Gratitude is powerful, and a mailed thank-you letter continues to be one of the most useful ways to express it to donors.
A thank-you letter expresses appreciation, serves as a receipt, and helps builds a stronger relationship with the donor. Sending an effective thank-you letter could give your organization an edge in a world of charity competition.
Why a Thank You Letter Is Important
Thank-you letters must be considered within the context of a donor retention plan. That plan should cover at a minimum:
- How a charity solicits donations
- Sending online donors to an appropriate post-donation landing page
- Sending an email thank you immediately to online donors
- Getting a thank-you letter out the door within 72 hours, whether donors sent a check in the mail, or donated online
According to fundraising organization AFP's 2019 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, the average overall retention rate of donors in 2018 was only 43%, meaning less than half of 2017 donors came back to give again in 2018. There may be many reasons for this, but nonprofits' lack of effective retention strategies plays a large role.
Charities lose money when donors don't return. They gain funds when they can keep donors coming back. It's less expensive to keep a donor than to recruit one.
In a study conducted by philanthropy researcher Adrian Sargeant, donors reported that one of the top reasons they stopped giving is that they were not thanked. In another study from DonorVoice, one of the top reasons donors give for continuing to donate is receiving a timely thank you.
What to Include in a Thank You Letter to Donors
Thank-you letters are a large part of effective retention strategies. Even in an online world, people still appreciate a mailed letter. Here are the musts for a thank-you letter that works.
It Must Be Timely
Fundraising experts recommend mailing a thank-you letter—regardless if they're first-time or longtime donors—within 48-72 hours after receiving the donation. Timing may vary, but the donor should still remember giving that donation when they receive the thank you. A thank you three months later will do little good.
It Must Be Accurate
Are the donor's name and address correct? Have you used the right honorific, such as Ms, Mrs, or Mr? Are the spelling and grammar correct? Does the formatting make the letter easy to read? When appropriate, use the donor's first name in the salutation for more personalization.
It Must Allow the Donor to Visualize the Effect of the Donation
Have you included a story about someone or some animal that will benefit from the gift? Or have you used a testimonial from that person? People feel more generous when they can visualize particular people or an animal that they have helped.
It Must Show How Well Your Programs Work
Include a paragraph about your mission and some statistics about your results. Keep it short, though. The letter should attempt to reach the heart of the donor more than just the head. Include just enough numerical data to prove that you follow through and do what you promise.
It Must Use "You" More Often Than "We" or "I."
Make the donor the hero. Use the phrase "because of you" frequently. Make the letter about the donor and the people they help rather than about the organization. This is no time to boast about the money you raise or the awards you've won. It's about the donor and what they have made possible.
Include the Gift Amount and Information About Taxes
Is the entire amount tax-deductible or only a portion? The IRS stipulates what legal statements need to be included. This information can be at the end of the letter, although, in the body, the amount should be mentioned. For instance, "Thank you for your donation of $200." Mentioning the amount initially serves as a confirmation of the amount and a reminder for the donor.
It Should be Signed by a Noteworthy Person
That person might be a board member, the executive director, a volunteer, or a beneficiary of the donation. A high-status person is logical for most thank you letters. But some thank-you letters could be from someone who uses your organization's services, such as a student who receives a scholarship or the mother of a child who benefits.
It Includes a Postscript
When people scan a letter, they do read the PS. So make that last message count. Repeat a vital piece of information and reiterate your gratitude. When appropriate, have the person signing the letter add a hand-written PS saying thank you again or referencing something personal.
It Should Not Be a Generic Form Letter
Ideally, thank-you letters should not be generic letters, set up, and then forgotten. Don't let your thank-yous become routine and dull. Unless you have a huge number of donors, your charity should try to make each thank-you letter unique so that the donor knows that letter was meant specifically for her.
Sample Thank You Letter
If you want donors to give, again and again, show them your gratitude by taking the time to say thanks creatively and by personalizing those thank-you letters and notes.
You can use this sample as a model to write thank-you letters for donors. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online), or read the text version below.
3 Thank-You Letters Donors Will Love
Thank You Letter # 1 (Text Version)
Thanks to you, Michael and his sister, Janet, celebrated Michael's 9th birthday with cake and balloons in a safe and loving place. They are no longer scared and love having their very own rooms.
