10 Essentials for a Killer Thank You Letter
Are you creating partnerships with your donors? A sense of loyalty and commitment?
According to the latest AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project, it would appear that nonprofits have made little headway into reducing donor attrition rates. Recent data shows that "the pattern of retention for cash giving in the U.S. has worsened, with some organizations experiencing upwards of 70 percent attrition between the first and second gift."
Your organization’s thank you letter is not the be-all, end-all to ending donor attrition. But it is an important first step in creating loyal, lifetime donors. Does yours have all 10 essentials?
1. Joy. You want, first and foremost, to make the readers—the donors, your friends, your supporters—experience a genuine sense of joy when they open your letter.
Try envisioning a tired, working mother arriving home early from the office after stopping by the sitter’s to pick up her sick 3-year-old. She’s just listened to 50 minutes of news on her commute home, all the while worrying about her daughter’s fever and frustrated over the time it’s taking to reach her. Her daughter falls asleep in the car on the way home and, after tucking her baby into bed, the mom settles in with her mail, off her feet for the first time in hours. Bills, circulars and your thank you letter complete her pile. Your donor opens your envelope and reads:
You are creating miracles!
Every day, thanks to your support of [X] organization, a lonely, homebound senior will receive the gift of food and friendship ...
Suddenly your donor is a hero. She’s making your work possible and you’ve let her know—in no uncertain terms. Somehow, her life seems a little less exhausting than it did 15 minutes ago.
2. Speed is of the essence. You must get your thank you letter out within the first 48 hours. When your dog has an accident on your living room rug, rubbing his nose in it two hours later isn’t terribly effective, is it? What system can you put into place to ensure promptness—30 minutes a day, every day, first thing in the morning thanking donors? What will work for your organization?
3. Personalize. Your thank you letter (or any letter coming from your organization, for that matter, and that includes emails) should be personalized. These days there is absolutely no excuse for the “Dear Friend” letter. No excuse.
4. Reference the amount in the body of the letter. It’s nice to include the date of the gift as well, for tax receipt purposes.
5. Reference what the gift was toward. Was it an in memoriam gift? An annual appeal gift? A matching gift appeal?
6. Is the donor’s past giving acknowledged? If a donor has given every year for the past seven years, you’ll want to be sure to let that donor know how much the continued support means to you.
7. Tax deductible language can be printed in an italic, 8- to 10-point font, centered, below the signature and P.S.
8. Don’t forget your P.S. The P.S. can be used to drive donors to something new—a Facebook page or a new Twitter account. Perhaps a new blog on your site or your new e-news.
9. Point the reader in the direction of a contact person in your offices. "If you have any questions or you’d like to stop by and tour our facilities, please call Mary Ann Development at 555-555-0055."
10. Generally speaking, don’t ask for a second gift. It isn’t good manners to include an ask within a thank you letter—and that usually includes a business reply envelope. Your thank you letter’s sole purpose should be to thank your donor. However, you know your donors. As a long-time donor to many organizations myself, I do appreciate receiving extra envelopes for extra gifts.
Want more? Download the Donor Love Toolkit, your free guide to loving your donors throughout the year.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.