Donor Appreciation Events

Donor Appreciation Events


In the mid-1990s, I was playing around with the idea that we could ask people to join The Nature Conservancy’s Oregon Field Office with annual gifts of $1,000. (My colleagues around the country were skeptical. “No one will give you $1,000 through the mail!” they said.)



Fundraiser’s Almanac: September

Fundraiser’s Almanac – October

  • Donor Appreciation Events
  • Taking Stock
  • Fall Appeal 1st Drop
  • First Take – Fundraising Planning for 2016


The idea I had was to create an event that only members giving at that level could attend and use it to get donors and board members together. That year we used a picnic area in a cathedral forest. We hired a chef from a local restaurant, and served Dungeness crab. And we invited people to come with their own bottles of wine, because we were leery of being responsible for everyone driving home afterward – in the end, we had better wine for the event than we could have afforded otherwise.

The results were fabulous. Within just a couple of years, we had dozens of members of our annual membership club, and the appreciation event was something people valued enough that it became one of the drivers for the membership program.

Since then, I have helped many organizations create donor clubs and appreciation events. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  • Don’t charge people to attend. Having a donation bowl at the back of the room into which people can throw contributions to offset their meal is fine, but you don’t need to charge people for the privilege of hearing you say thank you.
  • Keep the program short and relevant – we’re here to have fun!
  • Invest in good food – the returns will be worthwhile.
  • Allow $1,000 members to bring guests on the condition that you have names and contact information in advance for everyone attending.

Within that construct, I can share with you some impressive creativity. Hikes and dinners are fairly common, but the entertainment is not. One organization hired an actor to come to the event dressed as Aldo Leopold. The actor made a short presentation inspired by A Sand County Almanac.

Another organization hired a young presenter who had completed a Facebook project where he took a picture of a single oak tree every day for a year. He showed some of the photos and described an interesting event at the end involving followers of his project.

One land trust allows their donors to walk behind select plein air artists on their preserves each year. The art that is produced is sold at a special event later in the year.

Another group combined a preserve hike with a group visit to an outdoor Shakespearean theater. Club members enjoyed the hike, a meal accompanied by company actors not performing that night, and a play in the woods.

Other groups are providing small gifts for their donors. One is providing jars of honey gathered by bees on one of the preserves. Another is providing small jars of jam: “nature preserves.” Another has a wine label.

One of my favorites is an organization that offers a fleece jacket to members when they join for the first time. There is some ceremony to its delivery with the Executive Director and board president attending. The jacket is presented at a photo op, reminiscent of the way the green jacket is presented following The Masters golf tournament. The pictures make it onto their website with the caption that so-and-so “just got fleeced by the organization.”

Whatever you end up doing, take Jeff Brooks advice to heart:

Make it obvious,

Make it corny,

Make it FUN!


So what are you doing to show appreciation for your donors? How has your response been?

Let me know so I can share your story.




PS: See you at Rally!


Related Posts:

Donor Event Planning

Getting the Most from Your Donor Events


Learn how David can help you with your fundraising campaigns here.

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