Acknowledging our Donors — A Semi-centralized Perspective

Heather James
Stewardship and Donor Relations Specialist
University of Minnesota | CFANS

thank you card

To acknowledge or not to acknowledge—that is never the question. Legal requirements aside, we want our donors to feel seen and loved for the difference they make. They are critical to our mission, and acknowledging their gifts is the right thing to do—and the smart thing to do, no matter how busy we get. 

I’m a donor relations party of one on a small but mighty development team at a college in a large, decentralized university. It feels like my to-do list is never to-done, but acknowledgments reign supreme. Fortunately, I don’t have to go it alone thanks to Ack 2.0, which sounds like an adorable robot but is actually a semi-centralized system that makes prioritizing acknowledgments manageable. In short, our foundation sends receipts, thank you emails, and thank you cards to donors across the university. Sounds generic and not very personalized? But wait—there’s more!  

Ack 2.0 is far from a one-size fits all approach. At its heart is a hierarchy of rules in which each college/unit determines how they want their donors treated based on things like donation amount, fund specifics, etc.  

For my team, gifts under $5k are handled automatically by our foundation. I don’t typically see these come in—though I provide all the content that the donors receive:

  • One of eight emails is sent based on the gift’s high-level purpose; first-time donors get a welcome email.
  • One of 21 printed cards gets mailed depending on the giving area (academic department, college-level, alumni relations, etc.). Each card has a similar design with different photos and messaging and is signed by the dean or other relevant person.
  • Because Ack 2.0 is very clever, we also have a different card for donors who gave recently so they don’t get the same card within six months.

Gifts over $5k get routed through a database dashboard, where each is cared for personally by yours truly. I typically write a personalized email from the dean, which comes from his real email account—but the choice is mine and the message depends on the donor.  

Everything I just told you is true—except when it isn’t. If the rules say otherwise, for example, gifts for which all donors are deceased or gifts from organizations, they also go to my dashboard. Some specific funds even have a lower threshold for dashboard treatment. Ack 2.0 is wonderfully adjustable!  

Soooo... do any of you have donors who are a little, hmm, fussy—or is that just us? Donors with particular expectations or sensitivities, who might phone up the president or newspaper if dissatisfied, can be put in a special group that trumps all our rules—ensuring they always get sent to the dashboard for individualization. 

This is my first gig in donor relations (and I’m loving it!), so I can’t compare, but I think it’s a great system. It helps us consistently honor our smaller donors with thoughtful content while allowing us to personalize the experience for all—a beautiful thing, indeed!

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Comments on "Acknowledging our Donors — A Semi-centralized Perspective"

Comments 0-5 of 6

Alynn Woodson - Friday, December 02, 2022

Sorry for the multiple comments, but I have another question. Who manages the process of sending out the emails and cards? Is this automated in some way or do you have to manually create and send the materials?

Alynn Woodson - Friday, December 02, 2022

Hi Heather, Do you have contact information for the person/team who built your donor management system and/or who created the Ack 2.0 module? Thanks!

Kelsie Walker - Thursday, September 29, 2022

I see! Which donor management system do you have?

HEATHER JAMES - Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Hi Kelsie, it is built right into our donor management system—not a separate platform or software. Let me know if you have other questions! I'm not big on the very technical aspects but could try to find out for you. Take care, Heather

Kelsie Walker - Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Thanks for sharing! Is this a platform or software that integrates with your database?

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