How to Acknowledge a Large Donation

Thanking someone for a large donation should involve more than just a simple note. Lisa B. Marshall, aka The Public Speaker, along with listener, Tim Lowell, give tips on how to best acknowledge a large gift.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #342

Here’s a question that came in via LinkedIn:

Hello Lisa,

I have been reading and listening to your podcast for years now. Thank you very much. I wonder if you have ever done a podcast about how give a speech thanking someone who has given a substantial donation. Thank you in advance.

I've written on how to write a thank-you note, and how to accept an award, but I haven't written specifically about this. So I reached out to a long-time listener, Tim Lowell, president of an educational and charitable, not-for-profit corporation.  

Lisa: Tim, I had a question from a listener about how to thank someone for a large donation.

Tim: That’s a great problem to have!  We had something like this occur at the end of the year. That particular donor normally likes to remain anonymous. That being said, the gift should still be acknowledged publicly, as well as privately.

Lisa: Absolutely. So what do you suggest first?

Tim: Well, nothing beats the personal touch. For any donation we send a thank-you note, but for a large donation, a hand-written thank-you and a phone call comes from me or one of our board members (or both, especially if that board member has a closer relationship with the donor than I do). But above that, I regularly invite the donor to come in and volunteer, attend an event, or just say hello. 

Lisa: That’s really a great touch. That helps the person become more committed to the cause, doesn’t it?

Tim: Yes. That’s really important. And since that person has made a sizable donation, he or she probably has a very strong values alignment with ours. Inviting donors in shows them the particulars of how we serve the community, and specifically how they have helped the community, too.

Lisa: OK, so that’s the private acknowledgment. What about public acknowledgment? What about a speech, as this listener asked?

Tim: Well, yes, a speech is great, if you have an event to give the speech at! But there are other ways to acknowledge, and they’ll usually come before any speech. For instance, I like to offer our donors some ideas about how to best apply the gift, and see if they have a preference. By first finding out what motivated the donation, I can better suggest uses. Sometimes people just say, “For whatever you need.” But others appreciate a specific use, or even naming something after the person. Let’s say Ruth donates $100,000. I may find she’s particularly concerned about young single mothers being able to support their children, so I might suggest establishing “Ruth’s ‘Mommy Pantry” stocked with diapers and formula.

Lisa: I really like that idea. 

Tim: Or let’s say Ruth is in the education or marketing business. I might suggest earmarking the donation for community education, a lending library, or an internship program. Another thing that works great is a “donor match” program, to encourage others to donate. The approach here is to let the donor know you want to maximize her giving by using her giving as a multiplier. The point is to make a few good suggestions. Sometimes the person already has an idea, and that’s great, too.

Lisa: I like that idea because not only does it make it more personal it also makes the thank you longer lasting.  Have you ever had anyone who had a bad idea?


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.