One of your most important roles as a non-profit fundraiser is to steward your current donors so that they keep giving year after year. The starting point for this process is your donor thank you letter.
At many organizations, the donor thank you letter is an afterthought… a form letter you print and send that doubles as a donation receipt. Sure, an entry-level staff member may scribble a note on the bottom of these form receipts, but for the most part these tax forms don’t do anything to move the donor relationship forward.
This is a huge mistake. A great donor thank you letter can be a powerful donor touch and a great way to build stronger relationships with your supporters. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how to make sure your donor thank you letters can help you better steward your donors so you can raise more money than ever before.
The 3 Most Important Rules for Your Donor Thank You Letters
When creating donor thank you letters for your non-profit, it’s best to have several templates in place that you can personalize for each donor. Thus, you may have a pre-written donor thank you letter for each of your programs (for donors who give designated gifts) and each of your funding methods (for donors who give planned gifts, annual campaign gifts, donations to your crowdfunding campaign, etc.)
Even though you should have a number of templates in place, you should always be personalizing these templates prior to sending them out, particularly for mid-sized and major donors. As you create your donor thank you letter templates, keep these 3 important rules in mind:
#1: Always Send a Snail Mail Donor Thank You Letter
My advice is to always send a snail mail thank you letter, even for gifts that are made online. Sending an actual snail mail letter through the postal system is a great way to make your acknowledgement feel more personal for your donor. It provides a cheap and effective real-world donor touch and does more to build your relationship with your donors than simply e-mailing your thank you notes.
If your donor gives online, by all means have your donation system send them an immediate acknowledgement and receipt via e-mail, but still follow up with a snail mail donor thank you letter soon thereafter. And don’t forget that no matter whether your donor gives online or offline, that gold standard is to not only send a snail mail thank you note, but also follow up with a short thank you call.
You can learn how to build calls into your donor thanking system by reading our article Donor Thank You Calls: Your Key to Raising More Money this Year.
#2: Separate Your Thank You Letters and Your Tax Receipts
Many non-profits try to have their donor thank you letters do double duty as tax receipts. I think this is a huge missed opportunity. While your thank you notes can be powerful stewardship tools, your tax receipts are boring, transactional, and full of tax legalese. When you try to combine the two, you necessarily water down your thank you note into a more boring, less effective stewardship tool.
My suggestion is that when you send your snail mail donor thank you letter, you separate the two documents and send them both in the same envelope: include a true donor thank you note, as well as a stand-alone tax receipt. That way, you can send a receipt that meets all of the technical requirements without watering down your powerful and emotionally compelling donor thank you note.
#3: Send Your Donor Thank You Letter Promptly
For maximum impact, be sure to send your thank you notes promptly. This means sending them within a week of receiving the gift. Sending your thank you letters out within a week will allow your donors to know that their donation was received and will show your donors how much you value their support.
How to Write a Powerful Donor Thank You Letter
It’s not hard to write a great donor thank you letter, but it does require you to think outside the box. Your thank you notes should be much more than simple acknowledgements – they should strive to make meaningful personal connections with your supporters. Here are 3 tips for writing powerful thank you letters:
#1: Be Donor-Focused
Your thank you notes need to be donor-focused. This means making sure that each donor thank you letter talks as much (if not more) about the donor than it does about your non-profit. You should use the words “you” and “your” far more than you use the words “we” and “ours.”
Great thank you notes say things like:
- “Thanks to your gift…”
- “Your donation will allow us…
- “Donors like you…”
- “Without your support…”
#2: Be Emotional
A great donor thank you letter elicits emotion in the reader. Good thank you notes tell short stories about the people you are serving… the people you are able to help thanks to the donor’s gift. Use your thank you notes to paint a picture for your donor – a picture of the work you are doing and the real impact it is having for those you serve.
#3: Be Personal
Your donor thank you notes should not be impersonal form letters from a faceless organization. Instead, they should be personal letters written from a specific person at your organization. This person could be your Executive Director, Development Director, or Board Chair.
In addition, be sure to include a way for the donor to contact your organization for more information or if they have any questions. Make sure that your donor thank you letter includes a phone number and / or e-mail address the person can use to get in touch with your organization. And consider giving your donors other ways to connect, including coming for a tour (if appropriate), connecting on social media, or finding out about volunteer opportunities.
Remember, a great donor thank you letter is an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your donor, recognize them for their gift, and ensure that they stay involved with (and continue giving to) your non-profit. Now is the perfect time to review and revise the thank you letters you are using at your organization!
To see an example of a great donor thank you letter, read A Simple Thank You Script for Your Non-Profit.