Is Your Board Thankful?

Next week is Thanksgiving which got me thinking about thanking. Since I have been doing a series of posts on fundraising, I decided to focus on the role of board members in thanking donors.

My first post on fundraising talked about a successful capital campaign and the many ways donors can make a stretch gift. My second fundraising post stressed the importance of connecting your organizations’ values to your fundraising efforts. My last post suggested ways to board members involved in fundraising and the role of the fund development committee chair in this effort.

Have Board Members Thank Donors

Every organization wants board members to participate in fund raising. That said, there are some board members who cannot make asks – perhaps they are staff for another nonprofit and have a conflict of interest. There are also board members who just don’t want to make an ask. They might feel uncomfortable or unprepared. Finally, there are board members who say they will do something but don’t perhaps due to inertia or reluctance or procrastination – a situation very hard on fundraising staff.

So what do you do? A good idea is to have board members thank donors. I have found that after engaging with a donor during a thank you call, board members become more comfortable and more willing to accompany a staff person on an ask or even ask a donor themselves. They find that it is gratifying to talk to a donor about what is going on at the organization and realize that the conversation is pretty much the same when asking for support as it is when thanking for support.

Here are three ways to have board members participate in thanking donors.

Call the Donor

Have board members call donors to thank them for their support. Give each board member a list of donors with some background information and a script. Then have them make the calls from their home or office. I like this method because you want the board member to try calling a couple times before leaving a message. You should have one script for board members who speak to a donor and another who leave a message. The script should include information on the donor’s history of support, a few key points about the organization’s impact that the donor’s gift helped make, and a couple questions that the board member can ask to engage the donor in a conversation. Questions might include what they thought of an event they recently attended or why the donor supports the organization. Assure board members that if a donor asks a question they cannot answer, to just say they will check with staff and get back to them.

The script for leaving a message would be much briefer with a thank you and a point on how the donor’s gift helped the organization make an impact.

Thank you calls should be made a few days after the gift is received.

If you have an event, you could have a “calling party” a day or so after the event. Board members come into the office and call together – you can provide pizza or snacks to make it fun and celebratory. Also, you know that board members actually make the calls they are assigned. Still, I don’t like this as much because board members end up leaving more messages as they work through their entire list in one evening.

Write a Personal Note or a Message on a Thank You Letter

A personal note goes a long way and donors often remark on it. They feel special. Thank you notes should also be sent soon after a gift is received. You can have note cards with your organization’s logo on it or a mission-aligned picture (think kids’ drawings for a school or pictures of animals for a zoo or humane society).

Give each board member a pile of note cards and stamps to take home. Then as gifts come in, you can email them with the information to write the notes. Provide your board members with sample text as well as information on each donor so the thank you is individualized. It only needs to be a few sentences.

Again, this can be done from home or at a “thank you party” at your offices. If you have board members come into the office, you can have them write notes on the official acknowledgment letter. This does save money in stamps. But don’t let your board members take these home – you need to know for sure that they are sent.

Hold a Thank You Event

Ask a board member to open up their home for an event. Make sure you promote the fact that it is not a fundraiser but a thank you event. Often it is good to have a program manager come as the featured speaker and talk about some aspect of your program and how the donors’ support has helped make an impact in the community. Usually these events are cocktail hour with hors d’ouevres and wine but I have also seen Sunday brunches work as well.  

Some organizations reserve this only for major donors; others invite donors of all levels. Sometimes the board member pays for food and drink; other times the organization does. Make sure you work out ahead who is responsible for sending invitations, arranging for food and drink, and paying. You don’t want any surprises.


  1. Tim Schottman

    The fact that following up with a Board member thank you is so rare makes it particularly effective, especially if it is personalized and helps to reinforce the impact that that donation is helping to make. Thanks!

  2. Mary Bright

    I’m a board member and chair of Development for an agency that helps stabilize homeless families. For our recent November board meeting, we asked board members to come to the meeting prepared to share in a few sentences their WHY…why are you on the board? [This is a board with a great culture, some long term board members and people who enjoy each other, so it was easy to get them to share deeply.]
    The exercise was planned to build the board’s ability to advocate with potential donors, but it turned out to be much more. All found it a very moving experience as people dug deep to share comments that were especially touching in this season of gratitude. The exercise reinforced our board community and created a lot of enthusiasm. We got some great quotes to use for our annual appeal. Finally, we happen to be at the beginning of a strategic planning process; the board’s observations will help us spruce up the mission statement…

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