10 Things You Can Learn From Real-World Donor Thank-You Letters
Saying thank you. Recession or no recession, it’s one of the most important things you can do to keep more donors.
Of course, you might already know “the basics” — things like thanking your donors promptly, segmenting by giving level or personalizing your letters.
But there’s lots more to effective, engaging thank-you letters. And with the help of nonprofits from Toronto to Tasmania, you’re about to find out how much more.
Just recently, I hosted a donation thank-you letter clinic over at The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration. As part of the copy clinic, I rewrote donor thank-you letters for nearly 20 nonprofits.
You can see the whole clinic online, which features an article and checklist for writing better thank-you letters, and — here’s the best part — actual before and after samples of donor thank-you letters from nonprofits all around the world.
I’ve been given permission to share SOFII’s members-only link to the samples, which you’ll find at the end of this article.
But first, straight from the clinic, here are 10 things you can do (right now) to audit and edit your thank-you letters:
- Open with an engaging lead. Starting with “thank you” or “on behalf of” is predictable; avoid it. Like a good fundraising appeal, the goal is to draw your reader in.
- Beware the second paragraph pitfall. Paragraph No. 2 is where nonprofits often drift into “we-speak.” We did this, our programs do that. Rephrase it. Remember, a thank you is all about “you” — and that means your donor.
- Focus on benefits. It’s not about the $200,000 machine you just bought, or the $5 million you spend on research, it’s about hope for the future … saving lives … restoring dreams for tomorrow. Benefits rule.
- Include a contact. Give donors a real, live person to contact, instead of the ubiquitous email@example.com.
- Mention updates. Let donors know when they can expect a progress report — a quarterly newsletter, president’s letter, etc. Then follow through.
- Avoid design tricks. A thank-you letter is a one-to-one correspondence. You wouldn’t use boldface and italics and bullets in a personal letter, so don’t do it in your thank you.
- Write for readability. And that means … a serif font for print, sans serif for e-mails. Short paragraphs. Avoid fancy words. Translate jargon.
- Consider your signor. A thank you should come from the top. Think CEO, president, etc. (Exceptions: you know the donor personally, or there’s a good case for another signor — e.g., special appeal.)
- Stay positive. This is not the place for doom and gloom. Strive to show donors all the good things their gifts are accomplishing.
- Cross channels. A postscript is a great spot to direct donor to your Web site — a new resource available there, videos, updates, etc.
That’s 10 for today — but you can find more tips online at SOFII when you click this members-only link.
Want to join 5,000 other fundraisers on SOFII? There’s no charge. In fact, when you register for full access to SOFII, you’ll find a fundraiser’s paradise just waiting for you — from sample direct-mail packages to insights on legacy giving — at www.sofii.org. Managing trustee is veteran UK fundraiser and author Ken Burnett. So why not join the fun?
By the way, the thank-you letter clinic is closed for now … but it was such a success we’re already talking about another. (One more good reason to register: You’ll be first to find out.)
And happy thanking!
Lisa Sargent is a fundraising copywriter who specializes in donor retention communications and offers free resources for nonprofits on her Web site.
- Ken Burnett
- Lisa Sargent