What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you think about increasing the donations that your nonprofit receives? If you’re like most nonprofits, you immediately think about ways to find new donors. But what about your existing donors? How well do you appreciate them with a thoughtfully written donation thank you letter?
Although donor acquisition is important, studies have shown that your nonprofit would benefit most from keeping the donors you have, as opposed to always trying to find new donors. The good news is that there are so many things you can start doing to keep your donors engaged. In this post, I teach you an evidence-based approach to writing outstanding donation thank you letters that inspire donor loyalty and generosity.
Apart from being a great tool for increasing retention rates, sending thoughtful thank you notes to your donors is simply the right thing to do. It shows them that you value and appreciate the support you are receiving. Trying to skimp on this by sending perfunctory thank you letters will only hurt you and your nonprofit in the long run. So take the time now to learn how to stand out using the power of thank you letters.
Tips for Writing an Outstanding Donation Thank You Letter
Penelope Burk, author of the best-selling industry standard, Donor-Centered Fundraising, is widely recognized in the fundraising industry as “the first to offer an evidence-based formula for keeping donors giving longer and inspiring them to make more generous contributions.”
Together with her firm, Cygnus Applied Research Inc., they have conducted numerous research studies with more than a quarter-million dollars that resulted in a list of 20 Characteristics of Great Thank You Letters. I share the best tips from that list in this post along with some other terrific ideas I have discovered on the subject. So here we go:
1. Be intentional about showing excitement, gratitude and inner warmth
The general tone of your letter should be positive, show excitement, and convey a deep sense of gratitude. So instead of simply saying “Thank you for your support …”, why not say “We are thrilled to have your support …”? Here are some other phrases that would help you convey genuine gratitude in your letter/note:
- I can’t begin to thank you enough for …
- We feel honored to have your support again …
- Words cannot adequately express the immense gratitude we feel …
2. Make your letter personal
Instead of saying “Dear Donor”, address the donor by name and ensure you have their name spelled correctly. Also, have the letter signed by someone from the highest echelons of your organization. These little touches to your letter communicate that you value and hold the donor in high esteem.
3. Grab the reader’s attention in the opening sentence
You would NOT stand out if you start your letter like everyone else. “Thank you for your donation …” is an overused phrase that you’ll find in many thank you letters. To help you get creative with your opening line, here are a couple of ideas I found:
- “On Saturday 11 August, you made a decision to save someone’s life”1
- “In Malawi, a mother is smiling because her baby was born HIV-negative. As a donor, this is what you do.”
- “Hunger shouldn’t be an option. Thanks to you it won’t be for ”
- “You are part of a brave movement that refuses to give up.”
- “You’re making real change possible!”2
- “Amazed. Inspired. Grateful. That’s how your generosity makes me feel.”3
- “Somewhere in Ireland, a child is calling for help. And because of you, a caring voice answers.”4
4. Provide specific details on how their donations will be used
By making specific reference to how the funds you have received would be used, you provide reassurance that their money or goods would be used for the purposes they envisioned.
To make a stronger impression, go a step further by providing an estimated date when the donor can expect to receive updates on the initiative being funded. Use phrases like these to provide details on the intended use of funds/in-kind donation that you have received:
- Your donation is going towards …
- Thanks to your kind donation, we are now able to …
- Your gift will enable us to …
5. Use impact phrases to demonstrate the impact of your donor’s support
Most donors are encouraged to give when they know that their gift is making a difference. So no matter the size of the donation, use impact words and phrases to demonstrate that the gift would advance your nonprofit’s cause and contribute to the success of your vision.
- Because of your generous gift, we would be able to …
- Your generosity makes it possible for us to …
- We couldn’t do this without you.
- Your donation will make sure that …
6. Acknowledge recurring donors for their continued support
Where applicable, acknowledging a donor for their partnership over a certain period of time quickly tells them that you are fully aware of the value they bring to your nonprofit. It serves as a pleasant reminder that they are not merely a statistic among a long list of donors.
Here are a couple ideas to help you say this:
- Your continued support means that we can continue to …
- Because of your financial backing over the last 2 years …
7. Make them feel like a part
When you receive a gift/donation, it is a sign that the giver is possibly interested in the course you are pursuing. Making them feel like they belong and have a significant role to play is what takes casual donors to committed partners. One way to do this is by granting them ease of access to you or your organization. Consider providing them with contact details of someone who can act as a point person so they can have their questions or complaints attended to. Letting them feel that you are easily accessible to them is one way to increase engagement with your donor(s).
