The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way so many organizations interact with their donors, supporters, and volunteers. Where possible, we hope you’ve been able to successfully transition to online and hybrid programming to help meet your fundraising goals.
Speaking of fundraising goals, what the pandemic likely hasn’t changed is your organization’s need for support from your community. If anything, this need may have increased over the past couple of years.
Holding events—virtual or otherwise—is one of the most time-tested ways to hit those fundraising targets, bring your community together, and spread awareness for your projects and initiatives. But are you making the most of your events? Are you doing everything you can to secure ongoing support from those who attend?
If you’re not appropriately thanking your attendees for their time and support, the answer is no. Showing appreciation for your supporters’ attendance through thoughtful thank-yous is essential to keeping them engaged with your organization.
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 5 ways you can thank attendees to your events. Here’s what we’ll suggest:
- Prompt email, text, or call
- Recognition displays for your highest-impact donors
- Thoughtful gifts
- Another invitation
- Handwritten notes
Making sure your supporters feel noticed for their participation—no matter how big or small—will leave the best possible impression and encourage them to keep coming back. That means more engagement, more awareness for your mission, and ultimately, more donations! Let’s dive in.
1. Prompt email, text, or call
This is the “no-brainer” of event thank-you strategies. Regardless of the exact approach you choose to take to thank your attendees, it should always involve this basic step.
If one of your supporters won an item at your hybrid auction, donated during your fundraising livestream, or otherwise contributed to your cause while attending your event, they should receive an immediate communication in the form of text or an email confirming their donation.
Even if they didn’t contribute monetarily to your cause, you should still thank them for attending using this method. Choose one or more of the following:
- Emails are easy to automate, customizable, and have plenty of room for additional materials, like links to your website and social media accounts.
- Texts are personal, informal, and most likely to be read quickly. Automated texts are easy to implement and feel more intimate than mass emails.
- Phone calls are the most personal of the three. If calling every attendee is unrealistic, consider reserving calls for those who made higher-impact donations.
No matter which method(s) from this list that you choose, make sure the thank-you goes out quickly, preferably the day after your event or, for automated emails, immediately after their donation. This way, you can reinforce their connection to your organization while you’re likely still on their minds.
A best practice for email, text, or phone call thank-yous is to always include a prompt for further engagement, whether it’s an option to subscribe to your newsletter, a link to your volunteer opportunities page, or a flyer for your next event. (Or, in the case of phone calls, information on how to access these materials online.) For the best results, make sure all of these resources are user-friendly.
Something else to consider including in this type of thank-you is a survey or interview about your event. After all, your attendees may be sitting on valuable feedback about your event that could help you improve your programming going forward.
2. Recognition displays for your highest-impact donors
When you’re reviewing how your event performed, keep an eye out for those attendees who had a large impact on the event—specifically, look for supporters who may have contributed significantly to your fundraising goal.
Identifying the attendees who bought a big-ticket item at your virtual auction or made a large donation is an important first step to thanking them appropriately and securing their support into the future.
One way to make sure they feel noticed and appreciated is to honor them by including their names on a donor recognition display.
Donor recognition displays are permanent installations commonly found on walls or in lobbies of buildings that are designed to recognize an organization’s major donors for their contributions.
While recognition displays are commonly associated with large-scale fundraisers and capital campaigns, there are smaller-scale options, too—for example, digital recognition displays are becoming increasingly popular.
3. Thoughtful gifts
Who doesn’t love receiving gifts in the mail? A surefire way to make your event attendees feel appreciated is with a small token of your gratitude. Here are some fun ideas for possible goodies to help you say “thanks” to your attendees:
- Water bottles
- Tote bags
It shouldn’t be too difficult to get some of these items customized with your organization’s name and logo. That way, not only would your gifts make great thank-yous, but also effective marketing tools!
Consider combining several gifts to make goody bags or gift baskets for your more engaged supporters, or select more luxury items to appropriately recognize higher levels of participation or donation. Some examples of higher-tier gifts could be silk scarves, leather goods, or food baskets.
It may seem counterintuitive to spend valuable dollars on saying thank you for event attendance, but rest assured: it’s an investment for your organization’s future. You want your supporters to keep participating and spreading awareness about your mission. They’re more likely to stay engaged if they feel appreciated!
4. Another invitation
An invitation to another of your organization’s events allows you to kill two birds with one stone.
Your supporters feel appreciated and special, and you get to continue promoting awareness of your cause at another event!
Whether you’re planning a silent auction, livestream fundraiser, or in-person gala (sometime in the future!), your previous event attendees are a precious group to market to. Plus, while you’re still on their minds right after your last event is an ideal time to tell them about your next plans!
You could also consider offering exclusive appreciation events for your attendees, like luncheons, dinners, or unique experiences. For example:
- An animal rescue shelter might offer an invitation to a “puppy play day” to thank its supporters.
- An aquarium might give a behind-the-scenes tour.
- A nonprofit in the education sector might host a Q&A session with a well-known scholar.
One-of-a-kind perks like these add value to your supporters’ lives and provide them with a tangible return on their investment—even if they just invested their time. Even casual virtual happy hours and community discussions with organization leaders can be meaningful ways to show attendees that you value their engagement. Get creative to come up with the perfect appreciation event for your unique audience and mission.
5. Handwritten notes
Writing thank-you notes by hand shows your supporters you value them enough to sit down with pen and paper and thank them the old-fashioned way. Because this option is more personal and intimate than other methods of communication, it will feel more meaningful to your attendees. If they perceive that you’re investing time and effort in honor of them, they’ll feel more inclined to help your cause in the future.
Still, this level of personalization comes with a cost. Handwritten notes can be extremely time-consuming, even more so than phone calls. If you’re committed to using this option, start early and consider soliciting help from volunteers. You could even bring your volunteers together for a note-writing session with food and music (or a virtual-friendly alternative) to make the task more appealing. And then be sure to thank your volunteers in turn!
If a handwritten note for every attendee is unrealistic even with help from volunteers, consider reserving this option for more engaged supporters, i.e. those who purchased or donated during your event. If that still represents too large a group, limit it to a manageable number of top-tier givers.
With these options, you can more strategically thank your supporters for attending one of your events, virtual and in-person alike. While it may be tempting to reserve recognition for those who contribute monetarily to your cause, showing appreciation for all of your supporters whenever possible is a wise investment. Event attendees who feel appreciated for their time are more likely to have a positive impression of your organization, which means they’re more likely to continue participating.
Regardless of which strategies you end up using, don’t forget to continue to follow up, even after your official thank-you. Although it can be difficult to figure out what type of messaging to send your supporters and when, establishing an effective rhythm for supporter communications is essential to holding their interest, solidifying their support, and growing their engagement over time.
Thanking your event attendees for their time and commitment to your cause shows your appreciation, strengthens your relationship with them, and makes it more likely they’ll continue contributing to your mission. Be sure not to neglect this important area of supporter retention!