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December 3, 2021
Recognize Donors by Showing the Results of Their Gifts
By Terry Axelrod

Terry Axelrod
Terry Axelrod
To build and retain donor loyalty, recognize your donors by telling them what their money enabled your organization to accomplish. Show them how their gift changed lives.

Ask any donor what type of recognition they most like to receive for their gift. A plaque? An engraved paperweight? No. You will find that they want to know that their gift made a difference—that it made someone’s life better or made the planet a better place.

They want to know that their financial contribution was used wisely for the purpose intended: to forward a research project, to advocate for abused women, to provide hospice care to one patient. They want the facts. Share with them as much detail as you can.

The Power of Facts
Do not underestimate the power of facts and statistics on donors. The young founder of a new nonprofit running programs in Vietnam seemed to instinctively understand this power. After receiving a contribution from a new donor, he sent her an accounting of exactly how each of her dollars was used. Granted, the program was small and he was in charge of spending all the money, so he had ready access to the facts. Nonetheless, it impressed the donor to see how much of the money went to specific orphanages, how much to his Agent Orange program, and how much to the Vietnamese schools.

This young man knows the essential truism about raising funds from individuals: we are emotional people looking for facts to justify our emotional decisions to donate.

Not only did he provide the facts, but he also took the conversation a step further by including the emotional impact of those facts. In addition to the factual accounting of how the money was spent, he sent a personal letter describing his trip to visit each of the programs and present them with their funds. He enclosed a signed photo of three little girls in the Vietnamese orphanage.

In a simple, low-budget way, he did a superb job of recognizing the donor by connecting her to the factual and emotional impact of her gift. She reports that she will be a donor to this young man’s organization for life.

He could have sent all kinds of baubles and plaques, and while they might have looked nice when hung on a wall, the donor would have wondered why he spent money on all the trinkets rather than on the programs he was so dedicated to supporting.

Connect to Stories
How could this simple approach work for you? It starts with each donor’s initial introduction to your organization. In this case, the young man held a small meeting at his home to give people a “tour” of the program. The woman attended because she has an interest in Vietnam and his mother is a friend of hers. The programs and needs he talked about were the very same programs that her small contribution later funded. There was consistency in his message. The donor connected instantly to the stories he told about the children and affected families. The facts and statistics were compelling, as was his personal commitment to making a difference in Vietnam. It was impressive. He never asked for money. He asked her to think about what she had heard and said he’d like to call her for advice and feedback a few days later.

When he called, she told him that she really didn’t have time to get more involved but that she would like to encourage a few friends to attend his next informational meeting. She also added that when he was ready to raise money for the effort, she would be happy to support him with a modest gift.

Sure enough, he called back about three weeks later, just before leaving for Vietnam. He wanted to let her know that with the help of his mother and his church, the cost of his trip had been underwritten, so that all of the funds he raised could go directly to the programs. There was virtually no overhead.

Before he even asked, she told him the amount of her contribution and he promised to be back in touch when he returned from Vietnam. About three months later, she received the recognition package with the letter, the accounting statement, and the signed photo from the children in the orphanage. The report was actually four or five single-spaced typed pages, chock-full of details on each of the programs he visited.

“My entire experience with this young man and his project was consistent and truthful,” the donor told me. “He had delivered on everything he promised. I felt great about the experience.”

Whether yours is a complex research program, a public policy group, or a local domestic violence shelter, there is an equally compelling way to recognize your donors with the facts about the successes that their money made possible and the firsthand stories about the lives changed by their gifts. This deeper recognition is what they are ultimately yearning for, and it’s what will keep them loyal to your organization for a lifetime.

Terry Axelrod is the founder of Benevon, which trains and coaches organizations to engage individual donors in attaining sustainable fundraising. Contact her at or call 206-709-9400.
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