How to Thank Donors and Volunteers

If you’re associated with a nonprofit organization…a school, a museum, a theater, a community center, a church, a sports league…then you know that your donors and your volunteers are absolutely vital to your organization’s success.


So how do you thank your donors and volunteers? How does your nonprofit organization demonstrate genuine gratitude to these individuals who make the wheels of your nonprofit turn?


I recently had the privilege of participating in a group brainstorming session about just this topic with some seasoned donors and volunteers/nonprofit board members. We were asked about our best and worst experiences as donors. I wanted to share the pearls of wisdom with our PlanHero family. Although the question was posed for donors, I think much of this can be applied to volunteers as well.


  • Write personal thank-you notes (hand-written is preferred) and be specific about the donation and what it will achieve.
  • Get people’s names right. Ensure correct spelling.
  • Recognize increases in contributions from steady donors. It’s a big deal for someone to increase a donation – make sure you acknowledge it.
  • Recognize even small donors. One participant made a $50 donation, which was consequential for her personal budget. The gratitude response was so personal and meaningful that she increased her donation the following year…and has been a steady donor and advocate ever since.
  • Send something drawn, constructed, or written by children, if your organization is associated with children. People appreciate it. It connects the dollars with the outcomes.
  • And on that note, connect the dollars with the outcomes. Ensure that you are providing data regarding outcomes when appropriate.
  • Keep thank-you notes and “ask” letters separate. No one wants to receive a “Thank-you now give us some more,” note.
  • Recognize community partners. Your nonprofit organization may benefit greatly from community partners who do not “donate” in a conventional sense. Make sure that you are sending them some love and recognize their on-going unconventional contributions to your organization’s success.


  • Send form letters. In particular, don’t send form letters that don’t even have some personal, hand-written notes of thanks on them. People are busy and people have myriad options where they can deploy their time and money. Make them happy they chose your nonprofit.
  • Botch couple’s last names. Many couples do not share the same last name. Don’t send a thank-you note to Mr. and Mrs. Doe, when they are actually Mr. Doe and Ms. Deer.
  • And on that note, be careful about WHO is actually making the donation.  One woman noted that she and her husband not only have separate last names, but also have separate bank accounts. Consider whether this is an individual or couple’s donation. Don’t know? Call and ask!
  • Expect that just because a person has always donated, s/he will donate again. Continue to demonstrate the need to each donor, whether first time or 10 years in. Continue to cultivate and tend to the donor relationship.
  • Ignore the spouse/partner. This is somewhat opposite to the above, but it was voiced as well and is an excellent point. In many households, although one or the other spouse is the “face” involved with the nonprofit organization, the decision about what and how much to give is a team decision – it’s coming out of the same well. When this is the case, don’t forget to thank both parties.


Many thanks to Carrie Randolph of Greater Good Insights who did a superb job of facilitating this discussion!


What about your organization? What can you share in terms of best and worst practices for thanking donors?


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