The Do’s and Don’ts When Thanking Donors

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Does thanking donors really pay dividends? Yes!

According to Penelope Burk’s annual donor survey, 90% of donors say that the thank you letter is the single most important and influential communication they ever receive from not-for-profits they support. In research conducted by Professor Adrian Sargent donors have a higher recall of the thank you letter than the appeal that generated the gift.

Here are some simple do’s and don’ts for thanking donors to guide you!


1. Be prompt, sincere and accurate. How prompt you ask? Ideally 48 hours.

2. Personalize. Do NOT address the thank you to “Dear friend,” You have their name. Use it!

3. Be warm, personable and conversational. This is the time to be heartfelt and use emotion, not to be reserved and robotic.

4. Give the donor the credit and remove yourself as the middleman. Never say “Thanks to you (org name) was able to…” Credit the donor with what the gift accomplished: “Because of you….” Or “Thank to your gift, ___ is now_____” or “Your gift immediately helped ______.”

5. Reflect on what a kind, compassionate and generous person they are. Your communications are a mirror to your donor. How will you make them look? As Tom Ahern says, “Don’t (just) thank me for my gift. Thank me for who I am.” Talk about their kindness, their compassion, how big-hearted they are, how caring they are etc.

6. Write at a 6th grade reading level and use twice as many you’s as organizational centric language.

Test your reading level and how many ‘you’ words your thank you copy has using the Ahern Audit. Pro-tip: be a smart cookie and bookmark it so you can test *all* your donor communications – appeals, newsletters, thank you copy etc through it!

7. Make it engaging by starting the middle of the action, using photos, unexpected narrators or sharing a quick story from one person you’ve helped.

All the copy you write to your donors – from your appeal to your thank you’s to your newsletter (and everything in between!) should have a strong opener, use emotion and great storytelling. Your thank you letter is no different! Starting with “thank you” is boring and predictable. These generous donors chose to give to you out of millions of charities. Let’s make their heart sing!

8. Don’t use the same exact copy month after month.

Imagine being a monthly donor and getting the exact same thank you letter (or email) every single month. You need to make tweaks to your copy for monthly donors – share a short story about how the donor’s gift made an impact.

9. Include your tax id #, gift amount and date of the gift so it can serve as their tax receipt.

Most people stress more about the appeal than the thank you letter for the appeal, but donors will keep your thank you letter as a tax receipt for their records.

10. Leverage the P.S.

The PS is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in any letter, including a thank you! Use it to invite them to get more involved (a virtual visit, telephone townhall or behind the scenes tour) or to tell them when they’ll hear from you next.


1. Don’t sound like a robot.

This is the time for emotion. 51% of recipients say that what makes a donor thank you great is that it is personal. Don’t make it sound like the IRS wrote a thank you letter!

2. Don’t start with “thank you”.

Or “On behalf of the board, staff…” You can do better than that. Start in the middle of the action, with a dramatic story, descriptive details, an unexpected narrator or ebullient compliment. For example:

“You just did a great thing”

“Julie never thought she’d get a second chance. Thanks to you she will…”

“The screams and squeals from the 10th grade class when they found out, thanks to you, they’d getting to tour the nation’s capitol were positively deafening.”

“You have no idea how much we appreciate your recent gift, Bill.”

“We needed you and you were there.”

3. Don’t recycle the same copy indefinitely.

Change your copy based on the appeal and campaign. For monthly donors change out your copy each month with a new ‘win’ you can give the donor credit for making happen.

4. Don’t continue to sell.

The thank you is not the time to solicit another gift or flaunt your accomplishments. This is the time to make the donor feel a sense of pride, satisfaction, and deep appreciation.

Wondering how your organization’s thank you stacks up? Make a donation to your org and see what happens. Do you get an email thank you autoresponder? Is it donor centered and personalized? Do you get a donor thank you letter in the mail? How about a thank you phone call for a new first-time donor?

If your process could use a makeover grab this stewardship plan so you ensure you keep those donors loyal for life! Need creative virtual ideas for great donor stewardship? Here’s a guide loaded with digital tips you can put to work tight away.

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