Donor Thank-You Letters: 6 Actionable Tips

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The power of donor thank yous is in their ability to foster lasting relationships and keep the conversation going after a donation has been made. With that said, the significance of crafting and sending high-quality thank yous cannot be overstated.

Most often, thank yous are sent through one of two channels: email or direct mail. Depending on your organization’s resources and the donor you’re acknowledging, you may choose one method over the other or opt to use both.

Before delving into our advice for thank-you letters, let’s briefly explore why email and direct mail are the go-to choices.

Emails

Email is a great option when reaching out to first-time donors. Email thank-you letters offer many benefits for nonprofits, such as:

  • Email is often the preferred method of communication for tech-savvy donors.
  • Online communication is quick and convenient.
  • The cost of email is low.
  • Emails can include video, images, and links.

While the benefits are certainly plenty, it’s important to recognize there are shortcomings.

With donors receiving a constant stream of emails, nonprofits must work harder to get their thank-you letter noticed. Donors are also aware of the fact that it’s quick, convenient, and low cost, so you need to make sure it is clear that while you’re opting for this efficient method, you’re still putting in effort and thought.

Direct Mail

Like emails, letters offer a range of benefits for nonprofits as well:

  • The comparative scarcity of direct mail is sure to make your acknowledgment stand out.
  • Handwritten letters take time to write, showing donors that you’ve put effort into acknowledging their support.
  • A packet of additional information can be sent along with your thank-you letter.

However, because of the additional time and expense, direct mail isn’t always a practical choice for nonprofits.

Regardless of the type of thank-you letter you send, there are right and wrong ways to write your donor thank-you letters. This article will guide you to the best approach.

We’re going to delve into six tips to improve your donor thank-you letters.

  1. Individualize thank-you letters with donor facts.
  2. Be conscious of your tone while writing.
  3. Make your donor thank-you letter engaging from start to finish.
  4. Let the donor know how their money is going to be used.
  5. Thank the supporter, not the donor.
  6. Give donors a thank-you letter with ways to stay in touch.

Best practices for both email and direct mail will be addressed in each tip. Let’s get started!

Tip #1: Individualize thank-you letters with donor facts.

Donors want to and deserve to feel important. Creating thank-you letters with a one-size-fits-all approach won’t appeal to donors and can make your letter appear less genuine.

It is a good idea to learn a little background about the donor you’re acknowledging. It will help you write a more customized letter to fit each donor’s situation.

There are three facts you should know about each donor before you start writing your acknowledgment.

1. Donor’s Name

Imagine receiving a thank-you addressed as “Dear Donor” or “To Whom It May Concern.” This wouldn’t make you feel special. Including the donor’s name shows that this isn’t a mass-produced letter that you send out to everyone.

2. Donation amount

When you thank someone for a birthday present, it’s traditional to reference the gift in your letter. The same strategy needs to be applied to donor thank yous. Mentioning the donation in your thank-you letters lets donors know that you value their specific contribution.

3. Donor Status

Knowing whether a donor is making their first donation or their fifth is crucial in knowing what to include in your thank-you letter. This knowledge will help you decide whether you should thank a donor for showing interest in your mission or if you need to thank them for their current donation and past support.

In an email, you can include hyperlinks to different pages on your website that correspond to the donor’s relationship with you. For example, you could link to:

  • A newsletter sign-up for first-time donors.
  • Your donor giving club page for repeat donors.
  • An event page about your upcoming gala for major donors.

Takeaway: Donors will know when they’re receiving a generic thank-you letter. By learning about your donor, you can tailor your thank-you so that it’s relevant to them.

Tip #2: Be conscious of your tone while writing.

Donors should feel like their contribution makes them an active part of your team. The best way to accomplish this is by selecting and using the perfect tone in your writing.

Employing a casual, yet professional tone in your thank-you letters can have a big impact on your ability to develop a connection with your donors through your acknowledgment.

Why? Tone affects how donors feel after reading your donor thank-you letter. And that feeling will stick with them as they consider future engagements with your nonprofit.

So what should you avoid? Generally speaking, you should steer clear of overly formal language. Markers of formal language in letters include:

  • Avoidance of colloquialisms,
  • A lack of contractions,
  • Too much industry jargon,
  • And other choices that make the writing sound severe.

Writing in a formal tone can make you come off as distant or uninterested. There will be times when using the formal tone will make more sense, for instance, when you’re discussing the financial ramifications of a massive project or sending an acknowledgment letter to a grant maker.

However, when interacting with most of your donors, they’ll appreciate a more casual approach that gives you the freedom to talk to them person-to-person, supporter-to-supporter.

In order to keep the tone casual, yet professional, write with the following techniques in mind:

  • The letter should read like something you’d actually say out loud. You want it to sound like it’s truly coming from a person.
  • Count the number of times you say ‘you’ versus ‘I.’ The more you use ‘you’ in your letters, the better chance you have of connecting with the donor and focusing on their contributions rather than what your nonprofit has accomplished.
  • Turn the thank you into a narrative by incorporating storytelling elements into how you explain the trajectory of your donor’s gift.

Writing to donors in this way is the first step to establishing a relationship with donors. Building relationships early will only strengthen your connections later on which may lead donors to support your nonprofit in other ways like volunteering or peer-to-peer fundraising.

Takeaway: Use a conversational tone to strengthen your bond with donors, and in turn, you might just inspire them to take on other ways to raise funds.

Tip #3: Make your donor thank-you letters engaging from start to finish.

You need to grab your donors’ attention and maintain it so they will actually open and read your acknowledgment.

