The words are so powerful: thank you.
The thank you letter you send via mail or email when you receive a donation is an opportunity to make the donor feel amazing.
It’s your chance to show them they made the best choice in giving to your nonprofit.
But sometimes we treat the thank you letter like a formality, an item to check off the to-do list. We create the most generic form letter we can come up with and send it to everyone who gives us money.
And then we move onto the next thing on our neverending to-do list.
The thank you letter is an important step in the donor’s journey, and we should treat it as such.
To do that, here are 5 things your donor thank you letter must include:
- The donor’s name. Never use friend. Ever. In most cases, the donor’s first name is appropriate. If you have an existing, formal relationship with a donor, use Mr., Ms., or Dr., if that feels right. But don’t default to the generic friend.
You can personalize your letter even further by including the gift amount and gift date. Also include the organization’s EIN, so the thank you letter can double as a tax receipt.
- The words thank you. It sounds so simple, but sometimes thank you gets swapped out for we acknowledge with gratitude or a similar phrase. Thank your donor with the right words: thank you. In fact, start your letter with Thank you instead of On behalf of the Board and staff of….
- Why their gift is important. Let the donor know that because of their gift, something wonderful will happen.
More Haitian children will get to go to school.
More families will get a weekly box of produce.
More people will receive free tax preparation, enabling them to get their full tax return as soon as possible.
Don’t tell your donor that their donation is helping you reach your fundraising goal. Nobody cares about your goal. Talk about a difference your donor is making.
- An example of how their gift is changing lives. After sharing the why of their donation, use data to continue the story.
Your donation of $25 will provide lunch to five children.
Your donation of $50 will help a family struggling to make ends meet keep the lights on for another month.
Your donation of $100 will cover the cost of food and shelter for a cat for one month.
Setting up letter templates to provide this level of personalization takes a minute, but it isn’t difficult. And it will make an impression on your donor.
If you want a simpler approach that will work with every donation letter, just say something like:
For every donation of $50, our volunteers are able to pack a box of food for a family in need. Your gift helps us get closer to filling another box.
For every $1,500 in donations received, we move a student off our waiting list and into our program, where they can get on a path to college and a successful career. Your gift gets us closer to admitting another student into this life-changing program.
- A short story about your nonprofit’s work. Now that you have let the donor know how you will use their donation, you need to share a tiny story that illustrates your organization’s impact. Think about a text you received from a recipient of services or a Facebook review and build off that.
Here are some examples:
“Maria has received weekly food boxes since her employer cut her hours back three months ago. She texted us recently: “I cannot thank you enough for helping me and my family during this difficult time. I hope to repay you someday as a volunteer. Your organization truly does good work.”
“Terrance came to us two years ago with a love of chess and a dream of going to college, but he didn’t see any way to reach his goals. Today, Terrence is a top player in the citywide chess league, and he has a list of colleges he plans to apply to. Next month, he will get to visit some of those colleges. We have matched him with a sponsor willing to pay part of his tuition not covered by a Pell Grant. There are so many Terrances in our community, just looking for a pathway to achieve their dreams.”
“When Elizabeth left her abuser, she had two children and two suitcases. She needed $1,800 to get into an apartment and start a new life. Donors like you helped us get Elizabeth and her children into safe housing and on the road to independence. ‘Covenant House was there for me when I had nowhere else to turn,’ Elizabeth wrote in a letter of thanks. ‘Without Covenant House, I might have ended up back with my abuser.’ Your donation truly matters to women like Elizabeth.”
Fleshing out these stories can take time, but they deliver an emotional wallop. Staff members and volunteers who work one-on-one with the people your organization supports have these stories. There is no need to use real names or identifying details. Keep it brief, allowing the story to speak for itself.
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Incorporating these five things into your donor thank you letter will inspire the donor to give another donation. And another. And another.
Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words, but you don’t need to try as hard as you think you do. Just tell the donor exactly how their money will be used to do good. That’s what we all want, for our gift to matter.
Here are 5 more tips for writing the strongest thank you letter possible:
- Be brief. Keep your letter to one page, even if you are sending it via email. Limiting your words keeps you from going on and on. When you say too much, you weaken your position and bore your reader.
- Don’t ask for anything. A thank you is most powerful when it is just a thank you. Don’t ask for another donation or for the donor to sign up for a monthly gift. Don’t try to sell tickets to an upcoming event. Just say thank you.
- Add a personal note. If you are sending the letter by mail, pick up a pen and say thank you, again. Write on the bottom of the letter, near the signature: Dorothy, thank you again! We could not continue our work without supporters like you.
- Add to your letter for major donors. For donors who give a gift of $1,000 or more, consider making this your second sentence: We are a small organization and a gift of this size will make a big impact! (If your organization is super-small, you can use this language for gifts of $250 or more.)
For donors of $5,000 or more, consider something like this: We are a small organization, and we would not be able to feed our community without major donors like you. This gift is significant, and will make a huge impact!
- Consider a hand-written thank you note. For special donors, send a hand-written thank you note. Special donors might be major donors, repeat donors, lapsed donors who returned, monthly donors, or donors who referred you to other donors or sources of revenue.
Write a brief note of thanks from the heart, expressing what the donor’s support means to the people or animals who will benefit from the gift.
You still need to separately send a formal receipt with the pertinent tax information: organization, EIN, donor name, gift amount, and gift date.
Take the time to get your donor thank you letter just right. You don’t have many chances to connect with your donors, so make the most of this golden opportunity. Words are powerful, especially these two: thank you.
About the Author:
Sandy shows founders and leaders of small nonprofits how to fully fund their dream so they can make the difference they want to make in the world. She has helped dozens of small nonprofits go from “nickel-and-dime fundraising” to adding 6 figures to their bottom line. As a trainer, she shows her students how to find ideal donors, connect through authentic messaging, and build relationships that stand the test of time, so that fundraising becomes easy and predictable. Find out more at www.GetFullyFunded.com.