Do check out sample letters at the end of this post to give you an idea of how to pull this off.
8. Don’t make any personal request
The purpose of your thank you letter is to appreciate the donor and celebrate their decision to support you or your organization. This is not the time to make personal requests like asking them for another donation or requesting for them to fill out a survey. Stick to the goal of your letter: making the donor the hero of your story.
9. Use visuals when appropriate to tell a compelling story
Use images and video that illustrate how you or your organization is meeting needs using the donations you have received. By helping your donors develop a clear mental picture of how their gift is making a difference, the odds are high that they would be encouraged to keep partnering with you so as to continue making an impact.
10. Send the letter promptly
Lynne Wester, author of The Four Pillars of Donor Relations, has the following recommendation. “in order to have an optimal effect on donor retention, donors want to receive their acknowledgment within two weeks of their gift.” Bear in mind that the two-week timeframe includes the mailing time on both ends as well as gift processing. This means that you would have anywhere from 3 days and a week to acknowledge the donation. “Any more than that and the donor feels as though their gift is unimportant and one in a series of many that the institution receives daily.”
So do everything within your power to have that thank you letter written and sent out as soon as possible.
Pro Tip: Consider sending a handwritten card when possible. But when it isn’t possible, ensure that you use a real signature. Adding these little personal touches can make all the difference.
Donation Thank You Letters
Sample 1: Donation thank you letter for a first-time donor
You are a blessing!
Because of you, we can say an emphatic “yes” to another homeless Zimbabwean child who’s out on the streets. As you read this letter, you would be pleased to know that plans are already in motion to adopt a new child into our group home here in Harare.
Your gift of $XYZ has just provided us with the resources to cover the yearly feeding, housing, and clothing costs of an additional child at Goodly Heritage Foundation. We cannot say thank you enough for making this possible!
We would love to answer any questions you may have, so please reach out to our Program Coordinator, Allison Becker at (263) 789-6890. Our sincere thanks for your generosity.
Andrew Johnson, Founder & CEO
Sample 2: Donation thank you letter for a recurring donor
I still remember our excitement when we received your first cheque of $200 to Edmonton Food Bank, precisely five years ago. Since that time, you have continued to be a huge pillar of support and encouragement to us. Thank you for trusting and partnering with us in the fight to eradicate hunger in Edmonton.
Stories like Aisha’s, remind us of why we opened our doors seven years ago. “With the help of the Food Bank,” she says, “I am able to eat and feed my newborn baby. Edmonton Food Bank gave me a lot for my baby.” We get messages like this almost every day and it is because of you that we are able to continue doing this great work.
We are inspired by your continued support throughout the years. Thank you for making real change possible!
Katie O’Connell, Food Bank Manager
Sample 3: Donation thank you letter for an in-kind donation
As you read this letter, our installation team is already at work in Makoko District to set up the borehole system you donated.
Thanks to you, we are optimistic that we’d finally be able to stem the cholera outbreak that has ravaged the town in the last 4 weeks.
We look forward to sharing the project’s success with you in our quarterly newsletter. In the meantime, Nancy Miller would be excited to take any questions you might have with regards to the work we are doing and how your gift is making a difference. She can be reached at (516) 123-4567.
Thank you for empowering us to bring clean water to Makoko District!
Rhoda Bardsley, Community Projects Manager
Sample 4: Donation thank you letter to re-engage past donors
Eight months ago, you made a generous contribution towards our new sanctuary project at Lighthouse Church. Fast forward to today, and a giant 5000ft structure stands erect on our Salt Lake campus.
We are simply amazed at how much we have been able to accomplish in this short period. No doubt, we would not have come this far without you. Please watch this short clip that provides a timelapse of how far we have come and how much work we have left.
We would also love for you to come see how your generosity is making a difference here in Salt Lake. Paul Milligan is standing by to provide you with any information you might need about this project and also arrange for you to take a tour of the sanctuary.
Because of you, thousands of people would have the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus preached to them.
Thank you for again for your support!
Senior Pastor, Lighthouse Church
4 Lisa Sargent’s Thank You Letter Clinic.
Here’s a Pinterest friendly image that you can pin to your board to make it very easy for you to reference this post in the future when writing a donation thank you letter.