Donor Relations: What You “Should” Do and What You “Must” Do

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In donor relations, it’s easy to split ourselves too many ways, pursuing too many initiatives at once. Often, we begin our work brainstorming about what we must do in order to build your program?

To prioritize your efforts wisely, refer to the Four Pillars of Donor Relations (covered in full in my book):

In this updated version of the Four Pillars, start your journey to successful donor relations by tackling the acknowledgement. They are non-negotiables.


You must provide proper acknowledgement and receipting of the donor’s gift. This includes:

  • A receipt within 24-48 hours of their gift
  • A prompt yet templated “thank you” within 72 hours to a week following the receipt

Receipt first, acknowledgement second. The receipt is for the transaction; the acknowledgment builds the relationship and expresses gratitude.


Donors have three needs in exchange for their gifts:

  • Transparency
  • Gratitude
  • Impact

A proper receipt and acknowledgment are the building blocks of transparency and gratitude. But next the donor needs more transparency around their impact. Regardless of the amount of the gift or the designation of where it went, you must report to the donor how it was spent and the impact of that gift on your institution.

Again, this is not negotiable. It is no longer good enough to say “we used it and it went to the area of greatest need.” Donors can see through that. Show them where the area of greatest need was and how their money, large or small, had an impact.

You Need to Prioritize

Before you create a fancy video or 6 levels in your recognition society, ask yourself: Do all of my donors know how their money was spent (or even scarier, THAT we actually spent it) and the impact of their gift?

If you can’t answer honestly that your institution is transparent about that, then stop and do not continue dreaming about the “shoulds” until you can say that.

Donor relations is wonderful; we love the variety of the work that it allows and the meaningful interactions with donors. But if we don’t do what we must first, the “should” won’t matter at all. Stewardship and Acknowledgements are the two pillars you need to tackle first before tackling the rest.