donation receiptThe most important thing you must do when you receive a donation of any size is immediately thank your donor warmly and provide a donation receipt.

And it can’t be just any boring donation receipt.

Most nonprofits completely miss this opportunity to wow their donor, so it’s not that hard to stand out.

Let’s take a look at what an awesome donation receipt looks like so you can nail yours.

The Cycle of Giving

Your receipt/thank you has a job to do.

It needs to be warm, sincere, and prompt so that it closes the loop on the gift and makes the donor feel great about their giving experience.

We call it the Cycle of Giving and here’s how it works:

The donor gives a gift.

The nonprofit receives the gift.

The nonprofit sends the donor a receipt, thanking them for choosing to contribute to the cause.

This completes the cycle and sets the stage for your organization to receive another gift from the donor.

donation receipt

By the way, how you thank the donor depends on the way they gave.

When you receive a gift by check, you should print and mail a personalized letter of appreciation that serves as the receipt.

When you receive an online gift, you should send the donor a receipt via email. This should be automated through your donor management software, but it still needs to be warm and friendly.

The donation receipt can almost seem like a clerical task. But it’s not.

Given how important the donation receipt is in securing a future gift and inspiring the donor to tell others about your organization, crafting the perfect donation receipt is hardly a clerical task to check off your list.

It’s more like an art form, one that you can learn with practice and by understanding the real purpose of a donation receipt.

Think of your donation receipt as an ambassador for your nonprofit, thanking the donor for their support.

What makes a good ambassador?

  • They are friendly.
  • They are professional.
  • They build trust.
  • They are helpful.

Your donation receipt should be all these things: friendly, professional, engendering trust, helpful.

Instead donation receipts are often dull, jargony, full of default text, and off-brand. Many donation receipts do nothing to capture the heart of the organization and why its work matters.

I got a stiff, impersonal donation receipt recently and, as I looked at it, I just thought, “What the heck?”

By taking an ambassador approach to writing your donation receipts, you can make donors smile rather than shrug as they store the receipt in a folder for tax records.

You can inspire donors to want to give to your organization again and again.

Why You Need a Fresh, Engaging Online Donation Receipt

Your online donation processor probably offers a generic receipt full of standard text.

Many people use that since it’s already there.

Big mistake.

It might provide the necessary receipt information, but it just isn’t warm enough to meet the donor’s needs.

There are no words of appreciation in the generic receipt. There is no passion. There is no reason to give again. And there may not be anything that identifies your nonprofit as the sender.

Receiving this type of generic receipt leaves me cold. It makes me wonder if I gave my gift to the right organization.

And trust me, you don’t want your donors thinking this way!

I am not sure what’s worse with this one, the receipt number in the subject line, the “no-reply” email or the fact that the nonprofit did not even bother to identify themselves in the email. What a huge missed opportunity to connect with the donor!

Now, here’s a really good donation receipt. It filled me with warmth and happiness when I received it.

It’s not hard to see the difference. The first one is cold and screams “tax receipt!” The second one exudes hope. It makes me want to give to this nonprofit all over again every time I look at it!

A well-written receipt is not just about a tax record. It’s about making the donor feel amazing.

You want your donor to think “I did that! I made that gift! I was part of this success story!”

A well-written receipt gives the donor a reason to feel great, which strengthens the relationship.

Here are a few more reasons why taking the time to write an effective donation receipt will pay off:

  • First impressions are everything. When you send a prompt, well-written, moving, and informative receipt, you demonstrate to the donor that you are a well-organized organization that values professionalism. For first-time donors, you want to impress upon them that you value their gift and plan to put it to good use right away. By doing so, they have a higher likelihood of giving again.
  • The donor knows you received their gift. In the donor’s mind, they can’t close the loop on the gift until they receive a receipt. But when they receive a receipt that is no different than the one they get when they purchase a box of cat treats, it makes their gift feel transactional rather than meaningful.
  • You make it easier for the donor at tax time. Everyone wants their tax preparation to go smoothly. Providing a donation with the date, amount, organization name, and tax identification number clearly identifiable, you make the donor’s life easier.

The Winning Formula for a Flawless Donation Receipt

As important as it is to create the right online donation receipt, it is an art form you can master through practice and following our formula.

  • Who is the email from? Use a real person’s name, typically your Executive Director or the person in charge of acknowledging gifts. If you use a ‘from’ email such as info@yourorganization or donationreceipt@yourorganization, the email will, from the very first moment the donor lays eyes on it, feel impersonal, like a form letter. That’s not what you want because it leaves the donor feeling cold. Set up and use an email with a person’s name so that it feels more personal.

  • An interesting subject line. If you send an email with a boring subject line, it probably won’t even get opened. Some of my favorites: Regarding your gift, How we used your gift, From the bottom of our hearts, You really made a difference, and We couldn’t wait to put your gift to work.

    Subject lines with questions have higher open rates. You could go with, Do you know you are a hero? or Could your gift have come at a more important time? 

  • Personalized salutation. It goes without saying, you should not use Dear friend on a personalized donation receipt. Organizations vary on whether they use Mr. and Mrs. or first names and it depends mostly on your nonprofit’s brand. I generally use first names because if you gave my organization money, we’re friends and I can call you by your first name.

    But we have some donors who are very traditional. In their cases, I use Mr. and Mrs. Paul Davis. Because that’s their preference. This is about them, not me. And thank goodness that a donor management software makes it easy to set a salutation for each donor so you don’t have to do this manually!

  • An opening sentence that hooks the reader. If you lead with, On behalf of our Board and staff, well, no one is finishing that sentence. It’s just too dull. Instead try something surprising like, Your really made my day! or You’re a hero! Or You won’t believe what a difference your gift made!  Check out this video for tips on writing the best opening sentence you can.

