How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter

You wrote a dynamite year-end appeal. 

You raised lots of money! (hurray!)

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

Now it’s time to create some drop-dead thank you letters.

You want a thank you letter 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 tells her your organization is well run.

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

The time it takes most nonprofits to send out a thank you letter is around 48 hours after the gift is received.

Can you pull that off?

What’s your thank you letter turn around time?

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 a personal thank you letter look and sound like?

-       Uses the first person: “I” and “we.”

-       Uses second person: “you,” “you” and “you” again.

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

-       Is friendly  - NOT lofty and formal.

-       Uses casual writing – such as contractions like “we’ll” rather than “we will.”

-       Is informal.

3.  Opens on a friendly note.

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

Instead try an unusual opening line, such as:

“We are thrilled to receive your support this year.”


“We were so pleased to receive your generous contribution!”

4.  Has a warm, personal tone.

Be sincere. Show some thoughtfulness.

Show yourself as a real person, and try to connect with the donor instead of staying so distant.

5.  Be a bit emotional.

Don’t bury it.  Wear your heart on your sleeve.

It’s really exciting that you have this money to go do your great work! Just think what is now possible!

The gift is a big deal. So don’t send a dead thank you letter.

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.

Fortunately I’m seeing less and less of this.

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 trusts 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 should 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 who are making smaller gifts.

They are your sleepers.

Treat these donors well and they may 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.

It’s weird to the donor if you don’t mention the fact that she has been supporting you for a long time.

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

Yes:  “Dear Ms. Smith.”

Not: “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!

Your donor will read the PS first.

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 even the prima ballerina sign the letter.

What a great idea!

It’s not a great idea for the fundraising staff to sign thank you letters. Get the board chair or ED to sign them.

You or your staff can always send your own letter in addition.

What a lovely thank you letter!

14.  Send an extra thank you 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 overcome this 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.

Say to the donor “If you have any questions, please call us at xxxxx.”

This assures the donor.

And it helps her feel more connected.

17. Invite the donor for a visit.

Of course you’d like to get to know your donor, wouldn’t you?

I think it would be gracious and lovely if you’d say in the letter:

“We’d love to show you around or share with you our plans (or whatever.)

This can be a nice door-opener if you want to see if there’s more potential with the donor.

Bottom Line:

Create a Thank You Letter that Makes Your Donor So Very Happy!

Would you like a handout of my Thank You Letter DO’s and Don’ts?

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You can get it on my Fired-Up Fundraising Facebook Page here:

Comments Please!

What are YOUR favorite warm and fuzzy thank you letter words and phrases?

Can you share them in the comments below?

  • Mary Anne Howard

    Great newsletter and perfect timing! Thanks for sharing

  • Jeri

    Fantastic advice! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise!

  • Grant Gopher

    I love the suggestion of having another person sign the letter, such as the ballerina or artistic director! It definitely adds a ‘special something’ to the thank you.