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[ASK AN EXPERT] How To Please A Picky Boss?

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Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser whose boss doesn’t like their thank you letters.

Dear Charity Clairity,

My boss hates our thank you letters and says they’re boring. She wants something new and different. She especially wants a zingy opening and a gushy closing. Zingy? Gushy? As if saying thank you, sincerely, isn’t enough! I’ve used a similar version of this thank you at other organizations and never got any criticism. I receive thank you letters like this all the time. I’m at a loss with my picky boss!

— Being Picked On

Dear Being Picked On,

Your boss may be onto something. Don’t take it personally. The lion’s share of thank you letters fall somewhere between dreadful and banal. SO much so, in fact, that 21% of donors report they don’t recall being thanked at all (my guess is many receive a letter akin to a pro forma receipt, or something that talks so much about the need it seems like another fundraising appeal; so they just don’t notice it). Good thank you letters, like anything else, require careful crafting.

Think first about the purpose of a thank you letter.  What does the donor want? Satisfaction. Appreciation. Besides desiring it to be prompt and personal, they want something powerfully demonstrative of the impact of their gift and a demonstration you can be trusted to use their gift as they intended.

Sadly, most thank you letters look something like this:

Thank you on behalf of the board, staff and the clients we serve for your $50 gift. It will enable us to continue our important work.  We do so many excellent things, and without your support we wouldn’t be able to accomplish our goals.  There are still so many things we can get done, given more support.

Please use this for your tax purposes.

With gratitude for your support,

Lead with what the donor made possible. Leave the words “thank you” out of it. At least for the lead sentence. It will force you to be more creative, and assure you don’t say “on behalf of” (which distances the writer from the donor). Think about how you can capture attention, remind the reader of your cause immediately (this couldn’t be a thank you letter from just any nonprofit), and make the donor feel good.

  • Because you cared, Jimmy will go to sleep tonight with a full tummy (Food Bank)
  • You remembered, because they couldn’t (Alzheimers’ organization)
  • Mary won’t feel her son died in vain, because your gift will find a cure (Cancer research)

Close with something warm and personal – even gushy – to make people feel good.

  • You’re our hero.
  • Your caring support means more than words can express.
  • You are, truly, the BEST!

When you open and close with gusto and panache, your donors will take notice and not be bored. And your boss will have nothing to pick on.

Charity Clairity

Have a question for our Fundraising Coach?

Please submit your question here. Remember, there are no stupid questions! If you need an answer, it’s likely someone else does too. So help your colleagues by asking away. Please use a pseudonym, like “Being Picked On” did, if you prefer to be anonymous.

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