Development Dialogue: Please … And Thank You!

Editor’s note: From the Green Room continues Development Dialogue, its series exploring issues relevant to the needs of non-profit development directors and fundraisers. If you have areas you would like to see explored here, please email us at We look forward to hearing your ideas. 

Building Relationships Based on Appreciation, Rather than Transaction

By Ron Fredman

People often ask me what I do for a living.  I’m quick to reply, “I’m in the please and thank-you business!”

In a very real sense, every one of us – whether development officer, board member, executive director or box-office staff – has that in their job description. The subtleties change, of course, but the fundamentals are consistent.

Yet here’s the rub. We all better be saying “thank you” a lot more than “please.” If every time – or the only time – we interact with a patron is to ask for money, there will come a time where they run out the back door as soon as they see us entering the front.

That’s why a 12-touch strategy makes sense: In any given year, reach out to donors at least 12 times: 11 to say thank you; one to say please. It’s the right ratio if you want to build relationships based on appreciation rather than transaction. 

Saying “thank you,” of course, is as easy as, well, saying “thank you.” But the opportunities go far beyond that.

Most arts organizations offer donor benefits to show gratitude for support – and in some cases, to motivate support. Companies typically tie these to the level of giving: the more you give, the more you get. (That’s a topic for another discussion: Do we treat everyone equally or link the degree of “thank you” to gift amount?)

Broadly, benefits fall into three categories: access, status, convenience.

Access includes everything from special newsletters to special events, intermission receptions to one-on-one time with artists. Status relates to donor listings, naming opportunities and the like – important for some, anathema for others (and please note: this element is more about recognition than appreciation). Convenience typically includes free or valet parking, advance ticket purchases, ticketing help, or other concierge-type services.

Within these categories are a wealth of great strategies for showing appreciation. Here are 11 successful ideas from development colleagues around the country for saying thank you. Please feel free to share others.

  1. “One of our major donors celebrated her 80th birthday and we sent her a video of the company dancers singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. It took some time and coordination to make this happen but it was worth it. The donor was over the moon.” – a director of development for a Philadelphia-based dance company
  2. “We strive to tie back the appreciation to what inspired that gift in the first place.  The experience connects the donor to what they’re passionate about. It could be a tour of the costume shop or backstage visit or something else that matters to them.” – a director of individual giving for a North Carolina-based dance company
  3. “We hold an opening-night reception for donors. We just started doing it, so it was a pleasant surprise for them (we’ll promote it as a benefit in the future). We talked about the upcoming show and said thank-you for their support. The chance to interact with each other was a benefit to them we didn’t expect, but a very important one.” – an executive director for a California-based dance company
  4. “It’s incredibly evident our patrons want to talk with our dancers. We offer dinners with dancers at some fun, new, cool place for donors of $2,500 or greater. Each table has two or three dancers. It has become so popular that we’re thinking of increasing the donation level so we can keep the dinners more intimate.  We also have tech rehearsal viewings, post-show receptions and other opportunities for donors of various levels.” – a development director for a Richmond, Va.-based dance company
  5. “Personal touch is always the best. Our dancers write a note of appreciation for donors, and we place it, along with a signed pointe shoe, on their seats in the theater. As you can guess, it causes quite the buzz around the seat.” – a development director for a Columbus, Ohio-based dance company
  6. “Throughout the year we hold dinners in advance of performances – one for donors of $1,500 and greater, the others for $5,000 and greater. We have as many as 60 to 80 attend, along with choreographers or other interesting artists. They provide a behind-the-scenes look and wonderful fellowship. The dinners are catered but casual, with plenty of time for mixing and mingling.” – a director of development for a Tennessee-based dance company
  7. “Our focus is on familia, the inclusion of everyone as part of our family. Of course, we do the hand-written thank-you notes and small get-togethers. But we approach and recognize all people who support us the same. We thank them for being part of the energy and force that keeps us afloat. It’s driven by our target audience and demographic of the company, as well as our philosophy of inclusion. Even a $5 gift is treated with deep, personal appreciation. We are building a new category of givers as we are building our family.” – an executive director for a Los Angeles-based dance company
  8. “We offer the opportunity to sponsor our principal dancers as a group, for a gift of $100,000. This is our top benefit. To those donors we offer dinner with the principals as well as our artistic director. The donors will have salad at one table with a set of dancers, then move to another table for the main course with different dancers, then move to a third table to have desert with other dancers. It’s our first year to do this, but it already has generated strong interest.” – a development director for a Florida-based dance company
  9. “We have a spring event, ‘Bold Moves for Bold Women,’ as a way of engaging professional women and women philanthropists. We offer a couple of thank-you activities for the Host Committee: A cocktail and choreography event back stage with the women who were our Winter Series choreographers, and a Breakfast at Tiffany’s after Bold Moves as another way of saying thank you. The entire set of experiences allow participants to build professional ties and their network, itself a wonderful benefit.” – a director of external affairs for a Chicago-based dance company
  10. “As part of our holiday appeal follow-up we e-mailed a 60-second video of the dancers taking turn saying thank you and happy holidays. It was unscripted and from the heart. We sent the same video to all donors, regardless of the gift amount. It was astonishing. We actually had donors thank us for our thank-you to them.” – a development director for a San Francisco-based dance company
  11. “In 2015, the company’s Nutcracker Presenting Sponsor was invited backstage to watch a portion of the performance from the wings, and was then brought on stage to present flowers and participate in curtain call. A framed gift that included a signed production poster, photos of the donor onstage and a commemorative plaque provided a lasting memory of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” – a director of development for a Nevada-based dance company

Ron Fredman, chief development officer at Kansas City Ballet, is well known for beyond-the-horizon thinking, deceptively tough questions, nurtured expectations and enthusiastic partnership. He is a passionate fundraiser and dedicated relationship builder. He has enjoyed many years in arts fundraising, including record-breaking seasons as the chief fundraiser for the Kansas City Symphony and Houston Symphony. He joined the Kansas City Ballet as chief development officer in the fall of 2012 and has continued the string of fundraising successes. His background includes more than a decade as a national fundraising consultant with Hartsook Companies, where he last served as executive vice president. He has guided arts and cultural organizations, social services, youth organizations, schools, religious institutions, health care, professional and trade associations, foundations and more. Beyond solid fundraising leadership, he also provides senior-level expertise in management, strategic planning and marketing.

Ron is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local fundraising and business conferences, where his energy, interactive style and common sense draw strong reviews. He has designed and taught business courses at the corporate and community-college level, and has written for many publications. He began his career as a sportswriter at The Kansas City Star. Ron studied political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and served as an adjunct faculty at Lansing (Mich.) Community College. Ron is chair of Dance/USA’s Development Directors & Staff Affinity Group.



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