With everything involved with donations, especially during the winter ‘giving’ season, when it comes to seeking out and receiving donations, writing a meaningful and productive thank you letter sometimes falls down the list of priorities as you scramble to make sense of it all.
While I can’t write the donation thank you letter for you word for word, I’ve put together a how-to guide to making it easier, and making sure you include important elements in your letter that will read as sincere, grateful and most of all, keep the donor coming back again!
The rules are pretty similar to other ‘how-to’ email posts I’ve written (here, here and here) but mostly because when communicating with clients and donors alike, the same rules apply: make it personal, keep it simple and make it look nice! So without further ado…
Make the donation thank you letter personal.
As with all bulk messaging, keeping it personal is sometimes hard. There is nothing wrong with creating a generic thank you note that you can then personalize on a case by case basis. The key is making sure the personalization appears in the correct areas so that the person getting the email on the other side does not read it as “bulk email” but as something that you wrote specifically for them and their donation.
What are the right areas to personalize?
- Using the donor’s name in the intro of the letter.
- Have the letter written in 1st person, if possible from the CEO or head of your organization.
- If the letter is being mailed, have the CEO/’person’ sign it. If via email, have the letter come from their email address. The idea is that if someone hits “reply” it will actually reach the person they think wrote this to them so they can answer them.
- Try to include any past contributions so the donor sees you note their giving history and are appreciative of their continued contributions.
- If you want to be really snazzy, hand-write your letter though this isn’t always feasible depending on the volume of donations you receive.
Write from the heart.
This deserves it’s own section but really it’s just another way to make your letter personalized. Including, as mentioned above, past history and also anecdotes, stories or ways the funds were used in the past year and how they are intended on being used for the coming year are great ways to make the letter personal (but not for that specific person) while showing that a human wrote the letter and showing the donor how their contribution really makes an impact. This is what keeps them coming back, not just a “thanks for the donation” letter that seems impersonal and not from the heart.
Include a yearly review of the happenings in your organization for the previous year.
Even if you include stories and anecdotes like I suggested above, be sure to include a specific section about general goals and/or milestones you reached and seek to reach in the future. This can include monetary goals (to inspire more giving and a specific amount!), building goals, growth goals or reflecting on goals achieved in the previous year that hadn’t been feasible before thanks to giving from the previous year.
All these intimate details of your organization allow you to show your drive, your motivation, the progress you’ve made and your gratitude for gifts that allow you to achieve so much each year. These heartfelt and honest reflections are what allow your message to feel personal and connect with the reader in a way that can excite them to give again! And these aren’t personal to the donor, so it’s easy to write a template for this part and copy paste!
You can also use this space to personalize the letter further by including a more detailed account of the specific program or area the donor has impacted – for instance, if you allow donors to choose how to allocate their donation, give them a more specific update on how THEIR money helped directly. This might take some extra legwork, but if you have a handful of programs you can write up a general update and copy and paste it into the letters to donors connected with that program.
You can even include the contact info or have the letter be from the director of the program they are directly linked to. This makes them feel more included and ‘special’ but also can open the door for more positive engagement with donors and encourages them to continue supporting you.
“Donor Centered” Emails
While it’s important to show what you’ve accomplished as an organization, and also where money has gone, don’t forget to include a “donor centered” outlook.
This article in The Balance talks about the idea of “donor centered” thank you letters and why “gratitude is powerful”. The author says,
“Thank you letters and notes are at their best when they make donors feel appreciated and let them know how they helped.”
The article also mentions a great tip for larger organizations that have many donors. It might be difficult to write a unique letter for each donor, but grouping your donors into categories can help tailor letters and emails to those specific donor types.
A donor software is great for automating this process. You can create several email templates and then filter your database for only first time donors or yearly donors or certain high level donors. Then send them a tailored message, using the software’s token system to include personalized information. This might be their total contributions or another data point you want to highlight.
Format, Format, Format!
Keep it simple. I know I wrote a lot about including updates and goals and on and on, but make sure to keep it concise. No one has time to read a long email or letter and you don’t want a long letter that gets skimmed, you want 1-2 paragraphs that are considered, so keep your important points within a 1-2 paragraph format if possible. Feel free to write a more detailed write up, year end review, etc on your website and include that link or URL in your letter so if someone IS interested in reading more, they can but don’t have to wade through your text to be inspired to give or feel your ‘gratitude’.
