5 Tips to Improve Your Donor Thank You Letters

Image: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’ve probably been hearing a lot of talk about donor retention. Many fundraisers agree that boosting your donor retention is the cheapest, most effective strategy for growing overall donations. But how to attain high donor retention consistently is not crystal clear.

Here’s a tip: Start small and start at the beginning. The road to retaining more donors year over year begins with the thank you letter your donor receives after making her first gift to your organization. 

Hopefully you are sending out thank you letters. If not, start today! And then take a look at these five tips to make your letters even better. 

Send your letters quickly

If you implement only one of these tips, make it this one! A delayed thank you (or lack of any thank you at all) is a VERY common donor complaint. So many nonprofits miss the mark on this one – if you get it right, you’ll stand out.

Make your letters donor-centered

The point of a thank you letter is to make your donor feel good about their gift to your organization. To do this, you must put their hopes, fears and desires at the center of your thinking as you write the letter. 

A quick and simple tip to make your letter donor-centered: Use the words “you” and “your” much more often than “we” or “I.” 

Share the impact of their gift. Alleviate any fear that their money will be mismanaged by dedicating a sentence or two on acknowledging the project or campaign they intend to support. 

Make your letters feel authentic and personal

Maintain a tone that is respectful, but not distantly formal. Instead of saying “Dear Friend,” use your donor’s name and spell it correctly. Also, don’t fill your letter with nonprofit/industry jargon or acronyms that will ring flat with a non-expert. 

One place to be authentic and personal is your opening line. How many letters have you written or received that begin “On behalf of the board and staff of…” Not personal—and boring to boot! Instead, try: “You’re changing the world!” 

To close, sign your letters with a real pen and write a friendly personal note at the bottom or in the side margin.

Have the right person sign your letters

Who your letter comes from matters a lot. For most donors, letters have more impact when signed (with a real pen!) by a high-ranking person at the organization. Think CEO, Executive Director, Board Member, or a Program Director.

Handle less-than-exciting tax details efficiently

Many of us used to put our tax ID numbers and deductibility language beneath the signature at the bottom of a thank you letter. These days, many organizations opt to isolate this information on a separate sheet of paper that is formatted like a receipt and tucked into the envelope with the thank-you letter. 

This way, donors get the tax info they need, but not in a way that distracts from your lovely, prosaic thank you letter.

You’ll find more great tips for thank-you letters in Penelope Burk’s, Donor Centered Fundraising. Also consider submitting your best letter to her Donor Centered Thank-You Letter Project and get samples of your colleagues’ best work in return. Happy writing!

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click).