At many organizations, the nonprofit thank you letter (or donor thank you note) is an afterthought. They think: the donor has already made a gift, now we just need to send them a receipt for tax purposes and move on to the next donor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your nonprofit thank you letter has a huge role to play in your fundraising efforts. The thank you note you send is the first step in the stewardship process… a key opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your donor. If you send the right kind of thank you note, you’ll be well on your way to getting a second, third, and fourth gift from the donor, and turning them into a lifelong supporter of your organization.
In this article, you’re going to learn the rules for sending a fantastic nonprofit thank you letter that helps you raise more money and build closer ties with your donors.
4 Rules for Your Nonprofit Thank You Letter
I have found that there are four quintessential rules you need to follow if you want to send great thank you notes to your donors. Here they are, in no particular order:
#1: Everyone Should Get a Snail Mail Thank You Letter
Does your organization send a snail mail nonprofit thank you letter to each of your donors, regardless of how the donation comes in? At many organizations, the answer is no. Far too many nonprofits only send snail mail letters for checks that come in through the mail, and send e-mail thank you notes for donations that come in online.
If you want to build better relationships with your donors, then every single person that makes a gift should get a snail mail thank you note. When someone gives online, you can immediately e-mail them a short thank you note and tax receipt, but your fundraising team should still send a snail mail thank you.
Don’t waste the opportunity to reach out to your donors with a positive, non-ask “donor touch.” A thank you note is a great stewardship tool, and everyone who makes a gift to your organization should get one through the mail. (This includes crowdfunding donors, walk-a-thon sponsors, etc. Everyone!)
#2: Separate Out Your Thank You Letter and Your Receipt
Many organizations try to have their nonprofit thank you letters do double duty as both thank you notes and tax receipts. This is a mistake. When a donor gets a thank you note that includes tax and deductibility information, it looks like a form letter that the organization has some kind of legal obligation to send out, rather than heartfelt gratitude for the gift.
For this reason, I suggest that your organization separates out your thank you letter from the tax receipt. You can mail them in the same snail mail envelope, but make them two separate documents: one heartfelt thank you letter, and one tax receipt with all of the legalese on it.
#3: Personalize Your Nonprofit Thank You Letter for Certain Segments
The best thank you notes are personalized – meaning that they have a handwritten note on them from someone on your fundraising team. The handwritten note need not be long. It can be as simple as, “Thanks so much Joe! We really appreciate your support.” For major donors, your nonprofit thank you letter might even be a completely handwritten note, mailed alongside the typed tax receipt.
Of course, depending on the size of your development team and the number of donations you receive each week, you may not have time to personalize every single thank you note. In that case, you can segment your donors and send personalized notes to major and perhaps mid-level donors and send just a standard nonprofit thank you note (a form letter that doesn’t look like a form letter) to your lower dollar donors.
You may also want to send personalized notes to first time donors (no matter their giving level) as an added touch.
#4: Send Your Thank You as Soon as Possible!
Don’t wait to send your thank you notes out. Some smaller organizations wait way too long in order to put their thank you letters in the mail. For maximum impact, send out your snail mail thank you note within one week of receiving the gift. Doing so lets your donors know that the gift was received and reinforces how important their donation is to your organization.
How to Make Your Nonprofit Thank You Letter Stand Out
In addition to the rules above, there are several things you can do in the content of your nonprofit thank you letter that will help it stand out and strengthen the relationship you have with your donor:
#1: Be Emotional
Just as you want to be emotional in your fundraising letters, you also want to be emotional in your nonprofit thank you letters. Your work is important, and your donor has done something huge to support your work (regardless of the size of their donation). Make an emotional connection in your thank you note and your donor know that their gift is changing lives and making the world a better place.
It's nearly impossible to be too emotional in your thank you notes. I’ve seen donors brought to tears by the thank you letters they have received. Be emotional and donor-centered in your notes and make your donors feel your gratitude.
#2: Show How Your Donor is Making a Difference
Your nonprofit thank you letter is also a great place to show your donor how they are making a difference by making a gift to your organization. Use your thank you notes to show impact and outcomes: the impact that your nonprofit is having thanks to the donor, as well as the outcomes you are getting for those you serve.
Don’t get bogged down in too many details. You don’t need to throw in every statistic about your work. But if your non-profit was able to serve an additional 10,000 hot meals last year because of your donors, mentioning that in the note will help your donors feel good and see how they are making a real, tangible difference in the world.
#3: Cast a Vision
Everyone wants to be part of a story bigger than themselves. Your donors can be part of something bigger… something world-changing… by donating to your nonprofit. For that reason, you should be casting a vision in your nonprofit thank you letter.
I just told you how you should be showing your donors the impact and outcomes that they are funding… that’s talking about the past, and it is important… but equally important is talking about the future. Include a line or two in your thank you note telling your supporters about your big-picture vision. It can be as simple as, “Our goal is that within 10 years, no one in our city will go hungry. Thanks to you, we are well on our way to meeting that goal.”
Remember, though, never to do any fundraising in your thank you notes. Cast a vision, yes… but wait until your next fundraising letter to ask for additional gifts to help you reach that vision.
#4: Make Sure Your Nonprofit Thank You Letter Comes from a Real Person
Remember what I said earlier – you want to use your nonprofit thank you letter to build a better relationship with your donor. That means your letter needs to feel as personal as possible. It’s hard for a thank you note to feel personal if it’s signed, “Your Friends at Lawncrest Hospital,” or “The Levick Street School.”
Make sure your thank you letter is signed by a real person at your nonprofit… and that it includes a phone number and e-mail address that people can use if they have questions for your organization.
Thank you notes can be a great tool in your stewardship arsenal, if you use them the right way. Harness the power of great thank you letters and use them to build stronger relationships with your supporters, moving your donors down the cultivation highway towards their next gift to your organization.
Want an example of a great donor thank you letter? If so, check out A Simple Thank You Script for Your Nonprofit.