3 Ways to Integrate Donor Acknowledgements and Appeals

Steven Shattuck is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub and a speaker for Cause Camp 2016. He is VP of Marketing at Bloomerang. As a HubSpot Certified inbound marketer, he is a contributor to Nonprofit Hub, National Council of Nonprofits, Ragan, Social Media Today, Search Engine Journal, The Build Network, HubSpot, Content Marketing Institute and Business2Community. Steven has spoken at national and local conferences, and is frequently interviewed by media outlets for his expertise in digital marketing.


Within any nonprofit, there are a lot of things that can and should be integrated: the fundraising and communications departments, the donor database and website, internal communications and public relations, and so on. Unfortunately, opportunities for silos abound.

Two aspects that you might not have considered integrating are your gift acknowledgements and donation appeals. They seem like such separate entities, but when integrated can unlock the true potential of your donor communications strategy.

Here are three ways your nonprofit can integrate its donor acknowledgements and appeals:

1. Cadence & Timing

Imagine merging onto the highway in your car. Occasionally, drivers in the lane next to you will help you merge, but for the most part the traffic pattern is moving along regardless of you, and it’s your car that has to adjust.

The same thing happens to our donors; especially first-time givers. The make a donation, and then are immediately thrown into whatever communication pattern is already in progress, regardless of their gift type, gift size or demographic information.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Consider creating unique tracks for each donor and sticking to them, and filtering out very recent (first-time) donors from your appeal mailing. One of the worst things that can happen is for a donor to make a gift, and then receive a campaign appeal within a few days.

According to a survey conducted by Roger Craver, the number two reason why donors stay loyal is that they know “what to expect from your organization with each interaction.” In a similar survey conducted by Adrian Sargeant, 18 percent of donors cited “poor service or communication” as the reason they lapsed. Bad timing can certainly result in unexpected and inappropriate communications.

Check out Lori Jacobwith’s “Sample Timeline for New Donor Retention” to get started in creating individual communication tracks for your donors.

2. Branding & Style

As with any donor communications, marketing collateral and other branded material, the overall style should be unified. Naturally, a holiday appeal is going to look different than a spring appeal, but your tone should be consistent regardless of the format, seasonality or purpose of the piece.

With regards to appeals and acknowledgements specifically, aim for closing the loop. For example, if you have an emotional appeal that tugs on the recipient’s heartstrings, your acknowledgement shouldn’t be glib or silly. It should be hopeful and communicate that the donor will make a difference. Conversely, don’t follow up on a more upbeat appeal with a somber acknowledgement.

Don’t be afraid to take chances and deviate from your brand’s normal voice—just be sure that the companion communications match it.

3. Success Stories & Impact Statements

Similar to the branding and style of both pieces, the content should also rhyme. This goes beyond acknowledgements into stewardship pieces as well. For example, if an appeal or case statement highlights one particular use for the gift (“this struggling family needs your support”) the acknowledgement could tell a success story of one such family who was recently helped. Future stewardship pieces could tell a more recent story of a family who was helped by that donor’s gift specifically.

Roger Craver’s survey referenced above also found that the number five and number seven reasons respectively why donors stay loyal are “donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause” and “donor receives information showing who is being helped.” Communicating impact is absolutely critical to retaining donors, and both acknowledgements and appeals can achieve this.

If you aren’t already integrating thank yous and asks, take a look at your upcoming campaigns and existing acknowledgements. Look for opportunities to run similar threads among both, always examine the results and don’t be afraid to adjust what isn’t working.

How do you integrate your donor acknowledgements and appeals? Let me know in the comments below!

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Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

February 9, 2016

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