Whenever you ask people how to fundraise for a non-profit, the conversation immediately goes to how to get new donors.
It’s what most people think of when they’re trying to raise money. It’s the visible work that gets a lot of attention. But that can come at a cost because retaining existing donors is just as important to your organization's finances.
Efforts to get new donors should never come at the cost of retaining existing donors. One important piece of donor retention is writing donation thank you letters.
Penelope Burk, of Burk’s Blog, illustrates the power of a personal thank you note with this story:
“A community hospice sent their new donor-centered thank you letter to a first-time donor who had just made a $100 contribution. The delighted donor called the organization because she ‘wanted to meet the person who had written such a beautiful letter’. Donor and Fundraiser fell into conversation about the Hospice and its future plans. The next day a check arrived via courier with a post-it note attached which read, ‘For your hopes and dreams.’ The check was for $25,000.”
The work of getting a new donor was done—they’d already received the $100 donation. But the work of following up with a personal thank you letter led to personal conversation and ultimately a much larger donation.
Thank you notes are an easy way to improve donor retention and should never be ignored. In This article we’ll discuss the significance of following after donations, what you should (and should not) include, and a lot of donation thank you letter examples.
The strategy you used to gain the support of your donors is still relevant when you are reaching out to thank them after the fact.
Rather than just sending a simple thank you, remind them of the work their donation is allowing you to do. Use your thank you letter as a chance to zoom in on specific projects.
Don’t just copy language that you’ve used in your promotional material. Actually connect this donation to work that you’re currently doing.
In an interview with Network for Good, Lynne Wester, author of The Four Pillars of Donor Relations, was asked where most charities fall short in their donor retention.
“Nonprofits don’t take the time to tell the donor the impact and power of their gift, where the money went, and how it was spent. Instead, they’re too eager to obtain the next gift which leads to horrific retention rates. We have to make the donor the hero and tell a story, not overwhelm them with news and information about the organization or ask them for more money. First we have to thank them, and then tell them the impact their money had.”
Make your donor the hero in the story of your organization.
Aim on getting your thank you letters in the mail within 1 to 2 days after the donation. This shows that you are aware of the gift, and that it has had an effect.
It can seem awkward reaching out to donors so soon after their donation, but being prompt in your response is vital. This shows the donor that you are monitoring what is coming into your organization and gives assurance that their money isn’t lost.
According to Wester “in order to have an optimal effect on donor retention, donors want to receive their acknowledgment within two weeks of their gift.” That includes mailing time on both ends, and gift processing. “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.”
You want your donor to feel special, not that they are lost in the crowd.
From a psychological perspective, receiving a thoughtful note produces the chemical high. If the action of sending a donation is not met with a quick response the chemical response will be delayed, thus minimizing the good feeling for the donor.
A common mistake when charitable organizations send thank you notes, is that they forget the purpose of the note.The purpose of your thank you notes is just that, to thank your donors and show them your gratitude.
This is not a reminder to donate again, this is simply a thank you from you to them. It is important to highlight personal gratitude in the message, as well as show the donors the impact their donation is having.
Do not try to solicit new donations or advertise upcoming events in your thank you note. If you are having an event you think a donor would be interested in, send them a separate letter.
The notes should be personal and show your genuine emotion. Do not be afraid to use a familiar tone or exclamation points when appropriate. Your thank you note should be sincere. You should also address the note to the donor specifically.
A first name isn’t always necessary, but please don’t use a general salutation. That vague opening will clash with any personal connection you’re trying to establish.
According to trials run by the Charitable Aid Fund (CAF) in conjunction with the Cabinet Office Behavioral Insights Team there is significant response when there is a personal touch.
“Interestingly, [receiving sweets] was about as effective as receiving a more personalised email from the CEO (‘Dear David’ rather than ‘Dear Colleague’). 12% of people in this group gave a day of their salary to charity.”
— Applying Behavioural Insights to Charitable Giving
Here’s an example letter that follows this advice:
Dear [Donor’s name],
Thank you for your generous gift to [name of organization]. We are thrilled to have your support. Through your donation we have been able to accomplish [goal] and continue working towards [purpose of organization]. You truly make the difference for us, and we are extremely grateful!
