Nonprofits employ all kinds of strategies to let donors know their support is appreciated -- from handwritten thank-you notes to special perks and behind-the-scenes access.
"The idea isn't just that the donor gets a gift, but that the charity is cultivating a donor by making them more committed to the organization and increasing their involvement," says Michael Nilsen, vice president of public policy for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. "It's about the charity stewarding the donors and keeping them informed and letting them see the impact of their giving."
Rewarding donors with a little something extra is a widespread practice, and can be very effective at retaining donors, says Nilsen. In general, the most exotic donor benefits tend to come from organizations that are already in the experience business: museums, zoos and other arts- and culture-related nonprofits.
We also found, with a little digging, that a lot of the coolest rewards kick in at the $1,000 gift level. So the following list includes our favorite gifts for $1,000 donors.
Smithsonian donors receive complimentary VIP tickets to the institution's popular annual Breakfast at the Zoo event, as well a behind-the-scenes tour with a docent.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Donors under the age of 40 can join the museum’s Avant-Garde group and take part in curator-led tours, private collection visits, and even tours of artist studios.
St. Louis Zoo
Animal lovers can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo for themselves and six friends to see penguins and other zoo residents in a more intimate setting.
Tampa Museum of Art
Like LACMA, the Tampa museum gives big donors access to artist studios, galleries and private collections not open to the public.
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., gives its donors special access to conference calls with the institution's experts.
Donors who support this Chicago science museum get a behind-the-scenes breakfast with a Field Museum scientist; they also can participate in three of its Field Encounters events -- seminars and field trips led by museum scientists, curators, and artists.
Baseball Hall of Fame
Fans of the national pastime can attend the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, get an exclusive tour of the facility, and attend a reception with a Hall of Famer.
As a Friend of the First Amendment, you'll get access to a private weekday tour for six that will be tailored to your interests, as well as the chance to attend the annual "Evening with the Curator," including an exploration of the museum's artifacts.
Donors to this Florida institution can get up close to the zoo's animals, participating in four giraffe feedings and a behind-the-scenes "animal experience" for four people.