Thanking Batkid: How to Acknowledge Anonymous Donors

Vol. 12 No. 8


Photo credit to Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Have you heard about Miles, the Batkid of San Francisco? Back in November, the Make-A-Wish Foundation made this five-year-old cancer survivor’s dream come true by turning the whole city into a Gotham-themed playground for a day, complete with supervillains condemned by the U.S. Department of Justice and damsels in distress. Turns out this act touched more lives than just our heroes'. Someone rented a billboard to thank Batkid for his feats of daring-do during his day fighting crime—and no one knows who funded it! It’s a complete mystery, one that not even Batman himself could solve.

By keeping his or her identity masked, this anonymous donor’s indirect contribution to the Make-A-Wish foundation puts the focus on their mission—to give children hope, strength, and joy by granting wishes, extravagant or modest—rather than garnering attention for him- or herself.

Your school’s anonymous donors may wish their contributions could be similarly focused on your mission and students, rather than themselves. The question then becomes, how do you properly acknowlege such generosity and selflessness?

Thank-You Letters!

A simple thank-you letter can go a long way to making any donor—anonymous or not—feel appreciated. According to Penelope Burk’s Donor-Centered Fundraising, an excellent thank-you letter makes specific reference to the intended use of the funds, and projects a “can-do” attitude (rather than an “I don’t know if we’re going to make our goals!” vibe). If the funds were earmarked for a scholarship, the thank-you letter will mean even more if the receiving student could write about how the gift has impacted his or her educational journey.

Clarify What It Means to Be “Anonymous”

For anonymous donors, the thank-you letter is a great way to inform them what it means to be an anonymous benefactor of your school. Does "anonymous” mean they get no mention on the annual report, that only the Board of Trustees and School Head know? Will their names be withheld from your press releases? Do they get “credit” for the gift in the database, or will it be recorded separately from their other gifts? Clarifying their positions will be a relief to the donors and encourage them to give again, thanks to your transparency.

Personal Phone Call

For a high-level administrator like the School Head to take the time out of his or her day to sign a letter says a lot about your school and its commitment to philanthropic supporters. But for the School Head to personally call donors and thank them for their gifts? That’s a whole new level of gratitude. If the donor has expressed a wish to remain anonymous from everyone, including other administrators, have his or her contact at the school call instead. The personal touch here is everything.

Keep Them Up-to-Date on Fund Progress

If the donor asked that the funds be used in a particular manner, sending periodic updates about that specific project or goal is perfectly appropriate, as well as a timely way to keep thanking this donor for his or her contribution. All school donors should receive updates on the overall progress of the annual fund, of course, but with anonymous donors, special attention from the Development Office will help maintain a relationship that could otherwise fizzle out.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 12 No. 3 Donor Recognition: Appealing and Gratifying to the Donor
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 9 No. 9 The Donor Bill of Rights
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 9 No. 3 The Head's Role in Landing—and Keeping—Major Donors
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 9 No. 5 All Kinds of Thank Yous

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 32 No. 10 Seven Gift Planning Tips for a Small Development Office
I&P Vol. 31 No. 16 The Development Quartet: The Core Leadership Team of the Comprehensive Development Model
I&P Vol. 35 No. 6 Influencing Upward: Skills for the Development Director

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