Writing a thank you letter should be the easiest task on your to-do list.
There are just two simple words: thank you.
And yet these two simple words are so powerful.
Yet, it can feel hard sometimes to write a good thank you letter.
You want your letter to sound sincere, not like a form letter.
You want your letter to sparkle with an amazing story so the recipient will read the whole thing.
And you want to inspire the donor to continue giving to your organization.
That’s a lot for one letter to accomplish!
But good news – it IS doable.
Thanking your donors:
- Makes the donor feel special.
- Confirms to the donor that you got their gift.
- Reassures the donor that they made a good decision in giving to your organization.
- Closes the loop on this gift and prepares them for the next gift.
When you don’t send a letter or email of appreciation to the donor, you send the message that you aren’t organized, you don’t appreciate the gift, and, worst of all, maybe you didn’t even need the gift.
Plus, your donor may be expecting a receipt!
So don’t let that happen. Take the time to write the strongest thank you letter you can to show your appreciation, deepen the donor relationship, and set the stage for the next donation.
The Power-Packed Thank You Letter
Your thank you letter should be packed with goodness for the donor. I call it a Power-Packed Thank You Letter because it takes advantage of every opportunity to make your donor feel happy and appreciated and inspired.
That’s what you SHOULD do.
Here’s what you SHOULDN’T do.
Seriously, here are five things you should never write in a thank you letter:
1. “Dear friend of xyz organization …” Take the time to personalize your letters. It’s easy enough to do if you’re using a donor tracking software. Even if you are working from a spreadsheet, you can easily make the effort to use the donor’s name when you thank them. And be careful to spell the donor’s name correctly so you don’t lose trust or offend your donor!
The salutation you use depends on your brand and your fundraising philosophy. Different organizations have different views on how to address a donor. Some say ‘Ms. Smith.’ Others say ‘Sally.’ These days, it’s more common to use first names. After all, they gave your organization a gift. It’s reasonable to assume you are on a first-name basis. But, if their check says Mr. and Mrs. Smith, by all means address them accordingly. Never guess at a courtesy title. Only use what you know for sure.
2. “On behalf of the board and staff at xyz organization…” This is old-school and way too stiff. Your thank you letter needs to be warm and sincere, and you may need to sharpen your fundraising writing skills to get it right.. It should not sound like it’s coming from some corporation. And honestly, organizations don’t thank people. People thank people. So speak from one person to another person in your thank you letter.
As a donor, I typically don’t read much further than the first sentence if your letter starts like this. You’ve sent me a silent message that the rest of the letter will be predictable and boring.
3. “Your donation will help us meet our goals…” As a donor, I don’t care about your goals. I care about the difference you’re trying to make in the lives of the people or animals you serve. So, tell me how my donation will be used to change a life. That means minimizing the use of I, we, and our. Focus instead on the important work your organization is doing.
4. “We have six programs spanning three counties…” Donors aren’t as knowledgeable about your nonprofit as you think they are. Even if you’ve told them 15 times about all your programs, they probably don’t remember the details. They are focused on the good work you are doing, and they want to be a part of that good work.
If you start referring to program names instead of your nonprofit’s name, you will just confuse them. And a confused mind tunes out quickly. So don’t ramble about programs in your thank you letter.
5. “Don’t forget to get your tickets to our upcoming event…” Don’t ask for anything in your thank you letter. It’s only role is to thank your donor and make them feel good. Full. Stop. It’s tempting to try to sell event tickets or ask for volunteers seeing as you might actually have their attention. But, don’t do it.
Asking for something in your thank you letter negates the good will of the appreciation and will leave the donor feeling unappreciated.
Ok, got it? Leave all that crap out of your thank you letter. And include these instead.
Five Things You Should Include in Your Thank You Letter
1. The words thank you: Be sure to thank the donor right out of the gate. Get right to the point. Just say thank you. There are several phrases you can use such as ‘with deep appreciation’ and ‘with gratitude,’ but simpler is better and ‘thank you’ works just fine. ‘Thank you for your generous gift to xyz organization.’
