An Old Family Recipe to Show Your Donors Love

by Joan Garry

Here’s an old family “recipe” that you can easily follow to show your donors some love. And it’s a lot more fun than a thank you note!

I am one of 27 first cousins. Yes, I am Irish. Through and through. County Westmeath methinks. Or maybe Cork. Maybe both.

Take any group of 27 people and among them you will almost certainly find helpers.

I hadn’t really thought of that until this past week. Most of the 27 know what I do and I’m quite sure some of them listen to my podcast, subscribe to this blog, and have read my book.

But to me, that’s not their primary identity. They are cousins. Family.

This past week I was with five of them during our post vax road trip to Atlanta to spend time with my mom’s identical twin sister, who is still going strong at 93 years young. There was a cookout, pickleball, many smiles, and even more hugs of the double vax variety.

Throughout conversations I learned, to no surprise, that I come from good Irish volunteer stock. Lots of it. And it was inspiring to hear about and also gratifying to know that the work I do has some meaning for those I hold dear.

Some families share old family recipes. But at my cousin Jeanne’s house, she and her wonderful husband Steve shared their best volunteer recipe.

And it’s a very good one indeed. Good for any donor level, good for a virtual or a socially distanced outdoor event.

For Jeanne and Steve, their organization of choice is the St. Vincent de Paul Society where they have volunteered for years. At some point I need to write about the remarkable Trello board that Steve built for the case management army.

The organization focuses its efforts on helping individuals with housing, food and utilities. I didn’t really understand all that St. Vincent de Paul does. I learned a lot.

They went to a donor appreciation event one year and thought it could have been better. But unlike those who do nothing about it, they offered to run it the following year.

And the best part? Those who give walk away with so much more than a thank you.

Ready for the (not actually so old) family recipe to show donors love?


I am a big fan of appreciation and thank you notes. That said, we know the real gratitude donors get is in knowing that they have been able to do something filled with meaning and purpose. The goal was to ensure that attendees understood that their donations really made a difference. This event did just that.

So am I saying you don’t say thank you to a bunch of folks who care enough about the organization to donate?

No. Of course you do. And then (based on this family recipe) you educate them about the need and bring them closer still. Here’s how.


    1. Invitation

      No ask. Just an opportunity to meet other kindred spirits and for the organization to express its appreciation.

    1. Donated Food and Beverages

      Donors really don’t want you to spend the organization’s money on them.

    1. One Donor With an iPhone Who Knows PowerPoint

      As folks gather and mingle, show a slideshow of photos. Volunteers doing the work. Food drives, clothing drives, meetings. You name it. The slide show is great – people see their friends, maybe they see themselves. The room is all warmed up.

    1. Short Remarks from the Staff Leader

      Even if the E.D. is a fabulous speaker, it’s what follows that has the real impact.

    1. A Game

      Yes, I said a game.


Round tables with a safe number of folks at each table (also easy to do via Zoom). A volunteer is assigned to each table to seed conversation. At each table is a pen and paper

Then the game. 10 questions. Multiple choice. Two or three minutes of table discussion.

The charge is to come to a consensus decision. My cousin designed the questions and enjoyed ringing some kind of bell at the three minute mark.

Then on to the next question until all 10 were complete, the answers collected and scored.


Here are three examples.

Many families with struggles resort to extended stay motels. What is the typical weekly rate for a one room unit in our area?

A. $532

B. $338

C. $407

D. $376

How much did our St. Vincent de Paul spend assisting those in need locally last year?

A. $120,000

B. $240,000

C. $360,000

D. $150,000

What grocery store chain donates meat to local food banks with SVdP help?

A. Walmart

B. Kroger

C. Publix

D. Ingles


Someone with expertise would spend 1-2 minutes at most explaining the correct answer and giving it context. No way you were leaving that event without remembering the correct answer and having it stick.


Clearly you can be creative with this. My cousin went with (a) fun (b) very inexpensive c) clever and (d) edible. From Mounds (hope you had mounds of fun learning) to Paydays to Kisses to Smarties and finally gold coins (known as gelt in my house).


OK, following in my cousin’s creative foot steps, here are a few quiz questions:

The conversation at each table was:

  1. Highly animated
  2. Really energized
  3. Donors were astonished by the correct answers
  4. All of the above

After this event, these donors…

  1. Gave more
  2. Gave less
  3. Gave about the same

After this event, was there a great word of month that led to new donors?

  1. Heck yes
  2. Heck yes
  3. All of the above

After this event, did any of these donors inquire about being a volunteer?

  1. Not a single one
  2. Heck yes


Great conversations at every single table. Folks amazed by the answers and by what they didn’t realize.

Many of these donors increased their giving the following year. And yes, St. Vincent de Paul’s impressive army of volunteers in Duluth County Georgia got bigger and even more impressive.


Hats off to the volunteers at St. Benedict Conference of St Vincent de Paul in John’s Creek, Georgia. I am not even close to objective but my cousin and her husband are volunteer rockstars.

Did this event cost money? Halloween sized candy bars were the biggest expense.

Did the volunteers run the whole thing? Yup.

Did the volunteers feel put upon? No, they loved it. It was fun, they designed it and they knew their efforts resulted in a TANGIBLE impact.


Heck yes. Now I live a bit too far away to volunteer and perhaps you do too. But my wife and I donated and you sure can too.

Or you can try this recipe at home. It’s a foolproof old family one. The very best kind.

Show your donors some love. And stay safe.

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