How to Write a (Fundraising) Thank-You Note
At the Fundraising Success Engage conference week before last, several fundraisers got into a discussion about acknowledgement letters. Everyone agreed they were vitally important, but when we got down in the weeds of exactly how they should be constructed and what they should say, there was a lot of uncertainty.
So, let me share one formula that has been a proven winner for many of our clients. It's not rocket science, but it does need to be written correctly, and mailed immediately. The longer the delay, the lower the impact. Here's what we do:
1. Personalize. The letter must be personalized, even if the gift came in from a "Dear Friend" letter.
2. Print it on a single 8.5 x 11" sheet with a perforated 3.5 x 8.5" reply at the bottom. No letter copy on the back (putting credit card info on the back of the reply is fine), so the letter will need to be short and sweet.
3. Acknowledge the gift and date received: "Thank you so much for your kind gift of $XX, which we received on DATE."
(The phrase "kind gift" phrase led to another discussion about whether to say, "Thank you for your generous gift." Some people don't like to use the word generous because, they ask, what if the donor only sent a small amount - just $5 or $10? Wouldn't calling them generous make them think they were getting a form letter, or that you were being disingenuous? My feeling is that a gift of any amount is generous, since the donor didn't have to give anything at all. More than 90 percent of the people you asked didn't. Besides, who wouldn't like to be thought of as generous? But it's a judgment call. It's up to you.)
4. Refer to the appeal the donor supported. "Your support of our Annual Fund couldn't have come at a better time ..."
5. Tell her how her gift is being used. "I want you to know that your donation is already helping people like Sarah (the story from the appeal) ..."
6. Soft ask (part 1): Another hot topic was whether the TY should include an ask for a second gift. Based on long experience with a lot of different clients, I think a soft ask is a good thing. The reason your donor sent you a gift in the first place is that she believes in you and wants to help. The TY letter should give her another opportunity to experience the good feeling she got from helping you the first time.
But the key word is soft. Say something like, "The continuing support of friends like you is what makes our work possible ..."
7. Thank her again. "Again, please accept my sincere thanks ..."
8. Add a P.S., just as you would to any letter. It can expand the reference you made to the appeal, remind the donor of your larger mission, or add anything else that's relevant. Just remember most readers read the P.S. before the body of the letter, so make sure it's relevant and urgent.
9. Soft ask (part 2). Include a reply device. Do not include an ask string. The copy should be mission-focused, and positioned from the donor's perspective. "Yes, Bob. I want to continue helping ... etc. I'm enclosing an additional, special gift of $____..."
10. Include a reply envelope (RE). Some organizations use a Business Reply Envelope (BRE), with prepaid postage, so the donor doesn’t have to use her own stamp. We've tested this a number of times and in most cases the slight increase in response is not enough to overcome the extra cost of the BRE. But it's something you might want to test for yourself.
By the way, lest we confuse strategy with courtesy, let's not forget that the real reason we write thank-you notes to donors is that it's the right thing to do. They gave us a gift and it's only proper that we thank them for it.
But when they are written in a way that reminds her of her value, thank-you letters build loyalty, increase retention, and strengthen the emotional bond between you and your donor. And while acknowledgement letters aren't designed to make money, if you use the format above, they'll often pay for themselves, and sometimes even bring in a little extra revenue. And that's never a bad thing.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.