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How Do Major Donors Want To Be Thanked? 3 Strategies & Tips

This guest post was contributed by Eleven Fifty Seven.

How do you thank a supporter who has given thousands (or more) in funds or in-kind donations to your nonprofit? Much differently than you would with smaller, one-time donors.

Major donors go through many stages of development— the process of securing a major gift isn’t an overnight ordeal. Major donors are individuals who your team has been working with for some time, so it’s important to reflect this relationship and the magnitude of the donor’s gift in your thank-you efforts.

At Eleven Fifty Seven, we specialize in creating meaningful, experiential displays to recognize major donors. We’ve created this guide to share three top donor gratitude strategies and tips for your efforts through the following points:

  • 3 Strategies for Thanking Major Donors
  • Top Tips for Your Major Donor Recognition Efforts

According to the fundraising experts at Double the Donation, “Let your major gift donors know (more than once!) that you appreciate their generosity. If they agree, give them public recognition as well.”

Let’s walk through three unique gratitude strategies that will allow you to do just that.

3 Strategies for Thanking Major Donors

Donor Recognition Display

A donor recognition display is a permanent installment that recognizes major and mid-level donors for their contributions.

When you imagine a donor recognition display, you may think of a singular, wall-mounted plaque that lists the names of tens to hundreds of supporters. However, with the assistance of innovative designers, donor recognition walls and other displays have evolved beyond more traditional formats.

Major donor recognition displays can take a few different forms:

  • Physical donor recognition walls, which are made with physical materials and installed at your preferred location.

A wooden display wall with placards displaying major donor names
  • Digital donor recognition walls, which combine the physical design elements of a donor recognition wall with an interactive digital screen that changes to display information about various contributors.


donor thank you wall with glass panels with lists of donor names and a television screen with a video still of a hospital patient

  • Virtual donor recognition displays, which consist of embedded dynamic content directly on your nonprofit’s website.

These showstopping displays can be branded to your organization, updated as more major donors contribute, and even designed to visually differentiate between major and mid-level supporters. By partnering with a design firm, you can ensure the creative process and implementation of this display goes smoothly.

Donor Spotlight

Another great way to make your major donors feel like the superheroes they are is by highlighting them personally in a donor spotlight.

A donor spotlight involves highlighting one specific donor on your nonprofit’s social media profiles and website, such as in a blog post. In the spotlight, include a brief description of the donor’s history with your nonprofit and the impact that they’ve made thus far. You can also share relevant photos— such as images of them volunteering with your organization or touring your headquarters— and discuss their other interests beyond your organization.

For this strategy, remember that you’ll want to get explicit consent from any donor who you plan to highlight before making any posts.

Donor Recognition Event

A donor recognition event involves bringing your nonprofit’s major supporters, your board, and executive staff members together to thank your donors. These events are often over-the-top, with the goal of providing a great experience for major donors as a thank-you for all of their contributions.

This could mean a formal gala, a less formal luncheon event, or even an entertainment-based event such as a concert or comedy show.

The benefits of this major donor gratitude strategy are three-fold:

  1. It allows your board and staff members to network with major donors and continue stewarding them toward future gifts.
  2. It empowers major donors to network with one another, which can benefit their professional pursuits.
  3. It thanks major donors in a way that they’re sure to enjoy and remember going forward.

Bonus! The Eleven Fifty Seven team has written a comprehensive guide with tips on how to thank donors. Check it out for more ideas for your next appreciation campaign!

Top Tips for Your Major Donor Recognition Efforts

While these three stand-out strategies for thanking major donors are a great start, how you apply the strategy can be more important than which gratitude method you choose.

For example, if you create a donor recognition display but it’s not eye-catching or visually appealing, it’s unlikely to be the most effective way to thank your donors. Through our efforts helping nonprofits craft memorable donor gratitude displays, we’ve discovered five tips that can set your strategy up for success.

When thanking major donors, make sure your thank-you effort is:

  • Personalized: Personalize the thank-you to reflect the major donor’s impact on your mission. This could be as simple as including their name or more in-depth, such as noting the specific efforts that were carried out thanks to their generous donation.
  • Timely: The goal should be to send out some sort of thank-you within 48 hours (or less) of the gift. Even with efforts that can take longer to execute, such as a donor recognition wall, you’ll want to make personalized thank-you calls and send notes thanking the donor in a timely manner, noting how you’re also constructing the display.
  • Proportionate: Remember that the thank-you effort should be proportionate to the size of the gift— so, smaller, one-time donors don’t need to be featured on a recognition wall and major donors certainly need to receive much more than an automated thank-you email.
  • Meaningful: You’ll want to reflect the steps that your nonprofit has been able to take as a result of the major donor’s gift, but you’ll want to do so in a way that’s donor-centric. This means focusing your message around donors and the impact that they’ve had through your organization. 
  • Grateful: Avoid asking for additional donations with your gratitude efforts. Focus instead on the impact that the supporter has already had and thank them genuinely for those efforts. You can send additional fundraising solicitations in future communications.

Our final recommendation would be to work with professionals that specialize in the specific major donor gratitude effort that you’re considering. An event planner can bring any gratitude experiences to greater heights, while a design firm can create an innovative, eye-catching donor recognition strategy for your supporters. Drawing on a partner’s expertise will remove much of the stress and risk from your team’s shoulders.

It can feel overwhelming to thank supporters who have donated thousands of dollars (or more) to your organization. However, there are a variety of strong strategies to express proportionate gratitude for those gifts and continue engaging major supporters going forward. What's more, tools like the GivingDNA Platform enable you to learn more about what your major donors care about and how they would prefer to continue engaging with you. 

With these tips, you’ll be off to a great start. Good luck!


Derrick Spitler, Marketing / Business Development @ Eleven Fifty Seven

Derrick has been referred to as a connoisseur, marketing guru and even a prodigy. 

He began his career with Eleven Fifty Seven as an intern during the Summer of 2019. 

Since then, Derrick has graduated from The Ohio State University and has joined the team full time working in marketing and business development. 

He has grown to love the not-for-profit world by seeing the impact made possible through philanthropy.