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Over the past week, there were a number of articles, stories, and posts about love (due to Valentine’s Day). One that caught my eye was about Gary Chapman’s famous book on 5 Love Languages.

It got me thinking about how fundraisers show appreciation (and generally communicate) with donors. According to Dr. Chapman, there are 5 Love Languages. Likewise, donor communication comes in a variety of flavors.

Donor Communication isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

People feel appreciated in different ways. You should do your best to connect in a way that will touch each donor’s heart. While you can’t do this for every donor on your list, you can be more personal with your biggest donors.

If you’re going to effectively thank your donors and show gratitude, it’s helpful to know your donor’s love language. Of course, you’re not trying to seduce your donors, but you are trying to connect with them beyond the standard tax receipt.

Ensure Your Donors Feel Appreciated

Genuine gratitude comes down to ensuring your donors feel appreciated. It’s not simply about whether you thanked them. It’s about whether they feel thanked.

In return, we hope that donors show us respect and gratitude for the work in the trenches we do every day to further their favorite cause or mission. Truly the most enlightened donors always end up thanking us for our hard work.

I’ll never forget when I raised my first major gift, and the donor thanked me! At first, I was confused. But a strong donor-organization relationship is a partnership. One could not do the critical work we do without the other.

A Real-World Example

One of the food charities I support sends me homemade cookies each year. They are made by low-skilled workers who are training to be sous-chefs.

You know the saying the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach? That’s certainly one of the love languages I speak! I love getting those freshly-baked cookies each year. They are extra special because the gift connects me directly to the mission of the organization.

The cookies are a fun and thoughtful way to keep this organization top of mind. Their thoughtful gesture says:

“Hey! We’re still here and we’re working hard on this important cause, and your support really matters!”

Would I continue to support the organization regardless of the cookies? Absolutely! However, their unique way of thanking me strikes a chord. They’re speaking my language and, as a result, they’re reaching me on a deeper level and keeping their organization at the forefront of my attention.

The 5 Languages of Donor Love to Express Gratitude

How you say “thank you” as a fundraiser matters. Take the time to find out which of these Donor Love Languages work best for each of your donors.

1. Expressing Donor Love Verbally

In-person, on Zoom, or over the phone, say thank you. Look your donor in the eye literally (or figuratively if you’re on the phone) and let them know why their gift is so important to the clients you serve.

2. Expressing Donor Love In Writing

On a notecard or by email, be specific about what a donor’s contribution means to your organization.

TIP: How do you know if you’re being personal enough? If you could switch one donor’s note out for any other donor, then your words are not specific enough to be truly meaningful. Make it count!

3. Expressing Donor Love through Public Recognition

Some donors respond well to public recognition. It could be naming a building, a plaque on a wall, recognition on your website, or acknowledgement at a special event. No doubt, public recognition is the love language of some of your donors — but not all of them.

4. Expressing Donor Love through Private Recognition

Sometimes it’s the smallest of gestures which can be the most meaningful. Take note of your donor’s good times… and bad.

Reach out to let people know you’re thinking of them when their spouse is ill, when their grandchild gets married, when they receive a promotion, when you see their name in the newspaper, etc. These private sentiments can go a long way toward building a lasting relationship.

5. Expressing Donor Love through Donor Involvement

Invite donors to be part of your inner circle and become real partners in your work. Keep them updated about plans and changes at your organization. Ask for their advice on decisions that matter and invite them to serve on your committees.


Remember — every donor is different. There is no catch-all when you’re expressing love and gratitude to your donors. Take the time to get to know them and find out which language they respond to best.

#DonorLove: Groveling vs. A Partnership

In his popular blog, Vu Le questioned the idea of #DonorLove. Of course, I agree that the idea of donor love can be taken to the extreme and become burdensome and egregious. However, donors are busy and get easily distracted. The cause you’re working on often isn’t the center of their universe as it is yours.

Your organization is often your full-time job. Donors have other priorities, including their careers and other causes they support. Therefore, it is critical for you to wave a metaphorical flag, stay in their line of sight, and most importantly, speak their language.

Take the time to get to know which of these donor love languages work best for each donor — or at the very least, your top donors. Doing that shows a deep respect for their contributions, and that paves the way for a true partnership.

Together, you and your donors can ensure the work for your important cause gets done (and everyone feels good, to boot).

2 Comments

  1. Janice Fonda

    To figure out your own love language and someone else’s is with a quiz.

    How do you suggest we find out what our donors’ love languages are with out a quiz or just asking them out right how they would like to be thanked?

    Reply
  2. Barbara Barron

    SO spot on — again! Thanks for this frame.

    Reply

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