2. A reminder of why their gift is important: Let them know their gift matters. ‘Families are seeking support from xyz food pantry in record numbers. For many, this is their first time to ask for help. They tell our volunteers they have lost their jobs. Many have been evicted and had to sell their cars.’ See how powerful that is?
3. An example of specific ways their gift is changing lives: ‘Thanks to your gift, more families will find a large selection of pantry items to choose from, even if they come near the end of the month. With your gift, we can buy canned goods and other staples from the food bank to supplement the food we receive through donations, making sure that our families have the items they need most.’
4. A brief story about your organization’s work: Storytelling is effective in so many nonprofit communications, and the thank you letter is no exception. Keep your story brief and focused on the message that this donor’s gift made a difference.
‘Tom visited the pantry recently and shared with us that his brother and his family were staying with him and his family. With eight people to feed, Tom could not keep his fridge and pantry stocked. He said he had donated canned goods many times over the years and never dreamed he would be a customer at a food pantry. “Thank you so much for being here for people in tough situations,” he said.’
5. The words thank you again: Close your letter with a few more words of appreciation. ‘Your gift shows you care about your neighbors and your community. Thank you for caring!’
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Now that you understand what to include and what to leave out, let’s look at some sample thank you letters.
Here is an example of a thank you letter that makes a lot of the common mistakes:
Dear Janie and Peter,
Our staff and board would like to express our most sincere appreciation for your recent gift to the Friends of Madison Park Foundation’s 13th annual campaign. Your gift, when combined with others, enabled us to exceed our goal of $350,000 by 12 percent! We could not have achieved this milestone without you.
The Friends of Madison Park Foundation values all the donors who make it possible for us to maintain our beloved park and meet the high standards of our community. We now have three projects going that will impact more than 80 percent of our park by the end of the fiscal year. We know you love our park as much as we do and will enjoy our park more once these projects are complete.
We would like to take a moment to remind you that our seventh annual Lantern Parade at Madison will take place on June 10 at dusk. To purchase a ticket, please visit our website at madisonparkfoundation.org. The Lantern Parade is yet another way we showcase our wonderful park to the community while raising funds to make sure the park is properly maintained so it may be enjoyed for years to come.
Elizabeth Davis, Executive Director
Would this letter make you happy? Make you feel appreciated? Inspire you to keep giving? I doubt it. Do you see how many references there are to we, us, and our? To me, this letter reads like the Executive Director is thanking me for helping her do her job!
Reading this letter, I do not know that my gift was urgently needed. I mean, the goal was exceeded. If I had given my gift to a different organization, my gift might have made more of an impact. Speaking of impact, how exactly is my gift being used? There are a lot of words, but there is not a lot of information.
Then, the final, aaarrrggghhh!
The Lantern Parade?!? Really?!?! You want me to remind me again about the lantern parade? I am sure you know I have received numerous emails about the parade, as well as a postcard? The event shows up on my Facebook page daily. I am aware!
Let the thank you letter do its job and just be a thank you.
Now, here is a letter that gets it right:
Dear Janie and Peter,
Thank you for your gift to the Friends of Madison Park Foundation! You are our heroes!
Your donation could not have come at a more critical time. We were finally able to start the erosion mitigation project around the lake, which is so important for protecting the plants and wildlife that call the lake home.
None of our park enhancements would be possible without the support of friends like you who love Madison Park. As you know, public funding for Madison is simply not enough to keep the trees, grounds, and lake healthy while adding new features, such as a butterfly garden, the dog park, and the outdoor theater.
A teacher from Centennial Elementary School recently shared with us that a field trip to Madison for a theater production was a memorable experience for her second-graders. “More than half my students had never seen any type of live theater, and none had been to an outdoor theater,” she wrote. “They all loved the production of Mother Goose and have continued to talk about it, so I know it made an impression.”
Thank you again for caring about our park and for sharing our vision of Madison as a community hub where people of all ages can connect with nature without leaving the city.
Would this letter make you feel good about your decision to give to this organization? I know it would for me. I love knowing how my money will be used, that my gift filled an important need, and that I am part of something that is changing lives.
Here is another example of a power-packed thank you letter:
Dear Janie and Peter,
Thank you for your generous gift to Brighter Futures Atlanta! Because of your gift, more students can receive academic and social support as they navigate a changing world.