You can appeal to donors by engaging them in many different ways (just remember that some of these ideas may work better for letters over email and vice versa):

  • Keep your paragraphs short so donors can read quickly.
  • Use a subject line (for email) that piques the donor’s interest and isn’t predictable.
  • Be creative with your opening sentences. This will draw the reader in and keep them reading.
  • Use other forms of media like images and video to break up the monotony of text.

For email, the subject and opening sentences need to be dynamic enough to keep the donor reading.

Go for a punchier subject that will entice the donor to open the email. Avoid the predictable, “Thank you for your donation.” A subject like that will get overlooked in many inboxes.

With direct mail, the same need to grab a donor’s attention applies to the first couple of sentences. Don’t use something expected like “thank you” or “on behalf of.”

Start your letter with a sentence that stands out and leaves the donor curious for more.

For example, if your nonprofit is an animal shelter, you might start your letter like this:

Imagine a community where fewer dogs are left hungry and abandoned on the streets and more dogs find happy, healthy homes. Thanks to your donations, this dream is becoming a reality!

An opening like the one above draws donors in while showing what kind impact their donation has made.

As you write, be conscious of your donors’ time. Keep your letters concise and to the point, so donors feel your appreciation without getting bogged down by unnecessary information.

Takeaway: Write thank-you letters that veer from the predictable. The more your letter stands out, the more memorable your impression will be.

Tip #4: Let the donor know how the money is going to be used.

Donors want to know how their money is being used, so it’s important to update them on your progress and fundraising goals. Letting them know where the money is going, or where it’s gone, shows donors that their money is being used wisely and going towards the purpose they intended.

Sending out a generic explanation of how the money will be used is not specific enough to satisfy a donor’s curiosity. Not every donor will have contributed in the same way, meaning that their donation may be used for different reasons and the thank-you should reflect that.

For example, in a walkathon, you may have people donating their time whereas other campaigns may solely ask for monetary donations.

Give donors the specifics about how their money is going to be used. Not only is it just common courtesy, it also reflects well on your organization because you have a solid understanding of where funds are going.

As mentioned in the section above, it’s important to keep donors interested in reading. You can use other creative ways to show donors where money is going aside from just telling them.

In email and direct mail, use visuals and stories to show how money has been used in the past. It’s a great way to break up the monotony of text. Some examples include:

  • Share photos of the people or communities you serve. If you organize an after-school program for children, you could share photos of the students engaging with your curriculum.
  • Include a video (for email) of volunteers taking action. If your nonprofit provides services to the homeless population in your neighborhood, you could share a video of volunteers passing out food to the homeless.
  • Tell a story of someone you’re nonprofit has helped. If you operate an animal shelter, you could have one of the families describe their experience of bringing one of your rescued dogs home.

If you can show donors how previous funds have been used, that will give donors a better idea of what to expect with their donations.

It’s also important to mention the larger, overarching goals your nonprofit organization is trying to reach so that donors have a sense of your future plans.

Takeaway: Let donors know where their money is going so that they’ll understand how much their contribution means to you and your nonprofit.

Tip #5: Thank the supporter, not the donor.

Every donor wants to be seen as a person and not a piggy bank. To avoid that problem, your thank-you letters need to be supporter-focused.

Minimize the times you mention the specific amount given. Instead, focus on how their contribution made an impact.

For example, instead of always saying “Thank you for your donation of [insert donation amount],” you can say something like, “Thank you for giving us your support of [insert donation amount] so that we have the resources to [insert outcome].”

This shows that you value the person’s support more than the amount they can give. No matter how big or small a donation was, donors want to feel like you appreciate them outside the scope of what they are able to contribute fiscally.

Donors who feel your gratitude are more likely to be motivated to donate again, regardless of initial gift size. And you never know which small gift donors might just have major gift potential in their future.

Takeaway: Focus on the value the donor brings as a supporter of your cause rather than the amount they can contribute.

Tip #6: Give donors a thank-you letter that includes ways to stay in touch.

You should never ask for more money in your donor thank-you letters. Your thank-you will appear less genuine and donors will feel discouraged from donating again.

There are many other opportunities where you can ask for another donation, but the thank-you letter should be focused on acknowledgment.

However, just because you can’t ask for another donation doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage your donors to stay involved.

An email thank-you letter is perfect for linking to your website and newsletter. Both are great ways for donors to learn more. Plus, include links to your social media accounts in your signature so they have access to those as well.

For direct mail, asking donors to take their next step is a little more difficult; you don’t have the convenience of adding links to your text. But worry not, there are still ways you can motivate them to stay in touch with your nonprofit.

You can mention any events you’re hosting in the community as a way for that donor to see your nonprofit in action. Additionally, include the contact information of someone who works at your nonprofit (preferably the letter sender) as another way donors can keep in touch.

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These are all strategies to boost your donor stewardship and cultivate more meaningful relationships in your donor thank-you letter.

Takeaway: Just because you shouldn’t ask for another donation, that doesn’t mean your interaction with the donor should stop. Give them additional means to communicate with your nonprofit, like newsletters and upcoming events.


These tips will help you draft the perfect donor thank-you letter. Once you have mastered how to create the perfect thank-you, you’re one step closer to building more meaningful relationships with your donors.

About author

Amy DeVita

Amy DeVita is managing partner at Top Nonprofits. A publisher, entrepreneur, mother, wife, social media enthusiast and fan and avid supporter of the do-gooders in the nonprofit/ for-impact sector. She has written for Top Nonprofits and Third Sector Today; she has been quoted on pieces about social media and social impact on The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. She was named to the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in NJ Monthly and she is a member of Social Media for Nonprofits' Leadership Council. In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, yoga, hiking, traveling, and playing Scrabble. Amy lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and three dogs. In 1984 she earned the "Most Improved Average" honor on her bowling league.

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