FundraisingSchool Marketing

Beyond Thank You Notes: Unique Ways to Acknowledge Donors

Showing appreciation to your school or educational institution’s supporters helps you build a thriving community of alumni and donors. Thank you letters are a staple for showing appreciation, but expressing gratitude in new and creative ways makes your school stand out, leading to more lasting donor bonds.

Your donor recognition strategy should consider who your supporters are and how they want to be thanked. Finding an approach that works for your community might involve a bit of trial and error, and this guide is here to teach you when to thank donors and provide unique methods for showing your appreciation.

When should you thank donors?

In most cases, if you’re not sure if you should thank a donor, it’s best to err on the side of gratitude. At worst, your school might seem a bit excessive with praise, but at best, your message will strengthen your connection with the donor, leading to future support.

However, if you need more precise direction for when to thank donors, refer to eCardWidget’s guide for how to thank donors:

A list of times when a nonprofit, such as a school, should thank its donors, written out below.

  • After a donation. All donations, regardless of size, deserve at least a quick thank you. Supporters who start with small donations may increase their support over time as they learn more about your school or become more financially stable.
  • When starting a membership. If your school has a membership program, thank supporters who join it. This applies to alumni associations and recurring giving programs.
  • On birthdays and holidays. Donors may not contribute to your school on their birthday or a holiday, but sending a celebratory message can help build your connection with them. Plus, for holidays near the end of the year, a thank-you message from your school might remind supporters to donate.
  • After a campaign. If a donor supported a specific fundraiser, reach out to them to thank them once it ends. Update them on how the campaign ended, what you intend to do with the funds raised, and how donors’ generous support will advance your mission.
  • At a donor milestone. When donors hit a milestone achievement, like one year of giving to your school or a total of $1,000 given, let them know and thank them for all their support.

If you’re still unsure about how and when to thank your donors, keep in mind that these occasions are about frequency rather than scale. For instance, while you should thank every supporter when they donate, the appropriate thank you message for a $15 donation might just be a quick thank-you message while appreciation for a $5,000 donation will be much larger in scale.

Donor Appreciation Strategies

Now that you know when to thank your donors, let’s explore a few strategies for how to show that appreciation.


Thank-you letters are the classic way to thank donors, and twists on this traditional approach help your school stand out while still conveying a meaningful message.

For instance, eCards are virtual postcards that combine the fun of receiving a card in the mail with the speed of a thank-you email. eCards consist of two components you can use to intrigue and acknowledge donors:

  1. The visuals: eCards can feature photographs, illustrations, or even animated graphics to draw attention. Include your school’s logo on your design so supporters will know it came from your organization at a single glance.
  2. The message: eCards allow you to write a short thank you message that helps you connect with the recipient. Make this message personal by addressing the donor by name and referencing their specific donation amount.

You can send eCards individually or create templates that you send at a specific time. For instance, you might send all of your donors a holiday eCard to thank them for the support they’ve given you throughout the year and remind them to donate before the end of the year.


Gifts serve as a physical reminder of your school and solidify donors’ connections to your organization. re:Charity’s donor gifts guide recommends sending these presents:

  • Branded merchandise like t-shirts, hats, mugs, water bottles, and stickers
  • Bookmarks with creative branded designs that represent your school
  • Items related to your organization, which for schools might include laptop bags, planners, or pens
  • Discounts to businesses with locations near your school’s campus

Small gifts like these are also an easy way to show your appreciation for and engage volunteers. Order gifts specifically for volunteers or, if you have extras left over from your donor appreciation efforts, hand them out to volunteers as thanks for all their hard work.

Video messages

Rather than a written thank-you message, try acknowledging donors with a video. These are usually short (between 15-30 seconds) and feature a notable individual (such as a beloved teacher) who thanks donors for their contribution to your organization.

To make videos stand out, incorporate footage of your school, student activities, or students in their classrooms. Then, for the thank you itself, record in a quiet place where you can capture clear audio. Have a list of mid-sized and major donors’ names, contribution amounts, and any other specific information you want mentioned in your thank-you videos. Then, get to work recording multiple videos back-to-back.

Donor walls

Major donors require major acknowledgment. Cards and gifts are helpful perks for improving major donors’ relationships with your school, but to properly celebrate their gifts, consider going bigger by creating a permanent monument to their generosity in the form of a donor recognition wall.

While the rest of the ideas on this list can be arranged with just a few days of planning, constructing a donor recognition wall is a long-term commitment and results in a physical object that will last for years to come. Different donor wall construction companies can complete different types of walls for your school, such as:

  • An outdoors wall
  • An indoor feature
  • An interactive virtual donor wall
  • A themed space
  • A statue

If you’re not quite ready for the commitment of a physical donor wall, consider dedicating a page on your website to major donors in the meantime. Along with celebrating your donors, this page can inspire other donors and help promote your fundraising efforts.

Acknowledging donors goes a long way toward retaining them. When someone supports your school, let them know you appreciate it by sending a unique thank-you message they’ll hold on to. Then, when it’s time to give again, your school will be at the forefront of their mind.

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