Thanking donors is THE most important step in fundraising.

Get this one right, and fundraising gets easier.

Mess it up, and you’ll eventually lose the donor.

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

And that can kill your ability to keep good donors who love the work your nonprofit is doing.

Think about it: have you ever had a friend and the only time you heard from them was when they wanted something? How about one that mooches all the time and never says “thank you”?

Don’t be that person to your donors.

Truly, if you aren’t thanking donors well, you run that risk.

Great if you’re sending a thank-you letter. But if it’s stale and boring, it isn’t accomplishing much. Or if it takes you forever to get it to the donor, it doesn’t mean much either.

Your donor thank you letter plays an important role in fundraising that you can leverage to build relationships – or ignore, and suffer the consequences.

Cycle of Giving

You need donors who give because they love the work your nonprofit is doing.

This is called transformational giving because it transforms the donor’s life as well as the lives of those you’re serving.

In order to keep those donors giving you must complete the Cycle of Giving.

There are two parts to the Cycle of Giving.

In part 1 (on the left side of the cycle), the donor gives you money.

In part 2 (on the right side of the cycle), you thank the donor and the cycle is complete.

You must complete the cycle by thanking the donor before the cycle can begin again.

In other words, you need to thank your donor WELL before they’ll feel like giving again. Make sense?

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

Oh, it may work for a little while, but I guarantee you that your donor is starting to slip away because they don’t feel appreciated and needed.

How do you prevent those donors from slipping away? Simple. Improve your thank-you letter. Make it a power-packed thank-you letter!

Purpose of a Power-Packed Donor Thank You Letter

Your thank-you letter has two purposes:

1. Acknowledge the donor for their gift.

2. Make them feel good about giving.

If your letter doesn’t do these two things in as few words as possible, you need a new letter.

So, what does an awesome thank-you letter look like?

donor thank you letter

Here’s what the letter says in case you can’t read it:

“What does it mean when we say you’ve changed a life?

For racing greyhounds, it means they can leave the racetrack behind and begin their journey to a forever home. Your gift of three sets of quilted dog crate pads is very much appreciated and helps free up funds that can be used for emergencies or veterinary bills for those greyhounds that need extra care.

Tahoe is one of those greyhounds. He is going blind. The good news is that Tahoe is not in any pain. He is playful and friendly. The bad news is that his condition has no cure, and he will completely lose his sight.

But, because of your donation, Tahoe will be cared for at Fast Friends for as long as it takes to find his perfect home. You have truly changed his life.

While not every greyhound has a condition like Tahoe, each one needs special care before being ready to go home with a forever family. Some greyhounds come to us with track injuries. Others are very shy.  Still others need some time to adjust to a life away from the track.

You are changing each one of their lives with your gift, and we are so grateful for your support.”

Nice, huh?

This letter doesn’t go into detail about the nonprofit’s programs. It doesn’t tell the long history of how they’ve grown. It doesn’t spew mind-numbing facts and stats about the need and their accomplishments.

What it does do, really well, is make the donor the hero. It tells the story of one life being saved. And it tugs on the heartstrings to make the donor feel really good about giving to this nonprofit.

In fact, the letter made this particular donor feel so good that she shared it on Facebook!

THAT’S what we’re looking for!

This power-packed thank-you letter accomplishes its two purposes in these ways:
donor thank you letter

1. Acknowledge the donor for their gift – You’ll find the specific language in the 2nd paragraph, along with how that gift will impact the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission.

2. Make them feel good about giving – The story of the dog going blind absolutely tugs at your heartstrings and make you feel good about giving.

Elements of a Power-Packed Donor Thank-You Letter

To get your thank-you letter right, you must carve out time to work on it. 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.

Let’s take a closer look at the elements you need to include in your power-packed thank-you letter to make it heartwarming – hitting all the sweet spots for the donor.

And real quick – a note about how long your power-packed thank-you letter needs to be. Make sure it’s long enough to say what it needs to say but short enough to be read quickly.

Element #1: Personalize it. They just gave you money, so call them by name. This is no time for “Dear Friend.”

Element #2: Hooky first sentence. Make your first sentence short, interesting, and unexpected. This sentence has one job – to get people reading and move them to the next paragraph. (Don’t use “On behalf of the Board and staff of…)

Element #3: Warm and sincere tone. Your thank-you letter should be conversational and sound natural if read aloud. Don’t use jargon, acronyms, and stiff language, and leave out all your 25 cent words. Write your letter like you talk.

Element #4: Hero language. Use phrases like “We couldn’t do this without you” and “Because of you….” When you make the donor the hero, they feel great about giving to your organization!

Element #5: Relevant photo or video. The right image or video clip can connect better than any words you can write and will hit the donor right in the feelz.

Element #6: Contact info for questions. Offering the phone number and/or email of someone the donor can contact with questions is good customer service and shows how open you are to receiving input from them.

Element #7: Real signature. Make the letter official, with a real signature on a paper letter and a digitized signature for an electronic one.

Element #8: Receipt info. Include the donation date, donation amount, and what the donation was for (specific campaign, appeal, etc.). Don’t send a thank-you message and receipt separately.

Element #9: Tax language. Include appropriate tax language like “No goods or services were received in exchange for this donation” for donations or state the fair market value for purchases of t-shirts, event tickets, silent auction items, and so forth.

Put the Power in Your Donor Thank You Letter

Now that you know why you need a power-packed thank-you letter and what goes into one, it’s time to turn attention to YOURS.

1. Start by reviewing your current thank-you letter. Does it meet the 2 purposes? Does it include the 9 elements above? Does it make you feel good as a donor?

2. Ask a few of your donors for feedback on your letter. What do THEY think? Their thoughts are more important than yours on this issue! Be ready for some constructive criticism, especially if your letter is underwhelming them.

3. Revise your letter to make it more heartwarming. Rewrite your letter using the Kitchen Table technique, which makes it much more friendly and conversational.

4. Commit to getting it out the door FAST! Your letter should leave your office within 24-48 hours from the time you receive the donation. If the donation comes in from an online source, the thank-you should be going out instantaneously. If your timing is different, go fix it right now.

5. Add personal notes. Taking a few minutes of a busy day to go through a stack of letters may seem like a chore, but trust me – donors who get a thank-you letter with a personal note will be thrilled that you took the time to personally acknowledge their gift. It lets the donor know they aren’t just a number, but a valued supporter… and that you truly care about them.

6. Invite donors for a tour of your facility. You can do this in the body of the letter or as a P.S. Extending an invitation to donors and prospects for a personal tour (if appropriate) is always a good fundraising practice. You may never have anyone take you up on this, but they’ll remember that you offered. Seeing firsthand the work that you do may make all the difference in the world to a particular donor.

I had a donor once that came for a tour and got really interested in a particular program. After a few minutes of quizzing me about the program, he asked the magic question – “What does it cost to run that program?” I told him, and he pulled out his wallet, handed me his credit card, and said, “Go run it.” Talk about awesome!! He made a $15,000 gift right there on the spot. Moral of the story? Seeing your work firsthand can be a powerful, moving experience for a donor.

Here’s a short video where I share more about power-packed thank-you letters.

The Bottom Line

Always remember that your donors are your most important asset. Without them, you’d have no fundraising program.

Your thank-you letter is a critical piece of that fundraising.

Thanking donors well not only acknowledges their gift but gives them a great experience that sets the tone for what will happen next.

If you take the time to nail your thank-you letter, you’re setting the expectation that the donor will enjoy their relationship with you. And that’s a good thing.

Spend the time to get the thank-you letter right, and you’ll see the results in increased giving.