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A Gift for Giving: How Schools Can Boost Donor Experience with a Small Gesture

Dianne Regnier | 6 min read
Guest Contributor

When considering the relationship between your school and its supporters, you may immediately think of it as primarily being based on the donors giving to the school — but it is important to remember that a school reciprocates that generosity during that exchange. This reciprocity naturally happens in ways that do not require a tangible token of gratitude. When a donor gives, there can be several intrinsic and selfless benefits received from that act of giving. For example,

In addition to the emotional rewards received by a donor when giving, there are also valuable benefits to both you and your donors when offering a tangible thank-you gift in response to a donation – or a “gift for a gift” approach to acknowledging your supporters. A token gift item can clearly express your school’s gratitude in a very tangible way, while making the donor feel like a part of an exclusive community – after all, not just anyone will have that water bottle, mug, or car magnet!

Image: Water bottles from Padua AcademyWater bottles from Padua Academy

Choosing the right language.

An important part of realizing the full benefits of providing a small gift to your donors is choosing the best language to express what this simple gesture means to your school. You do not want to risk negating your donors’ feelings of altruism - the desire to give a gift out of pure goodness for doing so. A simple and authentic message explaining that the gift item with your school’s logo or slogan actually offers the school added support when accepted. You can share with your donors that by proudly displaying or using the gift branded with your school logo or slogan, they are helping to spread the word and increase awareness of your school – essentially giving the school a double gift!

Building an army.

Often, schools choose to offer their donors a token gift associated with a gift category or other reason. Token gifts can vary based upon the donation being made at a certain giving level, participation in a “challenge” campaign, or to a particular affinity program or group. Offering these small tokens can help build engagement, repeat donors, and an army of goodwill ambassadors no matter the level of giving or frequency of giving.

Image: Sock giveaway used for Trinity-Pawling School's Go For the Gold ChallengeSock giveaway used for Trinity-Pawling School's Go For the Gold Challenge

Enticing Donors.

“Gift for a Gift” acknowledgements also provide eye-catching opportunities to further entice your donors to give by using images of the token items within your online donation forms, direct mail pieces, and social media posts. Nothing is more irresistible to your constituencies than receiving a fun Facebook video or Instagram message from the head of school, principal, beloved faculty member, or favorite coach sporting the one-of-a kind school logo socks or drinking their morning coffee from the exclusive donor mug!

Priests at Bishop Dwenger High School being slimed for their Day of Giving!

And, don’t underestimate the potential that an image of a pub glass, customized with an affinity group’s logo or name appearing within your online giving form can have on increasing a donor’s gift level at the end of the transaction. The opportunity to customize your annual Day of Giving campaigns, athletic and club affinity group giving, and campus anniversary celebration campaigns becomes much easier and creative with the addition of special “gift for a gift” promotions.

Though there are countless options for small gift items that will make a big impact, consider these popular donor gift items:

Unique Experiences as a “Gift for a Gift”.

In addition to offering tangible items as a gift-for-giving, some schools may consider giving back to their donors by providing a unique experience or perk for their donation. Though likely reserved for donors at higher giving levels, an exclusive experience could provide the same goodwill ambassador benefits as small token gifts. Perhaps your school could offer front row seats to school productions, dinner with the Head of School, or exclusive artwork created by art students, just to name a few. Every school will have events, perks, or one-of-a kind experiences exclusive to their school community. Get creative!

Cautionary Tales.

Offering thank-you gifts to donors does require an upfront investment, and you’re taking a gamble that it will pay off. When offering a gift to donors, take these two aspects into consideration to ensure a positive return on your investment:

  1. Make sure the cost of the gift is low enough, and confirm that the minimum level to receive a thank-you gift is high enough. Branded items are usually less expensive per item when ordered in bulk — but be careful not to order them customized with dates, etc. or such a large quantity that you are left with unusable items.
  2. Because of the cost associated with donor thank you gifts, it may be wise to restrict these gifts to first-time donors, lapsed donors or situations where you are seeking to increase a donor’s giving level.

Also, be mindful of the time (and expenses) associated with the fulfillment of the gifts. Remember to plan for mailing/shipping costs as well as putting in place an efficient process for “picking and packing” the thank-you gifts. It will be even more important than your typical “tax-receipt” acknowledgment to send the gift out in a timely manner. The sooner they are sporting that new hat, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards of donor engagement and having a goodwill ambassador out there!

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Written By Guest Contributor

Dianne Regnier

Dianne is the Chief Communications Officer at Pope Francis Preparatory School in Springfield, MA. In this role, she has contributed to the steady growth of the annual fund, enrollment, and community pride. Prior to joining Pope Francis Preparatory School, Dianne served in various marketing and fundraising capacities developing engaging content and deepening constituency relationships for independent schools and non-profit organizations. She is also a former library director – a position that allowed her to utilize all of the skills necessary to growing a successful non-profit organization with the added benefit of being surrounded by books!