I have a couple of questions for all you nonprofits out there.

Did you write a great year-end appeal letter? Did you spend lots of time, carefully crafting a message that would inspire your donors to give here at the end of the year?

Now, will you put forth the same effort to write a great thank you letter?

You should, and here's why. Sending a terrific thank you letter is actually the first step in getting your next gift.

Yet far too many thank you letters fall flat. A lot of nonprofits send a basic form letter, maybe a gift receipt, then they consider the transaction to be complete.

But it's not! Giving is a cycle, and you want your donors to give again. And again. And again.

That's why it's so important - not only to thank your donors but to thank them well.

So, let's review what donors want. Let's look at what makes donors feel good about giving to your organization. And, more specifically, how thanking a current donor makes her feel great about giving to you again.


My mother was a firm believer in prompt thank yous. When my sister and I were growing up, Mom would remind us to write our thank you notes before we played with, wore, read, or listened to whatever gift we had received.

It's not a bad policy.

For a nonprofit, a corollary would be "thank before you bank." Now, I'm not suggesting that you delay making your deposits. Rather, I'm encouraging you to prioritize thanking your donors. Sooner is always better than later.

Bottom line? Don't wait to send your donor a thank you letter. Try to send yours within 48 hours of receiving a donation.

(Oh, and if it's an online donation, you should still send a thank you letter by snail mail. An auto-reply and online donation confirmation are just that - an auto-reply and a confirmation. Not a thank you!)


Personalization means much more than simply inserting your donor's name into a mail-merge template.

Templates are okay for starters, especially if you have a lot of letters to get out quickly. And an easy way to personalize a form letter is to add a handwritten note. (Donors will read the handwritten note, even if they don't read the letter itself.)

If you're starting with a template, avoid opening with a boring opening sentence. "On behalf of the Board of Directors, I want to thank you for..."? MEGO. My eyes glaze over.

Even a typed form letter can sound personal when it's filled with joy and true gratitude.

Try this. When you're typing your next thank you letter, picture your mother, your grandmother, or your favorite aunt. Then, I want you to write to her.

Why? Because a lot of your donors are likely to be older women. And things are different when you're writing to older donors.

Plus, you'd never send your great Aunt Edna a thank you letter that started like this, would you? "On behalf of my husband, the kids, and myself, I'd like to thank you for..."

No! Aunt Edna deserves better. Your donors do, too.

Bottom line? Write to your donors using language that's friendly and real. Convey warmth and appreciation. Make it meaningful, make it memorable, and your donor will remember it.


Fundraising science tells us that donors want to know that their donation is making a difference.

So, use your thank you letter as an opportunity to tell her how her gift will be put to work.

Consider the donor who designates her gift to a particular program. In your thank you letter, confirm that's where the money will be used and share a story about who will benefit from that program.

Or, if the gift is in response to a particular appeal, like a capital campaign or a special needs fund, acknowledge the donor's support of that campaign. Remind her why you're raising money for that particular need, and assure her that her donation will be put to good use. Provide specifics as you can.

Bottom line: Don't be vague and tell your donor that her gift will let your organization "serve more people next year," for instance. Tell her how her gift - and others like it - has a real impact and will improve the world, even if it's just her little corner of it.


Donors want to know that their donation is making a difference before being asked again for another gift. I repeat: before being asked again for another gift.

In fact, a popular fundraising truism is "Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat." It's a cycle.

Yes, you want to thank your donors when a gift is received. And you want to report back to them as well. Take a look at this great infographic from John Lepp and Jen Love, Agents for Good:

ask thank report

You can thank your donors more than once and in different ways, too.

So, how can you thank your donors and report back to them at the same time? There are many ways. Letters, handwritten notes, phone calls, even newsletters. (Yes, even newsletters, when they're donor-centric.)

In his book, Creative Deviations, John Lepp dedicates an entire chapter to gratitude. It's filled with illustrated and inspired examples of gratitude reports, newsletters and good old-fashioned thank you letters.

Bottom line? The smart fundraiser will look for multiple ways thank donors. She'll also use multiple channels both to thank - and to report back to - her donors throughout the year.


Got year-end gifts? Great. Now, send prompt and personalized thank you letters.

Then keep expressing your gratitude and reporting back to your donors throughout the year.

Because when a donor feels appreciated and knows that she's making a difference, she'll be more inclined to give to your cause again. And again. And again.

Remember, all thank you letters aren't created equally.

When you write a great thank you letter, you're taking your first step towards keeping more donors and raising more money in the new year.

And you can take that to the bank.

Photo credit(s): Pixabay and Maret Hosemann

Need help writing a terrific thank you letter? Or developing a year-long stewardship plan? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.