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How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

You wrote a dynamite year-end appeal. You’re now receiving those badly needed year-end gifts.

Your donor is wondering if she made a wise investment in your cause.

Now it’s time to write a drop-dead thank you letter. One that will:

  • Assure your nervous donor that she made a wise investment.
  • Make your donor SO VERY HAPPY that she gave to your cause.
  • Make your donor feel like she did the RIGHT THING.
  • Bring joy to her heart – and to her life. And to her own holiday season.

Your thank you letter is the first step toward RETAINING this donor.

Don’t let her become one of the many donors who give once and then drop away.

Make your thank you letter memorable, and she’ll be impressed.

She will remember you. And she’ll feel closer to your organization.

Think about how your thank you letter makes your donor feel.

1.  Make it prompt.

A really prompt TY note impresses your donor. It indicates to her that your organization is well run.

And in this day of nervous donors, that gives you a significant leg up.

2.  Make it personal.

Penelope Burk always says donors want a prompt, personal thank you before they are willing to consider a repeat gift.

Her landmark book, Donor Centered Fundraising, has a terrific list of 20 attributes of a great thank you letter. I’m referring to some of hers here as well as my own.

So what does personal look like?

-       Use of the first person “I” and “we.”

-       Use the second person: “you,” “you” and “you” again.

Your donor loves you more when you are warm and gracious!

-       A warm tone toward the donor (vs a lofty formal, distant tone.)

-       Casual writing – use contractions such as We’ll rather than We will.

-       Use an exclamation mark if appropriate.

3.  Starts out in a personal way.

Never, never, never begin with “on behalf of . . . “

Instead try an unusual opening line.

4.  Has a warm tone.

Be sincere. Show some thoughtfulness. Show yourself as a person, and try to connect with the donor instead of staying so distant.

5.  Be emotional.

Don’t bury it.  Wear your heart on your sleeve.Try to convey excitement about what can happen with the donor’s gift.

Say things like,

  • “ I can’t begin to thank you enough for . . .
  • “We are absolutely thrilled to have your support again this year.
  • “Because of your gift, a family will have . . . (or a kid will get . . . ; or our water will be cleaner. Or whatever.
  • ‘Your gift is helping to improve the lives of . . .

6.  Send a real letter, not a pre-printed card.

Never send a pre-printed card. It’s just too impersonal.

Your donor has just sent you his money. He is saying that he believes in you and trust you.

Sending a pre-printed card is a turn off – no matter what the size of the gift.

7.  Thank smaller gifts warmly.

Smaller gifts also get warm, prompt, personal thank yous.

Your donor wants to be treated like a real person, not an ATM!

You have many major gift prospects in your donor files who are giving you smaller gifts.

Treat these donors well and they’ll reward you with repeat and larger gifts.

8.  Refer to the donor’s past support if you possibly can.

Acknowledge the long term partnership your donor has with your organization.

And celebrate it.

9.  Use the donor’s name in the salutation.

Yes:  Dear Ms. Smith No: Dear Friend.

Certainly, with today’s technology, you can personalize these letters.

10.  Sign the letter personally and write a note at the bottom.

You spent all that time writing notes on the solicitation letters.

Don’t forget to send warm wishes in the thank you!

11. Send more than one thank you letter.

All from different people at the organization.

In this day of shrinking donor dollars, this small step could help your organization stand out and forge a much stronger relationship with your donors.

12.  Send an additional thank you letter from a board member.

I know organizations that bring stationery to the board meetings and have board members hand-write letters.

I love this and it helps connect trustees to the fundraising process.

13.  Have a high-ranking person personally sign the letter.

Penelope Burk suggests that an arts organization can have the artistic director, the conductor or ever the prima ballerina sign the letter.

What a great idea!

What a lovely thank you letter!

14.  Send a TY letter from a person helped by your organization.

I can’t think of ANYTHING more powerful than this, can you?

15.  Reconfirm the purpose of the gift.

If the gift is for the library, for example, say something about what the library plans to achieve with the gift.

Most donors are worried that their gift will not be spent wisely.

You can assure them by talking about the impact this money will make.

16.  Include a contact name and number.

Ideally, it would be the head of the library if that’s where the donor directed her gift.

This assures the donor. It helps her feel more connected.

Bottom Line: Thank You Letter Do’s and Don’ts

Here’s a quick list summarizing my DO’s and Don’ts:

Thank you letter DO’s

  • Be really, really prompt.
  • Get the donor’s name right.
  • Have a high-ranking person personally sign the letter.
  • Show some emotion.
  • Convey gratitude.
  • Wear your heart on your sleeve.
  • Refer to how the gift will be used.
  • Personalize the salutation: Dear Mr. Smith.
  • Send several TY notes from different people.
  • Send additional thank you letters from board members.
  • Send a TY letter from someone helped by your organization.
  • Sign it with a real signature.
  • Be positive and upbeat.
  • Include a contact name and number if the donor has questions.
  • Handwrite it if you know the donor well.
  • Begin with an innovative or creative sentence that charms the donor.

