Getting people to donate to your nonprofit is not easy. However, once you do, it’s important that you properly thank them. The most popular way to do this is via a thank-you letter for donations, the perfect tool to engage, retain, and make your donors feel fulfilled after donating to your cause.
However, it’s worth mentioning that a thank-you letter for a donation can’t simply be just a letter that says “thanks.” Writing a great letter involves many details that contribute to the main motive of the letter, which is to convey gratitude and show the impact of the donation. In this post, we’ll break down how to write the perfect thank-you letter for your nonprofit, along with some specific examples you can learn from.
Imagine someone has just donated $100 to your nonprofit. Great, right? If you never acknowledge their donation, though, the donor will feel your organization is ungrateful, or they’re going to forget that they donated to you altogether.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the two primary reasons for sending a thank-you letter: expressing your gratitude and making your donors feel fulfilled.
The primary objective of your thank-you letter is to show how grateful you are for your donor’s contribution. Expressing gratitude is how you show your nonprofit cares and how you acknowledge the effort of your supporters, which makes them feel part of the cause.
However, a simple “thank you” isn’t enough to make a donor feel moved. It’s recommended that the letter is sent from a notable person within your organization, such as the chairman or another person in a position of influence. This ensures donors know that their efforts are appreciated all the way through your organization, and goes a long way.
The best way to ensure your donors feel fulfilled is to show them exactly how their donation is being put to good use. This is why some nonprofits use thank-you letters for donations as opportunities to further connect with their donors and inform them how their specific donation is going to be used. Adding the names of the people your nonprofit has helped and how the donation has personally helped them, their family or their community is a way to attach emotional value to your thank-you letter. Happy donors are reliable donors, so the more clearly you can show them how their dollars are making a difference, the better.
Perhaps the biggest impact of all this, though, is that fulfilled donors are far more likely to donate again. A great, well-written, heartfelt thank-you letter is a key step in increasing donor retention, whether they’re a first-time donor or already part of your membership program. Donor retention is the nonprofit equivalent of passive income and leads to lower marketing costs, a higher percentage of recurring donors, and greater net assets year-over-year.
A great example of showing your donors how their dollars are used comes from World Vision, whose long-standing television campaigns have been incredibly successful in large part because they introduced donors to children they could help in the TV spot, and then followed up with the specific child their donation did help in their thank-you letters. Many donors continue giving to World Vision for years because they want to see the child they’ve sponsored grow up to live a happy, healthy life.
Source: Charity Email Gallery
Great thank-you letters, then, express both gratitude and the impact of the gift of the donor. Now that you know why they’re important, let’s delve into the specifics of how to write one.
The first step in a compelling thank-you letter is the introduction. This is generally the part where you salute and address your donor. It may sound simple, but there’s some magic to this part of the letter as well.
First off, you want to address your donor by name and not by just “Donor” or something generic like that. This allows you to speak from a personal, heartfelt position and prevents the donor from regarding this letter as an acknowledgment from a faceless institution.
Pro tip: Include the amount of the donation in your introduction. It serves as a reminder for any donor to remember how much they gave and how it impacted your organization, whether the donation was big or small.
Here’s a small example of a well-written one from Toronto Cat Rescue, although a bit long:
With these ideas incorporated into your introduction, you will have acknowledged your donor in a friendly manner and set the stage for the main part of the letter.
Here’s where you get to write the most important part of your letter. Perhaps the biggest thing to keep in mind here is that this thank-you letter is about the donor, not your organization. Therefore, the letter should emphasize how you‘ve used the donor’s money for your cause, not other pieces of news that aren’t relevant to the donor.
Here are just a few ways you can achieve this:
Here’s an example from a template made by The Balance Small Business. Notice how the letter mentions how many children have been helped by their donation, the specific way the donation is being used, and even invites the donor to visit them in person, creating an excellent opportunity to deepen the relationship.
Source: The Balance Small Business
The end of the thank-you letter for donations is where you have the chance to present your donor with an optional call to action. This is not the right time to ask for another donation—that would erode the trust you’ve built up with them until that point. But there are other requests you can make of them, such as sharing your organization’s message with others, that can have a similarly positive effect.
The conclusion needs to ensure that your donor puts the letter down with a good taste in their mouth. This often means offering your donor one or several ways to get more involved if they want to, complete with the contact information of the person who can best help them to do that.
