 WeekWithin 2 DaysIn Person

Your plan should be simple enough that you can follow it on a regular and ongoing basis, and at the same time substantial enough to truly steward your donors.

Be sure to include an in-person follow-up meeting for all major donors.

Ultimately, you will want to have at least three meetings per year with your major donors.

    • The initial, cultivation meeting.
    • The ask meeting.
    • The follow-up meeting.

The follow-up meeting comes last, after the donation has been made. I am mentioning it here so that you know to prepare for it and expect it.

Now, let’s move on to your task for next week.

Action Item of the Week #2 — Create Stewardship Materials

How old and stale are your stewardship materials (if you even have any)? Take a little time to write a new thank you letter. And if you plan on having board members make thank you calls, draft a few talking points for them.

Writing Thank You Letters

The base of your thank you letter can stay the same for most donors, but you will want to write a few personalized paragraphs that can be swapped in and out for different donors.

For example, you should use distinct language for:

  • first-time donors
  • repeat donors
  • major donors
  • board members
  • other volunteers

Make certain that donors feel like they’re receiving personal letters, written just for them. Remember, you’re not simply thanking them for a wad of cash, but for helping fulfill your mission. What difference did their contribution make? Will more children be vaccinated, thanks to them?

Utilizing Board Members and the Executive Director

If your board members will be making thank you calls to donors, draft some talking points for them to use during their calls. What difference did their donation really make? These calls are a great opportunity to let the donor know.

Should they leave messages? (Yes!)

Should they leave a return number? What number? Theirs or the number of the organization? Think it through.

If you expect the executive director to write personal notes, write a sample draft note. Provide the stationery and details about the donor.

Recap: Create Your Stewardship Plan and Materials

Once you’re ready to steward, you’re one step closer to asking for Major Gifts! So focus on this week’s action items and get a simple plan together, followed by revitalizing (or creating) your thank you letters and other materials next week.

This should only take you two hours per week, as promised! Spend two hours this week on the stewardship plan, and two hours next week on thank you letters and other materials.

If you’ve committed to taking the Major Gifts Challenge, it’s time to share! Every time you comment, you further solidify your commitment to the challenge. With that in mind, provide a comment below about who, when, and how you will follow up with your donors.


Amy Eisenstein is one of the country’s leading fundraising consultants. She’s raised millions of dollars for dozens of nonprofits through event planning, grant writing, capital campaigns, and major gift solicitations. She has a real talent for making fundraising simple and accessible for her clients and followers.  This post originally appeared on Amy’s blog and is reproduced here with her permission.  Amy can be reached through her website at