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7 Characteristics of an Effective Thank You Letter

Thank You Letter Template
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How to Use Social Media to Improve Donor Loyalty

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For the first time in years nonprofits are enjoying gains in giving…but continuing to lose donors faster than the speed of light. According to the annual Fundraising Effectiveness Project survey, for the first time in five years nonprofit respondents saw positive gains, amounting to $769 million in gifts.

But those gains were offset by losses of $735 million through reduced gifts and lapsed donors. The upshot?  “Every 100 donors gained in 2012 was offset by 105 donors lost through attrition.”

Thank You Letter Template

What’s your game plan?

While you certainly don’t want to ignore new donor acquisition at the expense of retention, you’d be daft if you didn’t create a plan, one that focuses on solid customer service and making them feel like the hero that they are. AND, while redoing your thank you letters isn’t the be-all end all solution to the donor retention problem, having a great thank you letter is a start.

When so many nonprofit letters read like a deadly tax receipt, why would you miss the opportunity to lift your donor’s heart?

Redoing your thank you letter isn’t rocket science. It merely requires factoring in a few key factors, including:

  1. Personalization. No “Dear Friend” or “Dear Donor.” Seriously. What does a “Dear Friend” letter bring to mind?
  2. A captivating opening. You want your donor to read your letter — and feel the love. “On behalf of the board” is dull and boring.
  3. Impact. What is your donor accomplishing through your organization?
  4. Let them know how they can be in touch. “If you’d like to stop in for a tour of our new kitchens, give Mary Q. Development a call at 555.555.5555.”
  5. Have you referenced their gift amount and/or past giving?
  6. Is it donor-focused? Count your “you’s!” Print out this better thank-you letter checklist from SOFII and post it in your office.
  7. Hand-sign your thank you letters — and don’t be shy about including personal notes in the margin or saying thank you personally by way of a quick call or email.

Once you begin the process of rewriting your thank you letters, how often should you be updating them? In her Simple Development Systems call a few years ago, Lisa Sargent noted that she has updated thank you’s as often as quarterly for one of her national nonprofit clients:

“But I would say the minimum to revisit them in their entirety at least a couple of times a year and it doesn’t mean that you may do a complete overhaul of your letter you just look at them to see if anything is stale. Do any of the numbers that you have in there they need to be updated?”

One way to do a quick refresh if your letters can stand the test of time is to use your PS to freshen up the content.

Need help? Download this free thank you letter template!


  • The Donor Retention Project: Featuring twelve of the industry’s leading donor retention experts, including Dr. Adrian Sargeant, Lisa Sargent, Simone Joyaux, Roger Craver and more, with tested ways you can increase donor loyalty.


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  • Steve Rudick

    great comments. I love when someone sends a letter.
  • Claire Axelrad

    All great tips! I'd add in the advice to have someone else read it before you send it out. Why? You want them to check for the dreaded "It sounds like an appeal letter" syndrome. We often get so carried away with how great the need is, that it's hard not to sneak that into the letter. A thank you letter should be pure. Your donor helped! Don't make them feel like it wasn't enough by bombarding them with how many more problems still exist.
  • Elaine Fogel

    Good advice, Pamela, especially the personalization part. Whenever I receive generic solicitations, whether by email or snail mail, my first impulse is to delete or toss them. Organizations that want to save money in the short-term are being short-sighted. As print brokers, we advise our clients to personalize their salutations during the mailing service process. It's a variable data printing process - the same as when addressing envelopes. A little more investment can produce better results.
  • Monday Morning Miscellany & Muffins | colludo

    [...] What goes into a great thank you? Here are 7 Characteristics of Effective Thank You Letters. [...]
  • Pamela Grow

    A good reminder! Thanks for mentioning that, Gayle. That's actually included on the template itself and in the checklist referenced in Resources.
  • Gayle Gifford

    All great advice. And.... don't forget that somewhere in that thank you (it can be an attached receipt), you've got to make sure that it meets the IRS requirements to get your donor a tax deduction and keeps you in compliance with IRS standards. So take a look at IRS pub 1771 and
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