Here’s the conclusion from the template included in the previous section:
Source: The Balance Small Business
Pro tip: Adding a small handwritten note at the end of the letter is something most donors appreciate. This can include a note from the head of your organization, or even one of the people their donation has helped.
A good thank-you letter is key to making people feel personally involved in your cause, increasing your donor retention rates, and the overall success of your fundraising campaign.
Many nonprofits make a fatal mistake in their donor communications by keeping their donors at arms’ length. They start their communications with formalities like “On behalf of XXX organization,” and use fluffy and technical language that prevents donors from connecting with them. Writing a thank-you letter, though, is not like writing an annual report or a newsletter; rather than being impersonal and wide-ranging, thank-you letters for donations are sent to specific individuals and should speak to them directly.
Thank-you letters should always be written in a personal, down-to-earth voice. You want to show your appreciation for the effort your donor has made and show how far their donation has gone. You should always address the donor by name, and focus on how they’ve helped your organization. It’s also a good idea to sprinkle some of these magic words throughout your letter (and your other marketing material, too).
Pro tip: You can think of the voice of a great thank-you letter as that of a person telling a close friend how much they appreciate their help.
Imagine this scenario: a donor pledges $100 to your organization in March. Three months later, in June, they receive a thank-you letter. By that time, it’s safe to say that they’ve more or less forgotten about their donation, and receiving a thank-you letter from you may even evoke negative emotions in them. ‘Why did they wait so long to send me this?’ the donor may wonder. ‘Did my donation not matter?’
Instead, you should send thank-you letters for donations within three days. If you wait for longer, you risk your letter losing impact. After a couple of weeks, like it or not, the donor has moved on.
It’s a given that every donor should receive a thank-you letter. But not all donors are created equal, which means they don’t all need to receive the same letter. In your donor database, you should categorize your donors to know how many times each of them has donated to your organization in the past. The side benefit of this is that it will help you understand which donor personas have the biggest impact on you, which will help you in future fundraising campaigns.
Targeting donors by donation frequency makes for even more relevant thank-you letters since you can personalize the letter. Personalized letters let your donors know that you’re keeping track of their efforts and acknowledging the importance of their support over time. Here’s how to target different types of donors with different thank-you letters:
First-time donors should be addressed as such: when you write to them, the letter should show that the organization is deeply grateful to them for deciding to make the first donation to their cause.
The letter should also show the impact that that first donation has made. This can come in the form of a story, a touching photograph, or another way that shows the immediate impact their donation is having.
Here’s a sample thank-you letter for donation to a church, that also doubles as a donation receipt document for the first-time donor.
The sooner the letter arrives—and the more genuine it is—the more likely these first-time donors are to become regular donors and engage with your organization in other ways.
Long-time donors require a different approach than first-time donors. They have already received one or more of your thank-you letters for donations in the past, so it’s a good idea to get them additional insight into how your organization is using their money.
One effective way of getting this message across is to send your long-time donors different stories of the people your organization has helped; rather than repeating the same stories across multiple years, ensure you always send them something new to keep them highly engaged. Another method is to show a donor how specific individuals or groups are doing since they started donating. If a donor can see that their donations continue to improve conditions year after year, they’re likely to continue donating.
Here’s a great example of a concise and informative thank-you letter sent to a monthly donor from Earthjustice.
Source: Silent Partner Software
Many nonprofits have found that blogging is an effective way to gain new donors, both because blogs are easy and inexpensive to start and because well-written evergreen content can deliver a steady stream of visitors to your site for years. Yet a surprising number of those same organizations overlook the opportunity to repurpose those stories to take their thank-you letters to the next level.
Repurposing blog content into your thank-you letter is surprisingly straightforward: just grab one of the human interest stories on your blog, summarize it into a couple of sentences, and drop it into the body of the letter. Doc Wayne Youth Services has done an excellent job of repurposing testimonials originally posted on its blog to make its thank-you letters particularly impactful:
If you had the power to convert even 5% more of your one-time donors into long-time donors, wouldn’t you do it? Thank-you letters for donations are your ticket to achieving exactly that. They pose a crucial opportunity to deepening your relationship with your donors, and as such, should be written with care. If you want to take your donations to the next level, you can’t afford to overlook thank-you letters.
Jordan Bishop is the founder of Yore Oyster, a site that helps readers optimize their finances while living an international life. He recently published his first book, Unperfect.