5 Step Formula to Meaningful Thank You Letters

A few days ago I actually typed these words in an email to a former colleague:

“I get downright preachy about effective thank you letters.”

Hmmm…upon reflection, I realized there were a couple of serious issues with this:

·        I was pitching a luncheon presentation and ‘preachy’ is probably not a great descriptive for a positive and entertaining learning experience.

·        It’s been a long time since I wrote a rant about Thank You letters.

OK…so I can’t do much about the first point.  But I can pull out my soapbox and get back on it…

Here’s a Fundraising Pharmacy formula for effective thank you letters:

1.    Choose a great signatory – The best signatory may not be the Board Chair or President.  It may even be you!  The signatory should convey their passion for the work that your charity does and be able to speak about how the donor’s gift will impact that work.  And this letter must only be signed by one person (no co-signing or generic signatures like ‘the Board’).

2.    Write it how you  would say it – It always amazes me that people who are so warm and genuine in person feel the need to be formal and stiff in their writing.  I find it very helpful to imagine I was meeting the donor at an event and then jot down what I would say to them face-to-face.  It always surprises me how much material this gets me!

3.    Keep it personal – Throw in a micro-anecdote to draw your donor into the world of the signatory.  Did the person signing the thank you letter just walk past a room where program staff are busy helping people?  Maybe they walk past a photo of the founder every day?  Build a thank you around that experience and their feelings.

4.    Don’t wait for the Annual Report – The number one thing donors want from you is to know how their gifts make a difference.  So, make sure you update them in the thank you letter. You just have to find a success you can report that relates to the campaign/appeal the donor gave to.  EG:  the equipment you raised funds for has been purchased and will arrive in a few weeks; you are set to begin renovations to the program space that needed improvements.

5.    Give them your digits – If you want to see this donor again, you are going to have to give them your phone number.  Email, too.  Don’t try to shuffle them off to the switchboard, general reception line or info@ email address.  Give them the signatory’s direct line and actual email address.  Invite them to call anytime for any reason.  If your signatory is not comfortable with this, choose another signatory.  A few donors may call, but it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll receive more than a few calls over the course of a year.  But extending the invitation will help build trust.

Here’s your chance to seize the opportunity to transform an obligatory task into a powerful and personal connection with your donors!  And this formula should get you well on your way to healthier donor relationships.


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2 comment on “5 Step Formula to Meaningful Thank You Letters

  1. Joan

    Well David,recognizing myself as the “former colleague” who got the initial rant, and never one to step down from a debate with you, I am going to return the favour by questioning your first formula. I always ensure that the thank you letters we send come from me, so our donors know that I exist, they have my contact information, that I care enough to write and sign the letter (I get notes and phone calls from people amazed that there is a “real” not an embedded signature, which goes a long way to compensating for my sore hand after 8,000 signatures….). BUT, and this is where we differ, I have begun, with great success, to have one of our announcers co-sign each letter. Our donors get a personal letter, signed by the Director of Development and the host of classical music or blues, or jazz, or country…… and …… when we tested this last year, we found those (monthly) donors who got a co-signed letter were 50% more likely to increase their monthly gift when asked. So I would like to know your rationale for saying a thank you letter should only be signed by one person? Enquiring minds want to know.

  2. Staff David Kravinchuk


    First I think you deserve huge kudos for having an awesome thanking process! It’s no doubt why your program has so many loyal donors and such a large monthly giving component. I certainly recall the personal touch you bring to working with donors. And I recall the many conversations we had about the value of investing time and energy into making donor communications real. This is actually what makes me recommend against more than one signature. To me a personal letter can only come from one person (save the Christmas note from my Aunt and Uncle, 3 cousins and 2 dogs). Because so many of us have to make one thank you letter work for dozens, hundreds and even thousands of donors, anything we can do to keep it on a personal level will help build the relationship. I think having your on-air team join in the thanking process is a great way to connect your donors and the work their gifts make possible. And I am not going to argue with hard empirical evidence. What you are doing is working in a key way! But, I personally would prefer to send a separate thank you note a few days or week later from the on-air person, or if budget was a consideration, then simply include a separate card with a note from the on-air person along with your letter. I suspect you may see an even greater boost to that monthly gift upgrade!

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