Let’s Do a Better Job of Thanking Donors

Nonprofits invest a lot of time and energy in their annual appeal, but thanking donors seems like an afterthought.

You need to spend as much time thanking your donors as you do on your annual appeal letter.

I recently received a thank you letter that was a case study of what not to do. It was sent three months after I made the donation, it was addressed to Dear Friends, and it included vague, impersonal language like “X organization serves individuals who are often the most disinenfranchised members of their communities.”  Arrgh!

Here are some suggestions on how to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Thank your donors right away
Thank your donors within 48 hours.  It’s possible to do this, but you’ll need a commitment from your staff and board.  Here is more information.  3 Secrets to Getting Your Donor Thank You Out in 48 Hours 

One size doesn’t fit all
What type of relationship do you have with your donor?  Is she a new donor, repeat donor, volunteer, etc?  Acknowledge that when you thank her. A Fundraiser’s Guide to Effective Gift Acknowledgment
Make it personal
Let’s all take a vow to keep jargon and impersonal language out of our thank you letters.  Be conversational and friendly.  Let your donor know how much you appreciate him.

Show how your donor is helping you make a difference
Share a success story and show what her gift will fund.

Give your donors a call

Calling your donors to say thank you is an easy, yet effective way, to show appreciation.

This is a great job for your board. The executive director or other staff and volunteers can make calls, too. Make sure you find people who are comfortable making phone calls and don’t sound as if they are reading from a script. You want callers who are willing to engage in a conversation with donors.

Come up with script and a spreadsheet to record notes. You may want to conduct a little mini-orientation to get your callers pumped up and give them an opportunity to practice. Here is a sample script.

Hi, this is Susan Jones and I’m a board member at the Westside Community Food Pantry. I’m calling to thank you for your generous donation of $50. Thanks to you, we can provide a family with a week’s worth of groceries. This is great. We are seeing more people use our food pantry right now because of cuts to food stamp programs. We really appreciate your support.

It’s fine to leave a message, but be sure to provide a call back number in case the donor wants to talk with someone.

Not only is calling your donors an effective way to say thank you, it can help you keep your donors and raise more money in the future.

Send a handwritten note

A few handwritten sentences on a nice card is going to make much more of an impact than a printed thank you letter. Think about creating a thank you card or postcard with an engaging photo on the front. 

Since you will only be able to write a few sentences – make them count. Use a warm, conversational tone. Try something like this.

Dear Lisa,

You’re amazing! Your generous contribution of $50 will help us meet our goal of expanding our tutoring program to serve more students.

Your support makes a difference. 85% of the students in our program are now reading at their grade level or above. 

This shouldn’t take you that much time and it is time well spent. You can put together a team of staff, board members, and other volunteers to write the notes. You could also have clients write notes. Make sure to find people with legible handwriting.

Sending a handwritten note shows your donor how much you appreciate them.

Just because your thank you letters are generated by a computer doesn’t mean they need to sound like one
If you can’t make calls or send a handwritten note to all your donors, send a heartfelt, personal printed letter, and include a short handwritten message.  Give it the human touch. 

Let your donors know you are saying thank you because you want to, not because you have to.  

Also, even though your online donors will receive an automatic thank you email, they should still get something in the mail or a phone call.

You can use the samples above for printed letters, as well.

When thanking your donors, remember to thank them right away, make it warm and personal, and show them how they are helping you make a difference.

More inspiration to help you thank your donors.

Photo by Clever Cupcakes via Flickr

8 thoughts on “Let’s Do a Better Job of Thanking Donors

  1. So true, Ann! When nonprofits show their appreciation with warmth and personality, donors are apt to give again. In our business, some of our clients have purchased branded promotional products to send to bigger donors as a token of appreciation. Every time donors use the product, they help increase brand awareness for the mission.


  2. I just made my first phone calls last week to first-time donors who made a larger than average gift. Only one person picked up the phone, and it was a rather awkward conversation. It seemed like she didn't want to talk to me (or maybe it was just that she was so unaccustomed to receiving a thank you call). I am not going to take it personally. I really was so thankful for her gift!


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