5 Creative, Meaningful Ways to Thank Institutional Donors

November 21, 2019

November is National Gratitude Month. But, what does gratitude mean exactly? And specifically, what does it mean for us as fundraisers?

As professionals in the nonprofit sector, practicing meaningful gratitude with our donors may seem more complicated than how we practice it in our personal lives. Unlike showing and returning kindness with friends and family, which tends to feel more like second nature, practicing gratitude with institutional funders might seem more forced or complicated. This may have to do with the formal structures around foundation’s giving programs, or even the perceived distance between us and our funders.

I’d like to argue that practicing gratitude with your institutional funders can be easy, meaningful, and even fun.

To support you in growing your foundation gratitude initiatives, I’ve compiled my top five suggestions of ways to show gratitude to foundation funders. In taking these steps, your organization will open opportunities to steward partnerships with your institutional funders to new depths and perhaps in turn drive further impact (and kindness) together.

1. See you later, boring thank you letter

Believe me, I have sent a foundation that stale, mail-merged acknowledgement letter. It makes sense when you’re running a batch of thank you letters to partially customize the general thank you letter for a foundation (all you really have to do is remember to remove the tax-deductible language, right?) and get it out the door. But to truly show gratitude through this communication, I recommend that you take the extra 30 minutes to write a highly-customized thank you letter to each foundation funder. Add details that link back to what the grant will support, your proposed impact, and appreciation for the process, insight, and investment the foundation has provided your organization. Emily Post would be happy to have me recommend and additional handwritten thank you note to send following the formal organizational thank you letter. If it feels right to you, I think it can be a nice touch.

2. Hello, public acknowledgements

Publicly acknowledging your funders is an easy way to demonstrate gratitude. Some funders have strict guidelines for using their name/logo publicly, so be sure to check your award documentation before giving them a shout out. Additionally, reaching out to the foundation to ask them about your public acknowledgement ideas (listing on your website? plaque on the wall? logo in a program book?) is another natural way to continue your demonstration of gratitude. Many organizations miss this easy type of opportunity to demonstrate gratitude for their foundation funders because there is often a preconceived (and possibly incorrect!) notion that foundations don’t want to be recognized in this way.

Another creative publicity avenue you might consider: including a feature in your organization’s newsletter or annual report that highlights a specific foundation, and how their investment advanced your program or initiative.

3. Not your average grant report

Grant reports can feel very formulaic. But what if we used them as both an opportunity to demonstrate our organization’s efficiency and impact, but also infuse them with gratitude? I am not suggesting that your formal grant reports to your foundation funders turn sappy or over the top, but rather asking you to recognize that the grant reporting process as an appropriate point to remember and practice gratitude. Beyond the formal report, perhaps this could be a point, at the end of a grant period, to send the Emily Post style handwritten note (or email, I suppose) that reflects on the impact of the grant and why you are thankful for that investment in your organization.

4. Won’t you be our guest?

Does your organization have an annual fundraising event? Gala? Breakfast? Have you invited your foundation funders as your guests? Yes, foundation funders, board members, and program officers are invited to many more events than they can (or want to) attend. However, extending the invitation is a great opportunity to demonstrate gratitude. Let your funders know why you are inviting them (will there be a presentation on the program they are funding? will they have an opportunity to hear from program participants directly? are you launching a new program that would be of interest to them?) and in most cases, make sure they know that you want them to attend without purchasing a ticket or sponsorship. If your funder RSVPs “yes”, make sure you have a plan to appropriately welcome them and have opportunities to engage with them during the event.

5. Come by for coffee

Finally, beyond an invitation for your event, is there an opportunity to thank your foundation funders in person? I think there can be! Even in cases where a funder came out for a site visit within the last year (or more, depending on the length of the grant period), a year might be a bit too long to go without an update or demonstrated gratitude from your organization.

Look for original/exciting opportunities to invite your foundation funders to your organization. Sometimes because of the formal processes around applying for and winning grant funds, we forget that there are actual people sitting down to write those checks – and that maybe they would enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and hearing what that means to your participants and your organization.

Don’t get me wrong, there comes a point when you will feel that you are over-thanking your donors and its ok to stop the thank you train. What I am not proposing is that you do everything on this list at all times for all funders; what I am proposing is that as an organization or fundraising department, you think on a deeper level about how you thank your foundation funders.

I hope that you found a helpful tidbit in here to strengthen your organization’s practice of gratitude, now in November, and throughout the year. Keep that gratitude going!

About the Author:

Rachel Saint-Firmin