THANK YOU LETTER DON’TS

  • Start out with “on behalf of.”
  • Ask for another gift.
  • Use thank you letter jargon: “we are deeply grateful for your continued support”
  • Start out with Dear Friend.
  • Ask anything else from your donor right now.
  • Misspell their name.
  • Have errors in grammar, punctuation or misspellings.
  • Go on and on. Ditch the verbosity. Do be concise.
  • Don’t keep “selling.
  • Don’t re-use copy that you used in the solicitation letter to talk about your programs.
  • Don’t be formal. Or lofty.
  • Don’t be vague about how the money will be used.
  • Don’t sign it yourself if you can get a higher-ranking person to sign it.

Next Step:

What are YOUR favorite warm and fuzzy thank you letter words and phrases? Can you share them in the comments below?

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  • Ruth Schwartz

    Gail – thanks so much for this. My favorite “thank you” phrase this year is one I got from one of our donors, Bread for the Journey (http://www.breadforthejourney.org), a nonprofit that gives micro-grants to local organizations like ours. They start out their donor page on their website with, “When you make a donation to Bread for the Journey®, you become a partner . . . ” I am thinking that people would feel good knowing they are a partner with their nonprofit in doing good in the world. 

    Thank YOU for being an outstanding partner to nonprofits everywhere.

    Ruth Schwartz
    Founder/President/Board Chair
    Respecting Our Elders
    http://www.respectingourelders.org

  • http://twitter.com/MLInnovations Michael Rosen

    Gail, this was a terrific article. Stewardship is far too often not given the attention it deserves as part of the fundraising process. Thank you for focusing on the importance of a quality thank-you.

    I would like to underscore one of your Don’ts: “[Don't] Ask for another gift.” It amazes me that there continues to be so much debate about this. Sometime ago, I devoted a blog piece specifically about the notion of not including an ask in a thank-you letter. I think that you and your readers might appreciate reading the article and the varied comments I received. You can go to “Can a Thank-You Letter Contain an Ask?” by visiting: http://wp.me/p1h0KY-6z.

  • Leslie Clay

    always good to be reminded!  Thanks for sharing.

  • Jim Green

    Awesome, Gail! Great advice.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for the great tips!  Any ideas or examples of creative unique opening lines?  

  • Anonymous

    Hi sarah, you could try saying, “We were thrilled to receive your gift last week. You are so kind to remember our organization. All the children we serve join me in thanking you for helping them  .  . . “ 
    Something like that. Just ditch the formality, ok? : )

  • Lorri Greif, CFRE

    Hi Gail,  You are “right there on the mark” when it comes to donor-centered fundraising.  Although I’m focused on planned giving I absolutely agree with this and so many other “teachings” you offer.    I tweeted and posted to Facebook. Thanks for such great input

  • Stephanie

    What are your thoughts about thanking your donor and giving them options about how they can become even more involved (ie: volunteer opportunity, referring someone to our services, etc.)? 

  • Stephanie

    What are your thoughts about thanking your donor and giving them options about how they can become even more involved (ie: volunteer opportunity, referring someone to our services, etc.)? 

  • Karen

    Great ideas Gail. I think the tone of the letter is so important and you are dead on about using warm, informal language. And sending a thank you letter from someone the organization has helped can be so powerful. In fact, I encourage organizations to collect the stories of people they’ve helped to use in thank you letters and many other applications. Also, a phone call from a senior/long-time volunteer to say thank you can be very effective.

  • Anonymous

    Karen, great ideas – thanks for adding them!

  • Anonymous

    Stephanie, I totally love that idea. Always important to encourage involvement. Especially since we know that involvement leads to investment!

  • http://twitter.com/Dara_Laine Dara Goldberg

    This is a wonderful post! I think most if not all of what you say can be applied to volunteer retention. I always write thank-you notes to my volunteers and have a quarterly newsletter just for them. My volunteers often say our organization is one of the only places that does handwritten notes and how much it means to them. I wonder if people aren’t taught the basic fundamentals of networking.

    I really enjoyed this, thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Dara, what a terrific idea!  Treating you volunteers like your donors.  Way to go for adding such an important thought to our discussion!

  • Mark Brooks

    I love this post!  I work with churches and I regularly tell them that they need to learn from the non-profit world that does a much better job at saying thank you.  Never take a donor or any donation for granted.  I am re-Tweeting this one!

  • Catherina Lucy

    Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!sampleletters

  • http://alittleitchy.blogspot.com/ brista

    Can you share some example letters?

  • Signature Arts

    It’s great……………!
    very informative and useful
    keep on sharing the such tips