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How to Thank a Foundation Funder

By Ashley Schultz


Did you know February contains three separate holidays for acknowledging love and appreciation for others? In 2019, this includes Valentine’s Day (February 14th), Random Acts of Kindness Week (February 11th to 17th) and International Friendship Month. That's a whole lot of gratitude!


Before you begin the month-long spree of thanking family, friends, and total strangers - take a moment to consider your agency’s donor appreciation activities. Do you have a system in place for thanking funders? Do you effectively use media outlets to share that appreciation with the larger community? Do you update funders throughout the project cycle with pictures and personalized messages? Whether your agency received $500 or $500,000, sending a thoughtful thank you illustrates that you don’t simply see your funder as an ATM – but as a valuable partner in an on-going relationship.


Fortunately, gratitude comes in all shapes, sizes, and levels of commitment. Your organization doesn’t need to hire a new staff person just to say thank-you to its partners. You also don’t need to shell out big bucks to send lavish gifts to show your gratitude. You have many options in which to tailor your appreciation based on the size of your agency and the type of assistance provided. Get your team started this February with a few ideas from the Grants Office team below -


Quick and Simple Acts of Gratitude -


1.       Mail your Funder a Thank-you Letter. This action is a MUST and the bare-minimum for expressing gratitude to a foundation or individual donor. We suggest opting for a handwritten note over the standard email. Mailed letters are far more heartfelt and memorable in today’s digital world. When writing your note, personalize the message to your project and the funder. Include when and how the gift will be used. For bonus points, consider highlighting a specific person or group the award is expected to impact. End with a concrete action step for the funder, such as an offer to join your email distribution list for future updates on the program they are supporting.


2.       Call your Funder. This action mirrors the personalized thank-you card activities above. Show respect for your funder’s time by keeping the conversation brief. We suggest preparing a set of talking points before dialing their number, including: (1) How the gift will be used; (2) Who will benefit; and (3) When the funded project will begin. While you have them on the phone, ask the funder if they would like to receive periodic updates on the project. If yes, allow them to select the form of communication (e.g. phone, email, newsletter) most agreeable to the organization. 


3.       Tag your Funder in a Social Media Post. This action allows you to expand the reach of that thank you note to the general public. Posts to social media are particularly impactful for large, national foundations that did not provide you with an address or phone number to make direct contact with someone like the board president or program manager. Take time to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or LinkedIn handles so your funder will receive a notification that you thanked them online. For bonus points, we suggest adding a picture or short video to make your gratitude standout for users scrolling through their newsfeed.


4.       Identify your Funder on Printed Materials and Annual Reports. This action leverages existing resources – such as your agency’s webpage or program fliers – to re-thank important funders. Notice that we said re-thank there. Including a call out to a foundation in your annual report should not be your only act of gratitude for a monetary gift. Publishing your agency’s annual report will likely fall outside the suggested 48-hour window for sending a thank you following an award. What’s more, it is improbable a foundation will search your agency’s website and/or documents for evidence their help was acknowledged. As such, we suggest taking this action only after completing other acts of gratitude in this list. Once you’re ready, be sure to contact the funder before making any document public to ensure: (1) You have the most updated version of their logo; and (2) You have permission to post that logo to a website and/or program fliers. While you’ve got the funder on the line, don’t forget to ask them if they’d like a copy of any materials for their records as well!


More Involved Acts of Gratitude -


1.       Mention your Funder in a Press Release. This action allows your agency to leverage local advertising services (e.g. radio interviews; local newspapers) to reach audiences outside of traditional social media platforms. As you promote an event or upcoming program across the airwaves, be sure to thank the foundation awards that made the whole thing possible. Depending on the size of your community, you may be surprised at the easy access and low financial cost associated with this level of recognition.


2.       Send Baked Goods to your Funder’s Office – or next Board Meeting. Trust us - Nothing says “thank you” like a box of freshly baked cookies from that little shop on Main Street.


3.       Add a Plaque Acknowledging your Funder. This action allows you to leave a permanent and very prominent piece of gratitude for significant foundation awards. Don’t feel limited to the standard brass-coated tablets attached to newly constructed buildings. Consider adding “Donated by...” stickers to items that will be used by the public, such as new library computers or classroom microscopes. Be sure to contact your funder before ordering the plaques or stickers to make certain they consent to this kind of recognition. Rather than pay for a sign to thank them in perpetuity, some funders would rather you devote those dollars towards additional program costs, even if your organization was willing to foot the bill and not use awarded funds.


4.       Invite your Funder to an Event they Sponsored. This action creates a meaningful, hands-on experience for foundations to see their funding in action. Since this act of gratitude is the most complex and time consuming, we suggest your team begin planning well in advance. Identify one or more individuals in your organization who will guide these VIP guests through your event, facilitate interactions with participants, and answer their questions. Be respectful of the funders’ calendars by providing plenty of advanced notice and a flexible window of time for their visit. Don’t expect them to hang out for the entire six-hour event. Instead, offer 30- to 60-minute time slots for the group to choose from. Alternatively, you may also consider creating an exclusive “donors only” event to thank prominent funders (perhaps an intimate dinner party  at the home of your organization’s CEO). Last, but certainly not least, keep the focus of your funder's visit on saying thank-you for their current award. Impress them simply by seeing your team in action. Don’t spend too much time making desperate pleas that start with "We could do so much more if we had extra funding...” Save that talk for another day.


The Last Act in Gratitude – Repeat! Expressing appreciation for funders should not stop at the thank you card from Step 1. Establish protocols within your agency to regularly appreciate funders throughout the year. Think outside the box for extra ways to say thank you, such as (1) Calling your funder when the agency meets a critical milestone; (2) Mailing anniversary cards to multi-year donors; or even (3) Celebrating National Philanthropy Day (November 15th) with an email blast to all your supporters.


When done properly, these acts of gratitude will strengthen your partnership with foundations, allowing your agency to leverage that valuable social capital into additional grant funding down the road. It all begins with a simple thank you!




Thank-you cards should be mailed out within 48-hours of receiving notice of award. Keep a fresh box of cards and a book of stamps at your desk to avoid a scramble to the store for proper stationary!



Did a single program manager or office administrator go out of their way to help your grant application? Send them a separate thank-you with a small gift card to a local coffee shop.



Encourage your agency to be mindful and purposeful in its praise. Over-thanking or smothering donors will not always lead to more grant awards.