We are continually impressed by the personal, creative, and heartfelt ways that organizations find to show donors how much they are appreciated. We compiled a short list of 4 of our favorite “thank-yous,” each demonstrating these qualities. We would love to hear about your favorites, as well. Share your own stewardship stories by starting a conversation on social media.

1. Throw a surprise party

Recently one of our partner institutions received a $100 million contribution to kick start a comprehensive campaign. To make the announcement particularly meaningful, they held a surprise event to both launch the campaign and announce the gift at the same time. Through this unique event, the couple got to participate in the excitement and gratitude their contribution elicited in the university community as it was announced.

Ideas to consider:

    • Tell donors how people reacted when they heard the news about their contribution—especially anything particularly heartfelt that was said.
    • Events are the perfect place to recognize those who have contributed to campaigns—and a great place for surprises, if you think a particular donor would appreciate it.

2.Bring them into the family

We heard a beautiful story about a widow who made a $1 million gift to the academic medical center where she was being treated as she neared the end of her life. Her family lived far away, and she developed very close relationships with her development professional and the cancer center. When the president of the university heard her story, he wanted an opportunity to say thank you. He invited her to a luncheon at his home and pushed her wheelchair himself as he gave her a tour of the house. The 89-year-old donor was thrilled—she laughed the whole time.

Ideas to consider:

    • If the contribution size warrants it, consider arranging a personal visit with organizational leaders—and be sure to select activities you know the donor will find meaningful.
    • Behind-the-scenes tours are a great way to show donors the impact of their contributions, as well as treat them like part of the family.

3. Convey real gratitude from real people

Donors to a scholarship fund at one major university received an email with a brief video at the close of one campaign year. The video captured the personal stories—and the very heartfelt thanks—of 10 scholarship recipients. After viewing the video, donors commented that, while they had been happy with their contributions, they had no idea that the students were accomplishing so much; now they are even more proud to be involved. Videos like this can be sent privately, as this university has done, or featured in a campaign event.

Ideas to consider:

    • Collect thank-you letters from people who have been directly impacted by the contributions and distribute them to donors in a folio, booklet or scrapbook.
    • Hold a scholarship dinner so recipients and donors can meet, and prepare the recipients beforehand to share their thanks.

4. Know what’s meaningful to the donor

We love this story about a well-known philanthropist and active volunteer whose granddaughter sent her a card that read, “I’m so proud of you for all the money you’ve raised.” While she had contributed millions of philanthropic dollars for which she had received numerous honors, she felt most touched by the recognition she received for her volunteer work as a fundraiser. She carried that card with her at all times because it was so meaningful to her.

Ideas to consider:

    • Learn what is meaningful to a donor by uncovering the personal experiences that motivate their involvement. Use these to guide your stewardship efforts.
    • Be thoughtful when making stewardship gifts. Remember what donors like—sports or music, for instance—and give them something they’ll truly enjoy.


For a printable copy of these and more ideas, click here to download the “Beyond Stewardship” infographic