This is the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship


Casablanca is one of my favorite movies.  There are so many priceless lines, which I often recite while I’m watching the movie.  One of them is “LouieI think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

When someone donates to your organization, it’s also the beginning of a beautiful friendship or the continuation of one if the person is a repeat donor.

Here’s how you can ensure a beautiful friendship with your donors.

Say thank you

In my last post I wrote about creating a thank you experience for your donors that starts (not ends) after you receive their donations and continues throughout your relationship with them.

Welcome new donors

Send a welcome packet or introductory email to your new donors.

But don’t forget your current donors

I’ve donated to several organizations for a number of years, and it bothers me that they never acknowledge that.  Personalize your thank you notes/letters and thank people for being a longtime donor.

Don’t miss out on opportunities to build relationships

I’m amazed that after I attend an event or give a memorial gift, most organizations don’t to a good job of building a relationship.  I could be a potential longtime donor.

Stay in touch

No one likes a friend who doesn’t stay in touch.  Communicate regularly with donor- centered messages. Mix it up by channels, unless you know your donors spend most of their time on one channel.

Here are some ways to stay in touch with your donors throughout the year.

A newsletter can be a great way to engage, but they’re often boring, too long, and focused on the organization. Be sure to tell stories that show how your donors are helping you make a difference.

Send your donors brief updates via email, social media, or postcard. This is a good way to complement your newsletters or stay in touch if you choose not to do a newsletter.

Conduct short surveys. Ask new donors what drew them to your organization. You can also ask people their opinion on an issue or a question about your communications, such as do they prefer a print or an electronic newsletter.

Send out an advocacy alert on a piece of legislation that affects the people you serve. Then report back on the results. Be sure to thank your donors for getting involved.

Share some engaging photos. Social media is great for sharing photos.

You can also share videos of the people you serve participating in activities or better yet saying Thank You to your donors! Make sure your videos are high quality and keep them short.

Hold an open house at your organization. Offer tours and get to know your donors.

Don’t stop

Create a beautiful friendship with your donors.  Communicate regularly and keep them engaged so they’ll stay with you for a long time.

Photo by Phillippe Put

Create a Thank You Experience for Your Donors


Thanking donors shouldn’t be a process: it should be an experience. An experience that will last as long as someone donates to your organization, which hopefully will be for a long time.

If you treat thanking your donors as a       ho-hum task that you have to do, it will show.

Make a good first impression with your thank you landing page

Thanking your online donors is a three-part experience (not process).  Your landing page is your first chance to say thank you and often it’s no better than an online shopping receipt.

Open with Thank you, Jim! or You’re amazing!  Include an engaging photo and a short, easy to understand description of how the donation will help the people you serve.  Put all the tax deductable information after your message or in the automatically generated thank you email.

If you use a third-party giving site, you might be able to customize the landing page. If not, follow up with a personal thank you email message within 48 hours.

6 Fresh Ideas for Your Nonprofit’s “Thank You” Landing Page

You’re a human, so write like one

Next, set up an automatic email to go out after someone donates online. This will let your donor know that you received her donation and it didn’t get lost in cyberspace.

Just because your thank you email is automatically generated, doesn’t mean it needs to sound like it was written by a robot. Write something warm and personal.

How to Thank a Donor Through Email

Every donor gets thanked by mail or phone

I’m a firm believer that even if someone donates online, he should receive a thank you card, letter, or phone call within 48 hours.  I make most of my donations online, and in 2014 about 1/2 of the organizations didn’t send me a letter, just an automatically generated email.  None of them called or sent a handwritten card.

Make your donor’s day with a handwritten thank you card or phone call.  You don’t have to do this alone.  Recruit board members, other staff, and volunteers to write cards or make phone calls.

If that’s not possible, write an amazing letter and include a personalized handwritten note.  I understand larger organizations may not be able to send all their donors a handwritten card, but they should have the resources to create a decent letter.

Create a memorable thank you

Most thank you letters are pretty mediocre.  Create something that stands outs.  Be personal and conversational without using any vague jargon.  Recognize past gifts or upgrades, and give a specific example of how the donation will make a difference. Something like this.

Dear Susan,

You’re incredible!  Thanks to your generous donation  of $75 , we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. 

Thank you for being a longtime donor!

Here are some more examples.

