The Thank You letter often is created and sent without much thought. It may seem to be the last step in getting a gift from a donor and a routine task that warrants little merit. But it’s actually the first step in securing the next gift!

Purposeful and well-thought out Thank You letters can help you steward your donors, not to mention provide you with another way to communicate with them. Make sure you are getting the most from your Thank You letter efforts with these ideas.

1. Get the letter out quickly!
Everyone has probably heard that the faster you get your Thank You letters out the door, the better. And it’s absolutely true! Donors want to be sure that you received their gift and a Thank You letter is the best way to let them know it arrived safely. Experts say let no more than 48 hours go by from the time you receive a gift until the time you send out a Thank You letter. If it takes you a little longer and that’s the best you can do, work with it. Figure out what will work for your organization and put a priority on getting the letters out the door.

2. Relate your Thank You letter to the ask
Instead of sending out a generic letter, customize your Thank You letter to the specific ask that was used to generate the gift. If a gift comes to you from an appeal you sent out, then make sure your Thank You letter refers back to the story or the text in the appeal. You may need to write several different letters that can be used for whatever you have going on. For instance, you may want to write one letter for a special event you are working on, another one for monthly givers, and another one for donors who respond to your newsletter. Relating the Thank You letter back to the ask is a way to let your donors know you are paying attention.

3. Tell the donor what you will do with their money.
This is critical. Make sure the donor knows how you plan to use the donation he or she just sent you. Text like “Your gift will ensure that 15 children will go to summer camp for one week” makes the process of donating more real and tangible to the donor. They can envision 15 kids going to camp for a week and it helps create a bigger feeling of satisfaction for the donor.

4. Use a real signature
Digital signatures are easy and eliminate hand signing a stack of letters. But technologically-savvy donors know the difference between a digital signature and a live one. Have your President or Executive Director sign the letters, or ask a volunteer to sign them on his or her behalf. And use a blue pen so that donors can clearly tell it is a real signature.

5. Have the ED or President go through the letters and add personal notes.
This can bring big rewards in terms of stewarding donors! Taking a few minutes of a busy day to go through a stack of letters may seem like a chore to your boss, but donors who get a Thank You letter with a personal note will be thrilled that the ED took time to personally acknowledge his or her gift.

6. Add a reply envelope
Don’t be afraid to include a reply envelope in a Thank You letter. Many donors will hang onto these and use them for their next gift. You may receive some negative feedback, but you will likely receive a large number of gifts as well. It’s not uncommon to receive thousands of dollars in gifts from these “bounce-back” envelopes. You may want to code these envelopes so that you can track the number, size, and amount of donations received using this technique.

7. Include year to date or lifetime giving data
For donors who have been giving for several years, this information can be very enlightening to them. A donor who gives a $10 gift regularly to your organization will immediately see how their gifts add up over time. Sometimes donors forget when they last gave. Including year to date information can be a gentle reminder for them if they have pledges or commitments to make.

8. Make it clear that the letter is also a receipt
Don’t you hate getting boring thank you letters that drone on and never clearly spell out the gift you made? (By the way, if you aren’t giving to other organizations, you need to. It’s a great way to put yourself in the donor’s shoes and also let’s you see how other organizations handle the thank you process.) If you have to, draw a line on the page below the thank you text and put “Gift Receipt” about the actual gift information.

9. Include an offer to tour your facility or program site
Always include in your letter an offer for a guided tour of your facility or program site. You may never have anyone take you up on this, but they will remember that you offered. You will probably get a few people who want to visit you. Seeing firsthand the work that you do may make all the difference in the world to a particular donor. It can also mean the difference in an average size gift and a major gift.

10. Include the name and contact info of someone the donor can call with questions. Make sure that person is available.
Donors want to be able to call and talk to a real, live, knowledgeable person when they have questions. So be sure to include the name and phone number in your Thank You letters of someone who can answer questions for them.

The book 7 Essential Steps to Raising Money by Mail, which I co-authored with Sandra Sims, includes several sample thank you letters.  In addition there are also sample phrases specifically for how to word thank you letters included in the 321 sample words and phrases.

Posted on 22 December 2007

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