This year, gifts from donors like you were used to hire two additional middle school math teachers. One teacher is working with students who have fallen behind in math, and the other is working with eighth-graders who have the drive and aptitude to tackle high school coordinate algebra.
“I never thought I would be doing coordinate algebra in eighth grade,” said Xavier, who has been part of Brighter Futures Atlanta since kindergarten. “I plan to study engineering at Georgia Tech, and this class will help me get ahead in high school and reach my goal.”
Thank you for believing students like Xavier deserve opportunities to pursue their dreams and goals.
And, here’s one more:
Dear Janie and Peter,
Thank you for your generous gift to the Western North Carolina Cat Rescue (WNCCR). Your donation has already been put to work spaying cats, moving cats into foster homes, increasing adoption events, and providing surgeries to cats with serious medical conditions.
This is such a difficult time for cats in our region, as many families have fallen on difficult economic times, making it hard for them to keep their cats. Drop-offs at the shelter have surged, as have requests for food and veterinary support. Adoptions, fortunately, have also risen, but many older cats with medical needs are passed over for younger cats.
And speaking of special needs cats…
I would like to introduce you to Skipper, a tabby cat who was turned over by a family that was moving and could not take their pet with them. Skipper won the hearts of volunteers with his unusually loud purr. He has a chronic kidney condition that requires a special diet. But since getting the medical attention he needed, Skipper has thrived. He is awaiting adoption by someone looking for a sweet, older cat.
Thank you again for caring about cats like Skipper. With support from cat-lovers like you, more cats can find their forever homes while getting the medical care they need.
Tips for a Stellar Thank You Letter
Before we wrap up, here are a few more tips to make your thank you letters sing:
- Add a handwritten note at the bottom of the letter, mentioning the person by name: “Thank you so much for your support, Jean!” I’ve seen smiley faces and inside jokes on thank you letters before, so feel free to use what makes sense to the relationship you have with your donors.
- Imagine you are writing a letter to a friend: You may not know all your donors personally, but the act of making a donation to your organization is significant. The donor has chosen your organization out of all the organizations out there and trusts you to use their money to change lives. Thinking of your donors as friends will help you keep jargon out of your letter.
- Keep your letter short: Four short paragraphs should be enough to convey your thanks while sharing how the donor’s gift will be used, why the need is urgent, and a brief story. If the story you want to share requires a lot of context, save this story for your newsletter. If you need to shrink your font below 11 point to fit your letter on one page … it’s too long!
- Keep your letter focused on the donor’s generosity: Don’t get carried away going into detail. Keep the donor in mind and the purpose of the thank you letter, which is simply to thank them for the gift. Keep asking yourself, “Will the donor be interested in this?”
- Update your letter often: Update your general thank you letter monthly or at least seasonally. As you do so, you will get in the habit of identifying just the right details and stories for a thank you letter. And someday when you least expect it, a donor will let you know that they really liked your thank you letter, and your heart will sing!
The Bottom Line
Sending the strongest, power-packed thank you letter you can will close the loop on every gift in a positive way, setting the stage for a future gift.
Thank you letters give you a chance to write again and again the two powerful and beautiful words: thank you.
Once you get the hang of writing a donor-centered thank you letter, you will find it easy and fun to write and send.
Sandy, thank you for highlighting the fact that a solid thank-you letter is an essential part of the fundraising process. It never ceases to amaze me at how many fundraising professionals effectively handle the hard job of getting the gift and then blow it with an inept thank-you letter (or, worse yet, no thank-you letter).
I share your passion on this issue and have also written about it: https://michaelrosensays.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/avoid-a-big-misstep-now-to-raise-more-money-in-2018/
Thanks Sandy. Thank you, really is important!!!
This was very insightful! Thank you!
Thank you so much for this information! Simple, efficient, and timely. We have not done most of the suggestions but will start implementing many, mainly, the year summary which we had not even thought about it! It is always “soooo” beneficial to read what you send! Thank you!
Thank you Angela for your sweet comment!! I love knowing that my articles are helping.
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