5 Thank You Letters Donors Will Love

Steal This Thank You Letter! A Sample Donor Thank You Letter for Your Non-Profit

Make new donors feel welcome

Approximately 70% of first-time donors don’t give a second gift. Don’t let that happen.  A week or so after you thank your new donor,send her a welcome package.

Welcome Your New Donors With Open Arms

Keep thanking your donors throughout the year

The thank you card/letter you send after you receive a donation is not the end, it’s the beginning.  Find ways to thank your donors throughout the year. Thank them at least once a month.  A thank you plan can help you with that.

How to Create a Thank You Plan

Create a memorable thank you experience for your donors.

What Makes a Great Donor Newsletter?


Most nonprofit organizations produce a newsletter, and many are one big snoozefest. They’re too long and filled with articles that brag about how wonderful the organization is.

Newsletters can and should be a great way to stay in touch with your donors and keep them updated on how they are helping you make a difference.

I recommend a short e-newsletter once or twice a month and one to four print newsletters a year.  If you’re getting stressed out about coming up with content for your newsletters, then a communications calendar is your new best friend. Stay Connected Throughout the Year by Using a Communications Calendar

It’s possible to create a great donor newsletter. Here’s how.

Give your donors what THEY want

You may opt not to do a print newsletter because it’s too expensive and takes too much time, but you’re making a mistake if many of your donors prefer print.

I think you’ll have more success if you can do both print and electronic newsletters. But ask your donors what they like, and listen to what they say. If a majority of them prefer one over the other, then doing both may not make sense.

You also want to share content that will interest your donors.  In my last post, I wrote about channeling your inner four-year-old and asking why. Why are you including an article about your CEO receiving an award?  Do your donors care about that?  Probably not. They care about how they are helping you make a difference.

Share stories

Each newsletter needs to begin with a compelling story.  Client stories are best, but you could also do profiles of volunteers, board members, and donors.  Focus on what drew them to help you make a difference.

Create a story bank that includes at least three client success stories.

Write to the donors

Write your newsletter in the second person, emphasizing you much more than we.  Be personal and conversational.  Say You helped give the Saunders family a new home or Because of donors like you, we were able to find housing for X number of families.

Don’t use jargon or language your donors won’t understand.  Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

I’m not a fan of the letter from the executive director, because those tend to be organization-centered instead of donor-centered.  

Show gratitude

Never miss an opportunity to thank your donors.  Every one of your newsletters needs to show gratitude and emphasize how much you appreciate your donors.

Make it easy to read (and scan)

Most of your donors aren’t going to read your newsletter word for word, especially your e-newsletter.  Include enticing headlines, at least a 12-point font, and lots of white space so your donors can easily scan your newsletter.

Use the inverted pyramid and put the most important story first, keeping in mind your donors may not get to all the articles.

Also, make sure your donors can read your e-newsletter on a mobile device.

Keep it short

Your print newsletter should be no more than four pages.  Limit your monthly e-newsetter to four articles.  Some organizations send an e-newsletter twice a month.  Those should be even shorter – two or three articles.

You may find you have more success with shorter, more frequent e-mail updates.

Send it to the right audience

Fundraising guru Tom Ahern recommends sending your print newsletter only to donors.  This can help you keep it donor-centered, as well as cut down on mailing costs.

Send e-newsletters ONLY to people who have signed up for it. They may or may not be donors, but an e-newsletter can also be a good cultivation tool.

It’s possible to create a great newsletter, if you put in the time and effort.

Read on for more information about donor newsletters.

The Domain Formula for donor newsletters

Should you include a reply envelope in your fundraising newsletter?

10 Surprisingly Easy and Startlingly Effective Ways to Improve Your Nonprofit E-Newsletter

Photo by Sarah Reid

Channel Your Inner Four-Year Old


If you’ve ever spent any time with four-year-olds, you know one of their favorite words is why. You’ll answer their question, but they’ll keep responding with why again and again……

A lot of nonprofit communication isn’t focused on why something is important.  Besides being organization-centered, it often rambles on about accomplishments with no explanation of why something matters.

Nonprofit organizations need to channel their inner four-year-old and start focusing on why.

Why is what you do important?

Here’s something you might see in a newsletter or annual report.

We expanded our tutoring program to three more high schools.

Okay, why is that important?

To serve more students.

That’s good, but why is that important?

After six months of weekly tutoring sessions, 85% of the students in our program are reading at or above grade level.

There you go.  Tell your donors about the impact you’re making.

Why should someone donate to your organization?