  • A warm, conversational tone: Your donation receipt, like all your donor communications, should have a casual, personal tone that makes the reader feel like they are having a conversation with you or reading a letter from a friend. Try reading your letter aloud and see if it sounds like you are chatting with your donor. This tone helps build a connection between you and your donor.

  • Hero language: When you tell a donor that your nonprofit wouldn’t exist without them, you are speaking the truth. So why be shy about saying it? Say things like, We couldn’t do this without you!, and Because of you, XYZ is possible!

    When you make the donor the hero, they feel amazing and proud for giving to your organization. Hero languages reinforces the idea that they made the right choice and increases the possibility that they will give again.

  • A compelling statistic. Adding a powerful statistic can go a long way in making donors feel like their gift was worthwhile. But when choosing a statistic, make sure the figure makes sense and doesn’t require too much explanation. Make sure the stat truly makes the case that your donor’s gift made a difference. And, make sure the stat makes sense.

    If you don’t have the right number to share, it’s better to skip the stat than include one that will make your donor say, “Huh?”

  • Information required by the IRS (US only). If your nonprofit is US-based, you must include the amount of the gift, the date of the gift, your organization’s name, and your tax ID number. If the gift was toward a campaign or designated for a special purpose, it’s a good idea to include that information as well for the donor’s reference.

    Then add the following sentence, assuming 100% of the gift was a donation: “No goods or services were given in exchange for this donation.” If part of the donation included goods or services, such as dinner at an event, an auction item, of a raffle ticket, seek advice from your tax advisor on properly wording the IRS language in your donation receipt.

    A word about inkind gifts: Of course you should always thank a donor who gives an inkind gift, such as a donation of bottled water, laundry detergent, pet food, or whatever. But the rules are a bit different around IRS language. State the type of gift, but don’t attach any value to it. That is the donor’s responsibility under IRS guidelines.

    For example, “Thank you for your generous gift of 10 cases of bottled water for our community event. No goods or services were given in exchange for this donation. Our tax ID number is 11-1111111. In accordance with IRS guidelines, we do not place a value on inkind gifts. Please consult your receipt for this information.”

    Just because stiff, boring tax language is required, this information does not have to take center stage. Start with a sincere note of thanks about how the donor’s gift was used, and then provide the specifics of their gift with the tax information.

  • Photo or video of how their gift is being used. The right photo or video can really hit the donor squarely in the heart. If the donor’s gift was used to buy laptops, a photo of students on the new laptops will hit the right note.

    If the donor’s gift was used for food for a pantry, a video of a volunteer filling bags with tomato soup, saltines, and other staples will tell the story without having to find a pantry guest willing to be filmed. While packing the box, the volunteer can tell a story of a recent exchange with a person who received groceries at the pantry.

    It’s always powerful to include a recipient of services in your photo or video, but if your work is too sensitive or you cannot find someone who is comfortable participating, you can get creative and still come up with an effective photo or video.

    Another note about the right photo: In an appeal, your success rate will be higher if the person in the photo is not smiling. But in a donation receipt, it is best to choose a happy photo. The goal of the donation receipt is to make the donor feel happy.

These are the components of a flawless donation receipt. Let’s look at a few examples of donation receipts that put these components into action.

Example #1

Subject: You really are a hero!

Dear Ellen,

Your gift could not have come at a better time to guarantee a seat in our program to a deserving student!

You answered our call for donations so students could move off our waiting list and into classrooms. Because of your gift and gifts from other generous donors like you, seven new students got to enroll in school!

These seven children are receiving a quality education, three meals a day, mentoring, and medical care. And your gift made it happen.

In Haiti, a typical adult has just five years of schooling, and the literacy rate is just 53 percent. Because of you, one Haitian child has a brighter future and the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.

Thank you for your gift of $50 on March 5, 2021 to the Haitian Children’s Education Network as part of our annual Back to School Campaign. Our tax ID number is 11-1111111. No goods or services were given in exchange for this donation.


Jane Smith

Executive Director

Example #2

Subject: Here’s how we used your gift!

Dear Samantha,

Wow, you really came through when families need you!

Your donation arrived just when a record number of your Whitfield neighbors were seeking help with food. We used your gift to buy more rice, pasta, canned goods, and other pantry staples, which our guests were able to take home to their pantries.

Making sure everyone in our community has enough to eat has never been harder. One in five Whitfield children experiences food insecurity at least once a month. Heroes like you make sure families have a place to go where they can request the food items they need and know they will be treated with dignity.

Thank you one hundred times over for your gift of $100 on March 5, 2021 to the Whitfield Food Pantry. Our Tax ID Number is 11-1111111. No goods or services were given in exchange for this gift.


Jane Smith

Executive Director

Example #3

Subject: Wow, what a gift!

Dear Mark,

We were blown away to receive such a generous gift from you!

We are a small organization, and a gift of this size goes a long way. We used your gift immediately to immunize and provide heartworm prevention to 10 dogs. Thanks to you, these dogs will be protected as they wait to be adopted and go to their forever homes.

Dogs with a history of heartworms have a very hard time getting chosen for adoption, and treatment for heartworms is difficult and uncomfortable. You are a hero for making sure these dogs will not have to suffer!

Thank you for your gift of $500 (Wow!) on March 5, 2021 to Paws Whitfield. Our Tax ID Number is 11-1111111. No goods or services were given in exchange for this gift.


Jane Smith

Executive Director

The Bottom Line

Put as much thought into your donation receipt as you put into an appeal for money. An appeal will get you a gift right now, and a thoughtful, personal donation receipt will get you the next gift in the future.

We all like to feel good. We know that thanking people for their acts of kindness makes them feel good. So why not pour it on for your donors? It is not false praise.

Donors really are heroes that make it possible for organizations to change lives.

Additional resources