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How to Practice Gratitude Fundraising With 6 New Ideas


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Published November 22, 2022 Reading Time: 8 minutes

Gratitude is a powerful feeling that can increase donor acquisition and retention, especially when it comes to year-end fundraising.

Why America Gives 2022 found that a top benefit of donating is when loyal donors feel gratitude for the work a nonprofit is doing. Loyal donors are 1.5X as likely to donate because they feel admiration or gratitude for the work an organization does, compared to passive donors. As you’re thinking about retaining donors and their desire to fund your mission, it’s worth noting the value of loyal donors. Surveyed loyal donors show a strong pattern of repeat donations to the same causes or organizations over the last five years.

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So, how can your nonprofit tap into the feeling of gratitude within your donor base this holiday season? Fuel your next fundraising campaign with creative ways to showcase donor appreciation and foster donor stewardship. Keep reading to spark your next creative idea.

How Gratitude Builds Deeper Donor Connections

Gratitude is a genuine emotion you can’t force. When nonprofit organizations have donors who feel gratitude for their work, they’re humanizing themselves to build stronger connections. Most donors will feel good in the moment of a donation. Organizations that continue to tap into that emotion to build trust and pride see first-time donors return again.

Gratitude strengthens relationships and has a ripple effect

Harvard shares various studies that look at the relationship between gratitude and relationship building. They state one study of couples found individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner increased the positivity they felt toward the other person. They also became more comfortable expressing their feelings about their relationships.

They also show another study where researchers at the University of Pennsylvania compared a group of university fundraisers who solicited donations as they always had to those who received a pep talk before they made their calls expressing gratitude for their work from the director of annual giving. The second group made 50% more fundraising calls than those who weren’t shown gratitude.

Your relationship with donors is similar to the relationships referenced above, where people find it easier to build trust and connection when they feel appreciated. Below, you’ll see ways to unlock that gratitude in donors, and show your gratitude right back for a strong long-term partnership.

Why Gratitude Matters More Than Ever Before

Gratitude from donors comes from knowing an organization is doing great work. It grows when they feel connected to employees dedicating their time to make it all happen, beneficiaries receiving support and the reason the organization came to be.

As modern donors have more opportunities to give, gaining their gratitude can help you stand out. Understanding their internal drivers may be key to unlocking their attention.

Today, we’ll talk about how you can increase donors’ gratitude for your organization with creative campaigns. We’ll also show you ways to reciprocate that gratitude right back.

Read Why America Gives

How to Practice Gratitude Fundraising With 6 New Ideas

Showcase a Mission to Be Thankful for

Gratitude can play a large role in donor acquisition. Donors may already feel an emotional connection to your work, even if they have never heard about your nonprofit. That’s where you can build lasting relationships that tap into their passions and attract support to your campaigns.

The key is to send a message that doesn’t just ask directly for a generous gift. Instead, focus on building an internal appreciation that naturally leads to generosity.

1. Idea: Showcase bold ways to live out values

Brands that take unexpected and bold actions are the same names you’ll see going viral on social media. People remember what surprises them, and appreciate when the message resonates.

Your nonprofit can gain inspiration from brands who make not-so-subtle stances to live their values in a big way. Start thinking about bringing your mission to life to showcase what donors appreciate most.

An example to inspire you

Inspiration: In 2015, REI closed its doors on Black Friday despite losing out on the profits the biggest shopping day of the year could have brought in. Why? Well, the company prides itself on helping people enjoy the outdoors and knows that its loyal customers share that value. So, they enabled their employees and customers to #optoutside to lead by example.

Turn inspiration into action

Could you have your founder lean on public transportation to lend a vehicle to volunteers to get more done in a heightened moment of need?

Could you have employees donate their pantries to support the hungry?

Maybe you host a competition to see which employee can dedicate the most volunteer time outside of their paid hours to making a difference on the ground.

Making a bold statement comes from the organization’s comfort to identify how to show donors that values will always overshadow income. Use your specific timeframe, mission, and budget to create something that’s unexpected to your audience.

2. Idea: Reach Grateful Donors Through a Corporate Partnership

Your nonprofit is already doing the work that many donors appreciate and connect to. A wider supporter community could simply be a matter of nonprofit awareness.

Even the most passionate donors can only take action if they know about your organization or ways they can offer support. One way to change that is by identifying a corporate partner that these donors already interact.  Build awareness and invite donors to a clear call to action.

An example to inspire you

Make-A-Wish has been teaming up with Macy’s since 2008 on a creative letter-writing campaign built to create hope and spark joy for children during the holiday season. Make-A-Wish is dedicated to helping children fight critical illnesses and their donors are already connected to that. When they paired up with Macy’s, they expanded their reach to entirely new audiences drawn in by the idea of helping children.


Turn inspiration into action

Which businesses can you partner with to reach supporters who already share an appreciation for your work but may not know about your organization?

Does a certain celebrity or public figure regularly advocate for your cause category?

