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Allison Gauss
thank you

What Makes a Good Thank You?

All thank yous are not the same. While well-intended, many thank yous sent to donors fail to evoke the emotion and passion that motivate people to support your cause.

And that is your ultimate goal—to make donors feel something upon reading your message. The trouble is that donors know nonprofit organizations send thousands of these messages every year. They know you have form letters and templates to manage all these communications. This is why you must pay special attention to several important aspects of your thank you message.

It’s not enough to simply acknowledge a gift. You have to show your supporters that their help matters and you truly appreciate it. Only a quality thank you will influence donors to continue supporting your organization in the future.


One of the most important things about saying “thank you” is timing. It should be done promptly. Don’t make donors wait to hear from you or they might write you off as ungrateful before your message arrives.

Nonprofits should respond to online donations with a two-step process. First, the donor should immediately receive an email that says “thank you” and includes their receipt. This confirmation email can be sent automatically through your fundraising software. This provides immediate peace of mind to donors and lets them know that their gift has been processed.

Shortly thereafter, you send the real thank you message.

The second, more detailed message should arrive within 48 to 72 hours at the latest. If you decide to use direct mail, it may take a little longer, but you must send letters as soon as possible.

Email or Direct Mail

The question of whether to send your thank you by email or direct mail is a difficult one for most nonprofits. On the one hand, many people receive most of their communications through email. It’s what they expect. But this expectation could make a printed letter stand out more to donors.

Or it might get thrown out with the junk mail.

For the majority of your donation thank you letters, email will be the most practical and cost-effective method. It you have an older or especially traditional supporter base, though, they may prefer direct mail. If you’re torn, get in touch with donors and ask what they think. It can be as easy as sending them a short survey.

Keep in mind that larger gifts should be acknowledged with more personal methods. While you won’t have time to write a personal note to every donor, this is a worthwhile practice for large donors and sponsors. Phone calls are also a great way to thank special supporters. Just make sure they still get a receipt.

Content of Your Thank You Letter

When it comes time to write your letter you have to say something more than “thank you.” That would be a bizarrely short message.

The most important thing you can do is celebrate what the donor did and what they are helping you accomplish. This is why you must highlight the impact of their gift and how their help creates positive change. They’ve already donated, so there’s no need to restate all the merits of your organization. If you’re going to make anyone the hero of the story, it should be your donors. Focus on the specific outcomes to which their gift contributes.

You can begin by referencing the campaign or project the donation is supporting. This subtly reminds the reader that their donation has a specific purpose. If possible, feature a specific place or person they have helped.

You should also tell the donor how their gift will be used. For example, if someone donated to a campaign to rebuild a library, the organization could talk about how this facility will be an improvement and give some details on when it will be completed and what it will feature. This will reignite the reader’s excitement for your work.

To personalize the letter, consider referencing any past gifts or involvement they’ve had with your work. A returning donor wants their continued support to be recognized.

Even though you should include these specifics in your letter, never forget to plainly state your gratitude. A good rule of thumb is to start by thanking them and end by restating your appreciation.


It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. While your appeals may benefit from tones of sympathy or urgency a thank you letter should have a very different feel.

Thank you letters are meant, in large part, to make the donor feel good about their decision, and to show that their contribution is making a difference. This is why thank you letters should have a positive, can-do tone.

While you can still note the urgency or seriousness of your cause, this message should be one of hope and action. Of course there’s more to be done, but this letter is about their gift and how it helps.

No New Ask

A survey of 2,833 people by Software Advice found that the majority of people wanted a nonprofit to wait seven months or more before asking for a second gift. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said nonprofits should wait at least three months.

If so many people don’t want to receive appeals a couple of months after giving, how many want you to make an ask while thanking them for their first gift?

Asking for another donation in your thank you letter is inappropriate because this letter is about celebrating what the supporter has already done.

Who’s it From?

Confirmation emails and receipts come from an organization, thank you letters come from people.

Donors know that their gift is going to an organization, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the personal touch of receiving a message from a real person. Make sure that each thank you letter is signed with the name of a specific staff member, such as the development director or executive director. If you’re using email, make sure the staff member’s name shows up next to the subject line.

Nonprofits should also include a staff member’s contact information in the letter. Most people won’t actually call or email, but including this information shows that you value their thoughts and want an open line of communication with donors.

Although they’re nothing new, thank you letters continue to hold special importance in the donor experience. It is not enough to simply go through the motions. Examine your thank you messages and ask yourself, “Does this make the donor feel anything?”

If the answer is “no,” it’s time to revamp your thank you letter. You don’t have to rewrite everything at once, though. Perfecting your timing and sending messages from a specific staff member are two simple steps you can take to start improving how you thank donors. From there, you can continue to refine the donor experience.

Keep Donors Coming Back

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  • Tee Ryan

    Hey Allison, this is a fantastic post. I’m over at about to revamp our stewardship campaign and I’m very much impressed with some of the specifics you mentioned. You tapped into common sense about these things but also added some specifics that I might’ve overlooked. Thanks again!

    • Thanks for reading Tee Ryan, cool site!

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