Writing a Great Thank You Letter: The First Step in Successful Donor Stewardship
So you’ve written a winning fundraising appeal. It has a compelling case for support, it makes readers feel the urgency of your cause, and it includes a strong call to action. Now it’s all set to drop and you expect it to have a high response rate. Good job!
But wait … there’s something important you may have overlooked — the thank you letter.
Next to fundraising appeals, donation thank you letters are the most important communication that a nonprofit donor can receive from your organization. Thank you letters are the first step in donor stewardship and a key factor in your donor retention rate.
Shouldn’t you put as much care into crafting your thank you letter as you did with your appeal?
Your Donors Matter
I know it sounds obvious to say your donors matter, but that’s often at the heart of the issue. It’s so obvious to you that you assume that they know it, too!
Too often, donors receive canned thank you messages (or worse, NO thank you message) from the nonprofits they support. In terms of emotion, some messages have little effect and don’t make your donors feel special. From the donor’s perspective, many thank you messages simply communicate receipt of their gift.
To stand out from the crowd and optimize donor retention, your nonprofit must make each donor feel how much they mean to your organization and your cause, no matter the size of their donation. Specifically, your thank you letters should make donors feel:
- Confident they’ve made a wise investment
- Proud that they’ve helped advance the cause
- Connected to others who share their values
- Joyful knowing that someone else is better off thanks to their action
A well-crafted donor thank you letter cements a real connection between your nonprofit and the donor. It tells the donor, “You matter to us and your generosity makes a difference in this work.”
Your Thank You Letter Checklist
Here are eight tips for writing a better donor thank you letter….
1. Be prompt.
If you don’t thank your donors immediately — within 72 hours of receipt of their gift — you risk undermining all the work you’ve done to acquire that donor in the first place. Promptness is not just a nicety; it’s actually the most important predictor of likelihood to give again.
These days, donors have many options for charitable impact. You should think of their donation (especially their first donation) as a test of your organization. A timely thank you letter puts forth a positive first impression, letting the donor know they made a wise decision in supporting your nonprofit.
2. Be accurate.
Ensure your donor data file is clean and updated. Without accurate data, your organization risks sending out faulty acknowledgements.
Pro tip: Reference past support in your thank you notes. If a donor has given money to you previously, it’s always good to show that you recognize their continued support.
3. Communicate the promise of impact.
Assure the donor that their gift is being put to use immediately and explain the good their donation will do. Always be as specific as possible in asserting that their generosity has a real-world, tangible impact on the lives of others. For instance, “Over the next month, your donation will help feed 25 people who are homeless” or “Your gift will help put 100,000 books in the hands of rural school children who need them by the end of this school year.”
4. Focus on the donor.
Ensure messaging is donor-centric. Emphasizing the word “you” more than “we” will grab your reader’s attention and make them feel vital and truly connected to the cause.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for more support.
Thank you letters can be a great place to offer supporters additional ways to engage that don’t involve money: volunteering, joining a committee, attending an event, signing a petition, or enrolling their friends.
Never forget that your donors made gifts to you because they believe that your nonprofit presents them with the best opportunity to have an impact on a cause they care about. By following up with an additional ask and/or high-value engagement opportunity (especially those they won’t find anywhere else), or by simply enclosing a wallet-flap envelope they can use to make their next gift, you’re not being pushy; you are honoring their desire to help and strengthening your relationship with them.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for money again.
Remember, some donors were testing you with their first gift. It may have been an amount considerably less than they are capable of giving. If they like your response, they may be inclined to make a second gift right away. (We often see this in political primary fundraising, where many candidates are competing with one another to secure contributions from a limited pool of donors.)
It may seem “too soon,” but it’s perfectly okay to make a second ask within 90 days, even if that ask is very soft and subtle. Recency remains the number-one predictor for additional contributions.
7. Show, don’t tell.
As a donor, there’s nothing worse than reading a thank you letter with vague language like, “Your gift is making an impact.” Instead of using words like “impact” or “difference,” explain what that impact or difference is. Remind donors exactly how much they contributed and be specific about the real difference they are making.
For example: “Thank you for your generous gift of $200 on December 22, 2019. Thanks to you and fellow donors, we were able to keep our neighborhood health clinic open 24/7 through the holidays—serving more than 800 individuals and families in need.”
8. Make it easy to contact you.
Finally, in the event that a donor wants to speak to someone, always include detailed contact information. Donors want to feel connected, like they have a “seat at the table.” A direct line of contact with someone within your organization tells them you value their feedback as much as their donation.
The words you use in your donor thank you letter can strengthen or end your relationship with a donor. Saying thank you in a way that truly connects your organization’s work with donors’ hearts builds a bridge to a better relationship that enriches all parties involved — your nonprofit, the people you serve, and your supporters.