Take the opportunity to have these entities introduce your work to their communities and welcome supporters who come ready with the desire to make an impact aligned with your mission.

3. Idea: Create a powerful visual aid to tap into emotions

The fastest way to resonate with donors is to showcase what they’re most grateful for visually. Consider crafting a video that brings your nonprofit’s beneficiaries and other donors to the spotlight. Highlight voices who can talk directly to other donors about the way your work is making a true difference. A more intimate platform can broaden the connections your message forms with donors.

An example to inspire you

Peloton put out a video campaign titled, “It’s You. That Makes Us.” The video showcases the similarities between Peloton users as they come together as a community, and the brand’s impact on everyone interacting with it daily as part of their lives.

Turn inspiration into action

Imagine a short two-to-five-minute video featuring individuals whose lives were changed by your work. Their personal stories and testimonials can greet each new visitor to your website and instantly pull on their heartstrings.

You could also gather your loyal donors to speak directly to others in a video format. Have them share why they feel grateful to be a part of your mission. That can spark the same emotion in others as you use the footage across various social media platforms and emails.

A single video can establish an appreciation for your nonprofit’s mission and the desire to be a part of it.

How to Show Gratitude to Donors

By showing gratitude to your donors, you express your appreciation and drive donor relationships. Once you have a loyal donor, your ongoing relationship building through gratitude can keep them loyal. Thanking donors also serves as a constant reminder that they mean just as much to your organization as it means to them.

4. Idea: Surprise donors with a personalized touch

Seeing someone’s handwriting on a letter you receive in your mailbox went from typical to novelty. People know your organization is busy, especially at the end of the year. That’s what makes a hand-written letter of appreciation that much more impactful.

An example to inspire you

A popular fitness apparel brands, Sweat Betty, takes up the art of hand-written notes to recognize it’s most loyal customers. They add the elements of personalized details as well as a discount the customer can take action on to continue engaging.

While simple in nature, the notes stood out to customers who are used to digital communications from many of Sweaty Betty’s competitors.


Turn inspiration into action

Consider writing thank you donor communications based on how they’ve interacted with your organization at milestones throughout the year such as:

  • Thank your Giving Tuesday donors: Send a hand-written letter thanking Giving Tuesday donors for their support in January, when the giving season passed and the gesture can reignite their spark to get involved
  • Acknowledge volunteers: Write a hand-written thank you note showing your appreciation to any volunteer who’s helped bring your work to life in the last year, including details like the exact events or opportunities these volunteers contributed to, the results, and the value of the specific projects they worked on

It’ll be important to note that you know they’re busy, and their time and commitment to donate stand out. If you don’t have the time to handwrite letters, you can also consider sending a short video. The visual messages of gratitude can appeal particularly to younger donors who enjoy connecting on video-based platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

5. Idea: Create an appreciation event

Making people feel special can show your appreciation in a big way. What if you held an online virtual event for your nationwide supporters who’ve contributed to your goals this year? It can also reduce the cost.

An example to inspire you

Dunkin is one of many coffee brands that celebrates its customers with free coffee on National Coffee Day as a widespread event. They take the awareness day and turn it into a way to appreciate the people who make its business successful with thoughtful graphics.


Turn inspiration into action

The virtual format can bring together a large group of people around a value for them and build community through one another’s gratitude.

Here are some ideas to get your started:

  • Partner with a local artist to perform a livestream concert
  • Ask beneficiaries to share their stories directly to your donors who made their solutions possible
  • Have donors volunteer to share the stories that connect them to your cause based on a special invitation

You could also take this idea to an in-person format by hosting satellite gatherings in large cities where your donors are located to get together for dinner or coffee and cover a portion of their bill. As you put your creative spin on these nonprofit fundraising event ideas, you’ll simultaneously expose new donors to the values that keep people connected to your organization.

6. Idea: Celebrate loyalty

Recognition is an incredible way to show gratitude, especially when it’s personalized.

An example to inspire you

Starbucks mastered a loyalty program that makes each and every customer feel rewarded for their purchases, and experience real-time recognition for their engagement with the brand.


Turn inspiration into action

What if you could engage your recurring donor community with a loyalty program that they enter into as they sign up for an automated gift? You can bring the mentality of rewarding their contributions by regularly showcasing their progress throughout the year via email.

Emails that recognize milestones in a recurring donor’s journey such as “$100 contributed for good” or “5-time donation superstar” can build the excitement that Starbucks star rewards program does. You could also offer swag or event registration discounts to donors who achieve certain milestones to keep it gamified.

You can get creative to introduce badges donors can show off on social media to build desire around joining the community to others too. After all, 77% of donors are most likely to learn about new causes by word-of-mouth through their friends and family.

Drive Donor Retention Through Donor Gratitude

Why America Gives 2022 showcases the importance of gratitude to motivate donor loyalty, as well as how donors who show a strong pattern of returning to give again to the same organizations expect to give through 2023.

As you learn more about what drives your donors internally to take action, you can establish an engagement strategy that stands apart and leads to better acquisition, conversion, and retention rates.


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