Proof reading is obviously the next big thing – don’t embarrass yourself and your organization with grammar mistakes!
Lastly, include images! People love seeing pictures and will search to read a caption or explanation of what they are looking at so it’s helpful to get your text read when their images to go with it! This is also a great time to, in an email especially, link your social media pages. Include an embedded YouTube video of an event or program, including a photo or two and a link to view the album on Facebook, your blog, etc.
Make sure the letter is attention-grabbing and easy to read. Images, bolded sentences (including a bold and big THANK YOU!) are a great place to start. Make the purpose and point of your message clear just by looking at it. One last note on formatting: today 82% of people read emails on their phones. This means that all the fancy emails that are formatted with tables and stuff like that are NOT GOOD. Make the email formatting simple and just include images inline where it makes sense.
Social Media is your friend!
Remember that an active blog, website, and social media account (Facebook and Instagram) is a great way to share what your organization is doing! Facebook offers a “donate” button right from your page, which is a great fundraising tool.
Regularly updating content on these platforms make it easy to then share specific images or albums when writing thank you laters, or donation requests.
Don’t Forget To Focus On Thanks and Not Just Asking For More $$$
It’s easy to get caught up in summing up the year, or past quarter (or whatever your time frame is) and forget the entire purpose of the letter: to say thank you and show gratitude.
A thank you letter isn’t an opportunity to ask for more money or for other things (like volunteering, attending an event, etc). It’s a chance to say thank you and show how their contribution as positively affected your organization. We all get emails that are asking something of us everything single day. It is nice to get an email that is just telling us that we are great and that we helped. That is what your thank you email should be. When you write a heartfelt and gracious message, the hope is the donor will feel compelled to give more, give again, etc but the letter isn’t the space to speak directly of these things.
Consider following up your message with a phone call reiterating the same sentiment and feeling out each donor personally on giving again. You can do this passively as well, by suggesting they follow your organization on Facebook to keep up to date on progress, volunteer opportunities or events they can attend or asking if they’d like to join a newsletter to keep up to date on the organization weekly, monthly, etc.
Email or Paper?
The last question you have to answer is whether or not you want to email the thank you letter or send it in the mail. There are pros and cons to both. You can also cover all of your bases by sending both!
A paper letter comes off as more personal, even if typed. Just the act of the signature at the bottom of the letter means someone took the time to say thanks. If writing an entirely personalized email isn’t feasible, printing the letter and sending it off with some handwritten touches makes all the difference.
Email, however, is direct, and not likely to get lost in a pile of junk mail. Email also allows you to more quickly and promptly send a note of thanks.
A good balance would be to have an automated email go out when someone makes a donation online. If they make it in person, you can add this to your database under their name and have the same email send out. Then you can follow up with a warmer, more personal letter of thanks.
Many non-profits also choose to do this once a year around tax time. Along with a letter noting the YTD contribution, you can include statistics on how the money donated was spent and a special thank you for their yearly donation. This letter of course, can come with a small note about how they can donate in the future, or advertise any upcoming fundraisers or fundraising campaigns you plan on running.
Writing a thank you letter to a donor is just as important as seeking out donors and funds for your organization. Without showing gratitude and working hard to show your donor base how their money is used, you won’t raise much and you won’t retain many past givers.
Further more, using the right email and donor management system will help make this process easy. A database with the address information you need will make exporting and creating labels a cinch for mailing letters. And the ability to categorize donors and then send targeted emails to them, including specialized thank you emails will help you organization.
There are many systems out there that are priced right for non-profits, that can also save you and your admin team a TON of time in managing these necessary fundraising related tasks. Automating this type of communication will allow you more time to make phone calls and have one on one meetings to make donors feel apprecaited, and help your bottom line with increased donations.
If you are a non-profit you probably already believe pretty strongly in your organization and your mission. Allow that passion to shine through always, but especially when saying a simple, but heartfelt ‘thanks’ for those that help you achieve your goals.