Thanking donors is not the end – it’s the beginning. And you need to get it right if you want donors to give again.

You see, thanking donors is THE most important step in fundraising.

It lets the donor know you received their gift and have set it to work. It completes the Cycle of Giving. And it’s a critical part of building the all-important donor relationship.

Unfortunately, most nonprofits view thanking donors as an afterthought instead of treating it with the importance it deserves.

They use the same lukewarm thank-you letter they’ve been using for years which sends the wrong message to their donors. And they miss lots of opportunities to surprise their donors with little extra thank-yous after the official one is sent.

Nonprofits that are succeeding understand that they need to thank donors and do it well.

Thanking donors well makes them feel good about giving to your nonprofit, which is key to sustainable fundraising.

A stale, boring, predictable, slow thank-you letter doesn’t cut it.

So, what does the thank-you look like when it’s done right?

Here are 7 MUST DOS for thanking donors so that they feel truly appreciated and feel so good about giving that they want to do it again.


Must Dos when thanking donors

Thanking donors is about connecting with them both head and heart.

You reach their head with the data that they need (receipt and donation information) and with a host of little details like spelling their name right and getting the thank-you to them quickly.

You reach their heart and making them feel great about giving by connecting emotionally through a story, photo, and language that makes them feel like the hero of the day.

Getting both right is important. Here are 7 things you MUST DO to get it right.

1. Put the time in. Don’t slap something on a page and call it a thank-you letter just so you can mark it off your “to do” list. Put the time in to making it a meaningful thank-you that will connect with the donor’s heart. In fact, spend as much time writing the thank-you letter as you do writing the Ask. Love ‘em up, use lots of hero language, and write with the goal of making them say “Aaw, that’s so nice. I love this nonprofit.”

2. Fast. Your thank-you needs to arrive quickly. Your email thank-you should arrive immediately, and your online donation system should be able to make that happen for you. Snail mail letters need to be sent out within 48 hours of the time you receive the donation. That means you need a system that supports a fast turnaround. If there’s just no way you can get a thank-you letter out that fast, what CAN you do? Once a week will work if you can’t do anything else, but don’t sit on donations any longer than that. It makes donors lose trust in you when you don’t seem organized enough to get something done.

3. Personalize it. Address the donor by name when you thank them. No “Dear friend” here. Your system should allow you to insert the donor’s name into the thank-you in either email or snail mail letters. Sending something generic tells the donor you don’t know how to use your tools or don’t care. Either way, it’s unacceptable.

4. Warm and sincere. Write your letter like you talk. Leave out the jargon, acronyms, and slang because your donor won’t understand any of it. Use my Kitchen Table Exercise for writing – imagine you’re sitting at your kitchen table with your donor and write what you’d say in that moment. You wouldn’t say “On behalf of the Board and staff, please accept our deepest gratitude blah blah blah…” You’d say “thank you so much…” Your nonprofit is probably not a stiff, formal organization, so any stiff, formal language you use will be off brand and out of place.

5. Meaningful. Briefly tell the donor what impact their donation will have. Share what their money will do to change lives. This is the part they really care about, so don’t skip this one!

6. Receipt info. Make the receipt info clear. Most people won’t read your entire letter – they’ll skim it. So, make it easy to find the receipt otherwise donors will tell you they didn’t get a receipt, and you’ll have to do double work to generate a new letter to send them for tax purposes. I’m not a fan of getting a receipt that’s a separate document from the thank-you. As a donor, I find it confusing and the actual receipt is usually some sterile, default language that makes me feel yucky and unappreciated. One email or letter with thank-you language AND receipt info is best practice.

7. Invite their questions. Give donors the name and contact info of someone they can reach out to with questions. Chances are good they’ll never do it, but just knowing they can makes them feel more confident in their growing relationship with your nonprofit.


Take your thanks to the next level with these hot ideas

A strong, well-done thank-you letter is just step 1 in the acknowledgement process.
To make sure your donors feel the love and know you appreciate them, add in something extra to surprise and delight them.

Thank-a-thon. Gather up volunteers, staff, and Board and call your top 10, 20, or 100 donors from this year just to thank them. November is a great month for this! Create a simple script for everyone to follow then give them a few names to call. Ask them to jot down notes from their call so you know who they reached, who they left messages for, and what donor feedback was received.

Personalized thank-you video. Send your top donors a personalized thank-you video. It’s best to shoot this from the front lines of your nonprofit if possible to show donors what their donation is making happen. It doesn’t need to be fancy, so keep it simple and shoot the video with your smart phone. Upload it to YouTube and make it unlisted so that only someone with the link can see it. Then email the link to your donor and watch the magic happen!

Public thank-you video. Create a thank-you video intended for a broad audience, showcasing your organization’s work. Include your team and make it cute to increase the shareability. Post it on your website, social media, email it to your list – share it everywhere! Pet Community Center in Nashville does a great job of this – check out their video:


The Bottom Line

Thanking donors can’t be something you do in passing. It takes time to think it through and do it well.

Thank them like you mean it and get it right so that they love you for it.

It’ll set you on the path to becoming their favorite charity and that’s a great place to be!