Thank you for your recent generous gift of $100 to Children's Residential Services of Greater Boston. Your willingness to help displaced children in our community weather the crises in their lives makes all the difference for children just like Michael and Janet.
Thanks to you, we have provided 250 children just this year with a place to live, learn, and feel safe.
Your donation will help purchase new computers for our kids over the next six months. The children are eager for new computers to do their homework and communicate with friends and family.
The computers are part of our Excellence in Service Campaign that will make our home even nicer for Michael, Janet, and their new friends. You and other people like you have brought us closer to our goal of $50,000 for that campaign.
We would love to give you a tour to meet some of the 15 staff and 50 children with us. We love to show off our comfy home, and the kids enjoy meeting visitors. One or two might even show you what they can do with their new computers.
Janet Teebs, our development director, is always available to set up a visit for you or to answer any questions you may have. Don't hesitate to call her at 520-446-0912 or email her at janetteebs@CRS.com.
We would love to keep you in the loop with our emails and newsletter. You can sign up for those at our site, www.crc.org.
Again, thank you for all you do for our kids. You are a part of their lives too.
P.S. We depend on volunteers to help us. If you would like to share your time, just let Janet know, and she will ask our volunteer coordinator to get in touch. We have frequent introductions to our work for volunteers. We would be delighted to see you there.
Thank You Letter # 2 (Text Version)
First, let me just say, thank you!
Your recent donation of $150 means that you understand just how valuable riding a horse can be to a child with cognitive or physical challenges.
But let me tell you what our services at Therapeutic Riding of Atlanta mean to some of the children who come to our classes.
- One little boy with severe cerebral palsy learned how to sit up tall on his horse. His mother was so proud and said, "I never thought he'd be able to do so well. If he can do this, what else can he do?"
- A young girl who had never said a word suddenly said "go" to her horse.
- Because she built her confidence by riding, one little girl is no longer afraid to be on the playground swings.
- A child who had trouble walking by himself started doing so after only a few times on a horse.
- A young girl was able to speak louder in her classroom because she had become stronger and her respiration better from riding her horse.
Although these victories may seem small to the average person, you know that they are not. That's why you gave, and why the kids we serve and we are full of gratitude for your generosity.
Donors like you help make our therapeutic riding possible, ensure that our horses are well fed, housed, and trained, and guarantee that we can offer scholarships to children and their families who could not, otherwise, afford these life-enhancing activities.
We want you to be an active member of our community too. Please visit our website at www.tra.org to sign up for our emails and newsletters. And do watch for invitations to our events such as Horsin' Around, Hearts & Horses, and the special tours we offer all year round.
We are volunteer intense and would love for you to experience the joy of helping a child ride a horse. Just indicate your interest at our website or call volunteer coordinator, Sandy Converse, at xxx-xxxx. Volunteers get to wear some great t-shirts too!
Again, thank you! We love your support.
P.S. As a special thanks, we will be adding you to our exclusive circle of friends and listing your name in our annual report and our newsletter. Please stop by our ranch soon so we can say thanks in person.
Thank You Letter # 3 (Text Version)
Dear Frank and Louise,
This week, thanks to your help, we moved Tom and Francis, a senior couple, into a bright, well-furnished apartment in a community devoted to their health and happiness.
No longer isolated in a hard-to-reach walk-up in a high-rise building, Tom and Francis now have easy access to the services they need. Plus, they will receive two meals a day and participate in healthy and fun activities ranging from exercise classes to community field trips.
Thank you for your thoughtful donation of $250 to the Wildthorne County Agency on Aging. Your donation will make sure that seniors in our county, such as Tom and Francis, thrive.
As you know, more than 30% of our county's seniors live on small, fixed incomes. The Agency on Aging provides meals, rent subsidies, counseling, recreation, and health care for many of them.
Because of you, we can keep helping seniors in distress. Donations from caring people like you help us make up for cuts in our state and local government funding.
Truthfully, we could not do this without you. We, and those we serve, sincerely appreciate your generosity.
P.S. Please call me at any time at xxxxx if you have questions, would like an update on what we're doing, or wish to volunteer at one of our sites. We would love to meet you in person so we can say thanks face-to-face.