Do your appeals focus on why it’s important to donate to your organization?  Instead of saying something generic like please donate to our annual appeal, tell a story emphasizing why someone should donate to your organization.

Jenna, a 10th grader at Harrison High School, used to hate reading.  She struggled with the words and was embarrassed she couldn’t read very well. Then she started weekly tutoring sessions with Kim, a volunteer tutor.  Now Jenna is reading at her grade level and even likes to read.

Again, focus on why.

Why is your donor’s gift valuable?

When you thank your donors, do you tell them why their gift is valuable?  Give a specific example.

Thank you so much. Your generous gift of $50 will help cover the expenses of five one-to-one weekly tutoring sessions. After six months of these tutoring sessions, 85% of the students in our program are reading at or above grade level.

It’s all about the why.

Why do you appreciate your donors?

Finally, do your donors know why you appreciate them?

Thank you so much for doing your part in helping high school students boost their reading skills. We couldn’t do this without you.

Start channeling your inner four-year old and keep asking why.

Photo by Jordan Conway

Time For Some #DonorLove


Valentine’s Day will be here soon, and what a perfect time to thank your donors and show how much you appreciate their support.

If you haven’t expressed gratitude since you sent your year-end thank you letters, you need to do that soon. Aim to thank your donors at least once a month.

You may not choose to acknowledge Valentine’s Day, but do something fun and creative to show appreciation in February. The holidays are over, but winter isn’t, and we could all use a little pick me up right now.

Here are some ideas.

Create a thank you photo

Make your donor’s day with a great photo. Here are a few examples of thank you photos.

Send  thank you photos via email and social media, use one to create a card, and include one on your thank you landing page.

If you have the time and resources, you could also create a thank you video.

Share an update or success story

In addition to saying thank you, share a brief update or success story. Emphasize how you couldn’t have helped someone without the donor’s support. For example – Thanks to you, Jessica won’t have to sleep in a shelter tonight.

Send a card

Handwritten notes mean the world to donors.  If you don’t have the budget to send cards to everyone, send them to your most valuable donors. These may not be the ones who give you the most money. Do you have donors who have supported your organization for more than three years? How about more than five years?  These are your valuable donors.

Another idea – Send a small number of thank you cards every month, ensuring that each donor gets at least one card a year.  Spreading it out may be easier on your budget.

Thank You 101

Make 2015 the year you do a better job of thanking your donors.  Thank your donors right away and send a thank you note/letter or make a phone call.  Electronic thank yous aren’t good enough.

Be personal and conversational when you thank your donors. Don’t use jargon or other language they won’t understand. Write from the heart, but don’t be overly sentimental. Give specific examples of how your donors are helping you make a difference.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to mail handwritten cards, is there a way you can change that? You may be able to get a print shop to donate cards. You can also look for additional sources of unrestricted funding to cover cards and postage.

Maybe you need a change of culture. Getting your board, all staff, and volunteers involved in thanking your donors will make a huge difference.

Keep thinking of ways to surprise and delight your donors! Get creative.

10 ways to thank your donors

7 Ways to Build Rapport with Donors Using Creative ‘Thank You’s

You can’t say thank you enough. Do it at least once a month. Create a Thank You Plan to help you. How to Create a Thank You Plan

How are you thanking your donors?

Photo by Patrick Hoesly

How Do You Acknowledge Your Memorial Gifts?


I’ve been to several memorial services over the last few years. I guess that’s what happens as you get older.  In most cases, the families designated charities to donate to, often in lieu of flowers.  I’ve always liked this.  You get to honor someone and support a charity, as well.

I gave five memorial gifts over the last two years. Unfortunately, the responses from the nonprofits were pretty marginal.   Four organizations sent generic thank you letters.  Three of them acknowledged it was a memorial gift. One sent a very generic email with no acknowledgement this was a memorial gift.

If your organization is a recipient of a memorial gift, don’t miss this opportunity to connect and build relationships with these donors. Just think, out of the multitude of nonprofits and charities out there, the family chose yours (they may have chosen one or two others, too).

How do acknowledge your memorial gifts?   Do you send the same old boring thank you letter, or do you give some thought to creating a personal and heartfelt thank you.  Here’s how you can do a better job of acknowledging your memorial gifts.

Work with the family

Most likely the family will contact you about being a recipient of a memorial gift.  Talk to them and ask why your organization was important to this person.  Perhaps he was a volunteer, donor, or patient.  Use this information in your thank letter.

