Tips for Writing Better Donor Thank You Letters

You Can Never Say Thanks Too Well or Too Often

Saying thank you to a donor ends one transaction but builds a bridge to future support and deeper engagement. Do it well, and you are on your way to future fundraising success.

Here are ten tips for making that thank you letter just right.

Get it in the mail fast

Mailboxes, Providence, Rhode Island
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Forty-eight hours is an ideal turnaround for a thank you letter. If that is impossible, aim for no more than a week. You want the donor to remember that he made the donation so that your thank you reinforces his action and rewards him for giving.

Getting the letter there quickly will make your charity's name stick in the donor's mind, reassure him that you received the donation, and impress him with your efficiency and thoughtfulness.

Even online donors should receive a mailed thank you letter, but that is expensive, and many nonprofits are moving to online as much as possible. In that case, make sure that your online donor has not just gotten an emailed receipt. Take time to personalize an emailed thank you and turn it into something memorable

Brush up on best practices for emailed thank you letters. In full email boxes, your thank you letter can go unnoticed, so pay attention to its subject line and make sure the "from" line clearly identifies your organization. 

There are a lot of obstacles to thanking a donor by email that you might forget. It has to stay out of the SPAM folder, catch the donor's attention, and entice him or her into opening the message.  Don't let the ease and relatively low cost of email blind you to its shortcomings.

Make it personal

Woman reading a personal thank you letter.
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Personalize your thank you letter with the donor's name (double check the spelling and never call a Ms a Mr), and write directly to the individual. First names are powerful.

What works for a fundraising letter also works for a thank you letter. For instance, use personal pronouns, such as "you," "we," and "I."

Include information about the donor, such as how long they've been a donor, or that you enjoyed seeing them at the last event. Perhaps the donor has received an award or gotten a promotion. Feel free to add something about it to your letter. 

A good donor records system will be your best friend when it comes to this level of personalization. Most systems, even low-cost ones, have the ability to capture current information about your donors.

When did they last give? Have they volunteered? When was the last time the donor had contact with your organization and what was the nature of that interaction?

If this is a first-time donor, send a welcome package, and invite the donor to subscribe for newsletters and announcements.

If thanking a long time donor, consider a handwritten note rather than a formal letter, or another creative way to say thanks.

Coordinate it with campaign themes

Puzzle pieces coming together.
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Coordinate the thank you with the appeal or campaign that brought in the donation.

Draft a template for a thank you letter when you write your fundraising materials. Think of it as part of your campaign package. If the donation is in response to some other stimulus...perhaps an event you staged...relate the letter to that event. 

Coming full circle back to the appeal improves the stickiness of your organization's name in the donor's mind. It is also reassuring to the donor. 

If the donation is in response to a particular email appeal, do develop a post-donation landing page on your website specifically for those donors.

Generic is out. Specificity to what the donor saw that compelled him or her to give is a must. For instance, if a donor donated to help the victims of an earthquake, make sure your thank you refers to that situation.

Use stories to connect donors to results

Stories and their heroes make fundraising work.
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Help donors visualize how their money was spent The best way to do that is to tell a story about a particular person who was helped by the donation. The story needn't be long.  Just a few sentences and using a person's name can be enough to arouse empathy in the donor.

Make your donor the hero of those stories. He or she made that story possible. Keep an inventory of stories about the good things your charity accomplishes. then set up blocks of copy using those stories and drop them into your thank you letters as appropriate.

Changing up the stories frequently will keep your letters fresh and make it easier to send out many letters without having to make each of them completely new.

Even if you serve people who are in sensitive situations and you need to protect their identities, there are ways to tell their stories without compromising their privacy.

Have a real person sign your letters

A person signing a thank you letter.
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Avoid digital signatures unless you're sending thousands of letters at a time. Even then, reserve letters that go to donors giving significant donations for your executive director, the board president, or a volunteer fundraising chairperson to sign. Use real first class stamps for these letters.

Add a personal, hand-written note

Volunteers writing thank yoou notes to donors.
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If appropriate, ask the Executive Director or Board President to add a personal note to the letter. Long-time donors who may know your ED or board members find this especially gratifying.

Mentioning a recent event that the donor attended will both remind the donor of a pleasant experience and add authenticity to the note. Consider having a note-writing party with volunteers who can write notes on letters or attach post-it notes with handwritten messages.

Include a reply envelope

Letters in a rack.
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I don't recommend asking for another donation in a thank you letter. Honestly, that turns people off more than you think. However, just including a reply envelope might remind the donor that future donations are welcome. 

Many donors keep these envelopes and use them for a gift later...or even right away.  Andrew Olsen of Fundraising Fundamentals is enthusiastic about including reply envelopes in thank you letters. He has found charities that use this tactic for new donors have "2nd gift conversion rates that are anywhere from 8%-12% higher than those organizations that don’t include them."

Use the letter as a tax receipt

Tax receipt for a charitable donation.
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Your donor thank you can also be a receipt. You must provide a receipt annually for tax purposes if a donor gives $250 or more, and you can include that disclosure with this letter.

Thank you letters today typically include the proper disclosures each time a donor gives, whether online, by check or through monthly giving.

It is good practice as well to provide a summary of giving for the year at the beginning of the next year, just at the time when donors are typically preparing their tax returns. Just remember that a receipt is not a thank you. The receipt should be a minor part of the letter. Check this example of a letter that also includes a record of the donation that can be used for tax purposes.

Invite more involvement

Getting donors engaged through social media.
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It's always nice to include an invitation to visit your agency and see your work first-hand.

In today's world where you might be soliciting donations from people all over the world, engagement can be attained through social media. Encourage your donor to follow your organization on Facebook and Twitter or any other social networks that you participate in.

Since there are no hyperlinks in a mailed letter, give your website address and then make sure that your social media buttons are easy to find.

Include an explicit invitation to visit the website and click on those buttons and to sign up for your email newsletter or other communications. Social media icons are some of the most important elements on your charity's website.

Add a postscript and provide contact info

Why a P.S. Always Works

We are all skimmers. That's why most of us read the top part of a letter and then skip down to the P.S. Then we may go back and read the rest of the letter. Direct mail marketers know all about the P.S. and always include it. Sometimes they have more than one.

For the P.S of a thank you letter, you might want to refer again to the story you provided ("Michael and Jane are safe and happy because of you") or put important contact information there.

Donors should have the name, telephone number and email address of someone in the organization that they can contact with questions. Customer service is just as important for nonprofits as for businesses, so make it easy for a donor to find a real person should they have an issue.

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