Today your donation is going toward [problem]. If you have specific questions about how your gift is being used or our organization as whole, please don’t hesitate to contact [Name] through [contact information].
If this particular donor has a history of giving to your organization it is beneficial to you—and honoring to them—for you to mention it.
You can mention it in the letter itself, a sample paragraph is provided below, or you could also make mention of it in a personal, hand written note at the bottom of the letter.
“Your support through the years has been greatly influential in accomplishing [specific accomplishment] and [specific accomplishment]. It is your continued support that sustains our mission and makes all the difference.”
Adding a one to two sentence update about a specific person or group who have been helped over time is a great addition. Customizing the story for each donor is a nice touch, if possible. Giving connecting factors between donor and recipient would increase a sense of bond and investment in your organization.
“Cindy was helped by our organization last October and has since been able to find a steady job to support her family. Through the help of your donation we supported her through childcare, transportation, interview coaching, and resume review.”
“When an identifiable victim is made into a cause, people appear to be quite compassionate and generous.” argues Deborah Small in her paper Sympathy and Callousness. Giving a specific cause evokes our sympathy, while statistics can simply cause the donor to feel helpless.
It is beneficial to keep the length of the letter manageable. This is because all you need to convey is the gratitude and the impact of the gift. Any additional information can make the letter seem like a chore to read and deter your donors from donating again.
You do not have to have every aspect mentioned here, but this will add variety to your thank you notes. For newer donors you may want to include contact information for someone in your organization who can answer questions.
Your thank you letter should always be signed with a real signature. This adds that personal touch again, showing that a real person took the time to sign the letter.
Additionally, anything after the signature should be handwritten. Nothing says impersonal like a p.s. or personal note that is typed.
As mentioned to in the earlier CAF quote, an additional note—or email—from a board member or high-ranking individual in the organization has a positive impact on donor retention. You also will get some leniency on the timeframe of your follow up letter as long as you acknowledged the gift promptly.
To expedite the process for writing your thank you notes, it is good practice to have some thank you templates that can be customized for each donor.
It’s really important to keep the receipt and thank you separate. If you combine the receipt and thank you letter it can feel like they only received a letter because of the size of the donation. You aren’t thankful that the gift was $500 in the form of a check, you’re thankful that they gave a donation to an important cause.
To ensure the charitable donation is tax deductible, your receipt must contain 6 key elements:
If you’re using donation management software like Donor Tools, you can use the receipts that are automatically generated. If you don’t use a donation management system you can manually create receipts that include these 6 elements.
The pressure of finding donors can be overwhelming, but you can drastically impact your overall fundraising efforts through retaining donors. The simple act of writing a thoughtful donation thank you letter is one simple way to show that your organization cares not only about your mission, but also about donors that make your work possible.
These notes shift the focus from highlighting your organization to the good your donor is doing by giving to your organization. This brings home the sense of accomplishment, and gratification for the donor, which will keep them invested in your organization for years to come.
Dear [Donor’s name],
Thank you for your great generosity! We, at [charitable organization], greatly appreciate your donation, and your sacrifice. Your support helps to further our mission through [general projects], including [specific project or recipient].
Your support is invaluable to us, thank you again! If you have specific questions about our mission be sure to visit our website [link] or reach out to [contact]!
[Name and title]
Dear [Donor’s name],
Together we are making a difference! Your continued support of our mission is deeply gratifying to us, and we hope it is the same for you. We were honored to see that you have chosen to increase your donation this [month/year]. Your gift has already started to [impact].
Please feel free to contact [name, number] if you have any specific questions, we would love the opportunity to thank you again!
With deepest gratitude, and warmest wishes,
Dear [Donor’s name],
It is with great joy I write to you about the impact of your recent gift. It was only last week that the case of Spot was brought to our attention. Thanks to your gift, Spot could receive his necessary shots and immunizations. He is currently being fostered in hope of finding his forever home!