Writing a thank you letter should be the easiest task on your to-do list.
There are just two simple words: thank you.
And these two simple words are so powerful, showing gratitude and making the donor feel valued.
Yet, it can feel hard sometimes to write a good thank you letter.
Maybe you don’t know what to write. Or where to start.
You want your letter to sound sincere, not like a form letter.
You want your letter to sparkle with a short, amazing story so the recipient will eagerly read the whole thing.
And you want to make the donor feel great about giving to your organization. This is part of the all-important Donor Journey.
That’s a lot for one letter to accomplish!
But good news – it IS doable.
Thanking your donors:
- Makes the donor feel appreciated.
- Confirms to the donor that you got their gift.
- Reassures the donor that they made a good decision to give 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 after they give, you send the message that you aren’t organized, you aren’t grateful for their support, 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.
To me, it’s just common sense to thank every donor after every donation. The. End.
But apparently common sense isn’t that common anymore, because lots of people think that they don’t need to thank donors since they get an annual receipt every year. Or that a stale thank you letter they wrote 5 years ago still works.
No. No, no, no.
If you want a big, loyal donor base of people who love your work and are happy to give whenever you ask, you must NAIL thanking donors.
Let’s look at 5 common mistakes that too many nonprofits make in their thank you letter that can easily be avoided.
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 management 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 stodgy 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 and tell me a quick story to engage my heart.
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.
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.’
By the way, there’s no need to say “I’m writing to you to say thank you….” Or “I wanted to say thank you…” Just start with “Thank you for your donation….” It gets straight to the point and leaves out unnecessary words.
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 when shelves can be empty. 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: