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Nonprofit Strategies

Budget-friendly donor appreciation event planning ideas

Here’s a simple guide to putting together an affordable yet special donor appreciation event that will help your community feel valued.

Kylie Davis
September 29, 2023
June 8, 2021
Nerd Mr Butter

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When it comes to donor retention, a heartfelt "thank you" can work wonders. Research shows that first-time donors who receive a thank you message within 48 hours are four times more likely to give again. While automated messages are convenient, why not take gratitude to the next level?

Enter the donor appreciation event! It's not just a way to celebrate your generous supporters but also an opportunity for them to witness the impact of their contributions firsthand. They'll get to meet your amazing staff and volunteers and enjoy a memorable evening out.

How to organize a donor appreciation event in 6 easy steps

1. Start with the basics ☝️

To kick off your planning, you need the basic logistics:

  • Who 📫 Who will you invite? Will all donors be invited, or just those who contributed major gifts? Will you include all employees, contractors, or volunteers?
  • What 🎉 What type of event will you host? Will it be in person, virtual, or a hybrid of the two?
  • When ⏰ When will your event take place? If donors travel long distances, you will want to schedule it as far in advance as possible (4-6 months, minimum).
  • Where 📍 Where can you hold your event? If you're a school or religious group, you could reserve your multi-purpose room or another gathering area. If you're a nonprofit organization, you can host it at your office or rent a space (budget permitting).
  • How 💪 How will you get the word out and collect RSVPs? Will you mail invitations with a custom thank you letter, email a virtual invitation, or give each donor a phone call? (To easily get in touch with donors, use a donor management system to store all contact information.)

2. Set your budget 💰

Now that you have the basic details ironed out, it's time to set a budget.

Any event will come with a cost attached. With that being said, you can come up with creative ways to save funds, including:

  • Invitations 💌 Evites—like those from Greenvelope or Paperless Post—are far more affordable (and environmentally friendly) than paper donor appreciation event invitations. If you need other marketing materials, consider using pre-made templates from Canva rather than hiring a designer.
  • Venue 🏛 A rented space will eat up the bulk of your cost. Find creative solutions by transforming your office into a party space or hosting a house party at a board member's home. If you're hosting your event at an outdoor space, like a park, don’t forget to apply for permits first.
  • Food and drink 🥂 Consider hosting a cocktail hour or brunch rather than a multi-course dinner. Purchase alcohol from a local grocer and task a staff member with serving as a bartender for the evening.
  • Entertainment 🎶 Consider booking a local band or DJ or simply creating a Spotify playlist for music. Invite individuals who have an active role to give a short speech on your organization's mission. This could be your executive director or someone who was directly impacted by your cause.

3. Create an itinerary ⏰

Even though it's a party, your event should have a start and end time. Set an itinerary, and stick to it.

If you're wondering how to fill time throughout the evening, here are a few budget-friendly ideas to get you started:

  • Give a welcome address 👋 Have a board member or executive welcome everyone to the party, thank donors for their contributions, and revisit your mission and values as an organization.
  • Create a video or slideshow 🍿 Create a montage of videos and photos from various fundraiser events throughout the year. Set your video to music for guests to enjoy.
  • Create a timeline 🗓 Create an art installation of major milestones since the new year. Show any major events, fundraising campaigns, social media or PR mentions, and other events. Wherever possible, show donors how their money was used (e.g., "Purchased 80 new band uniforms for the middle school" or "Fed 873 meals to seniors during the pandemic").
  • Share personal stories 💬 Invite several individuals to share short (3–5 minute) anecdotes about how donations personally impacted them. For example, if you raised money for the school volleyball team, invite two senior players to speak. If you raised funds for cancer research, invite several survivors to share their story.
  • Create a photo booth 📸 Collect photos of donors socializing with volunteers and staff. You can either rent one or set up a DSLR on a tripod with a remote timer.
  • Set up lawn games ⛳️ Set up cornhole, life-sized Jenga, or a mini-putt course to entertain guests.

4. Assign roles to staff and board members 👯

A donor appreciation event is extremely different from a fundraising event. First and foremost, a donor appreciation event is never, ever, ever about asking for additional funds.

Instead, it's a time to thank donors and enjoy your time together.

Assign roles to each staff member, ensuring they're intentionally engaging supporters at the party. This is your opportunity to deepen donor relationships, creating a personal contact with each person in attendance.

As you assign roles, keep the following in mind:

  • Welcoming guests 👯 Assign 1–2 people to welcome each guest, take coats, and explain the layout of the evening.
  • Food and beverage station 🧑‍🍳 Assign 2–3 bartenders and servers, ensuring everyone is quickly served any refreshments.
  • Mingling 🤝 Make sure each person is actively approaching donors, introducing themselves, and asking to learn more about each donor. No donor should be standing by themselves in a corner.

5. Thank your donors one last time 💕

Before your donors leave for the evening, be sure to thank them one last time.

Remember to keep these thank yous thoughtful but not extravagant. After all, donors want the assurance their contributions went toward the cause they care about—not parties or gifts.

Here are several ideas:

  • Card 📝 Write a handwritten note.
  • Small gift 🎁 Offer a unique gift donated by a local business.
  • Photos 🖼 Send home a Polaroid candid shot from the evening.
  • Plant 🪴 Send home a potted plant or succulent (potting plants could also be an activity for the evening).

Fine-tune your donor follow-up with Givebutter

To increase donor retention, you should thank supporters as soon as possible. Choose a fundraising platform that includes automated thank-you messages as one of its features to help with this.

With Givebutter, each donor gets an automated thank you immediately following each contribution. In addition, Givebutter is packed with top-rated features to increase donor recognition and engagement.

Ready to see how Givebutter can make a difference in your organization? Get started with a free account today.

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