Give the family the names and addresses (not amounts) of any donors in case they want to write their own thank you letters.

Thank your donors right away

This is basic Thank You Letter 101.  I received one letter four months after my donation and another came three months later.  In both cases the organizations weren’t spending the extra time writing a great thank you letter.  Instead, I received this – “We are sincerely grateful for your support. Our goals are ambitious ones and the charitable contributions we receive from supporters like you make our mission achievable.”  The other two letters arrived about a week after the donation.

Acknowledge that it’s a memorial gift

Segmenting your thank you letters is always a good idea, whether it’s a new donation, upgrade, or a gift in memory of someone.  You want to recognize each donor.

Be sure to add a field on your donation page and pledge form for memorial gifts.

Make the thank you personal

This donor just lost someone they knew, perhaps someone close to them.   Don’t send them an impersonal form letter, like the example above.

This is a great time to send a handwritten note.  You may not have that many memorial gifts and they’re going to come at different times of the year, not necessarily during a fundraising campaign.  Take time to create something personal.

As with all thank you notes/letters, let the donor know how her gift is helping you make a difference.

Here’s a sample.

Thank you so much for your donation in memory of John Smith. John was a longtime donor and was very committed to fighting homelessness.  Because of your generous gift, we can help more families find a place to call home.

Build relationships

Never miss an opportunity to build relationships.  Invite these donors to sign up for your newsletter, follow you on social media, or volunteer. Only one of the letters I received listed ways to get involved with the organization.

Don’t take your memorial donors for granted. They may not have donated to your organization if they didn’t have some interest what you do.  Keep them interested and engaged.

Read on for information and sample letters.

In lieu of flowers: how to write lively memorial donation thank-you letters

Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?


We hear the term donor-centered a lot, and it’s pretty self-explanatory.  You want to focus on your donors’ needs and interests and take into account that not all donors are the same.

Is your organization donor-centered? Find out by taking this test.

Fundraising Appeals

  • Are your fundraising appeals focused too much on your organization – rambling on about how great you are?  Your organization may be great, but let your donors figure that out. Your donors are the ones who are great, and they want to hear how they can help you make a difference for the people/community you serve.
  • Are your appeals segmented to the appropriate audience?  Thank past donors or reference your relationship to a potential donor.  Maybe they are event attendees, volunteers, or friends of board members.
  • Are your appeals addressed to a person and not Dear Friend?
  • Are your appeals vague, impersonal, and filled with jargon your donors won’t understand?  Don’t say we are helping disenfranchised members of the community.  A donor-centered appeal would say something like – With your support, we can help low-income families find affordable housing.
  • Do your appeals make people feel good about donating to your organization?

Thank you letters

  • Do your thank you letters come across as transactional and resemble a receipt? Yes, you need to acknowledge that the donation is tax deductible, etc, but most donors are more concerned about how their gift made a difference.
  • Do your thank you letters (or better yet, a handwritten note) shower your donors with love?  Start your letter with You’re fabulous or Thanks to You!
  • Are you telling your donors the impact of their gift?  For example – Thanks to your generous donation of $50, we can provide groceries for a family of four at the Eastside Community Food Bank.
  • Do you recognize each donor?   Is this the first time someone has donated?  If someone donated before, did she increase her gift?  Acknowledge this in your letter/note.


  • Do your newsletters sound self-promotional and drone on about the wonderful things your organization is doing instead of showing your donors how they are helping you make a difference?
  • Is your newsletter written in the second person?  Write to the donor and use the word you more often than we. How to Perform the “You” Test for Donor-Centered Communications – Do You Pass? BTW, all your donor communication should be written in the second person.  It’s much more personal.
  • Does your newsletter include success stories, engaging photos, and other content your donors want to see?
  • Are you using the right channels?  Perhaps you only send an e-newsletter, but some of your donors prefer print.
  • Are you showing gratitude to your donors in your newsletter?

Always think of your donors

Use these test questions on other donor communication such as annual reports, your website, and social media posts.

How did you do?

Be sure every message you send to your donors focuses on them and makes them feel special.

Read on for more information on how to be donor-centered and wallpaper your office with this donor-centered pledge. Take the Donor-Centered Pledge 

Is Your Organization Sufficiently Donor-Centered?

Strategies to Build Donor Love — How to Create Donor-Centric Communication and Response