The Anatomy of a (Great!) Thank-You Letter

Vol. 12 No. 8


Sometimes, it’s the simplest words that have the biggest impact, and remembering to say “thank you” can be the easiest way to preserve the relationship you've worked so hard to establish with your donor. But what makes a great thank-you letter? What can encourage donors to feel good about the gifts they’ve already made—and inspire them to give again?

Timely Delivery

To start, plan to have the letter signed, sealed, and delivered within two weeks of receipt of the gift. The donor is certainly still thinking about the gift and wondering if it was received and appreciated. Letting a lot of time lapse between the gift and the thank-you tells your donor that the letter—and the donor—was an afterthought, which is the last message you want to send.


This step is an important one: Address the letter to the donor directly, with the correct salutation. Nothing screams “form letter” like “Dear Sir/Madam” or even “Dear Friend of Aegis Academy.” Whenever possible, customize your salutation and, for goodness sake, double-check the spelling of the donor’s name and title! There’s nothing worse than sending “Ms. Ashley Smith” a letter, only to learn that “Ashley” is a man.

Personalization also requires a handwritten signature, preferably from the School Head or you, the Development Director. If the donor has established a special relationship with a particular staff or faculty member who was instrumental in securing the gift, his or her signature may mean even more to the recipient.

If at all possible, customize the content of the letter as well. Writing a fully unique letter for every donor may be impossible due to time constraints and concerns about consistency. Just the same, spend a few sentences talking about this specific donor—his or her connection to the school, for example, or the nature of the gift—to make a significant impact on the relationship.

Kivi Miller on Nonprofit Marketing recommends getting specific about how the money will be used. Even if the gift is for the annual fund, which is used for many different projects, try to list some particular ways for which the money is most likely to be used.

Through personalization, you show that this donor is not a number or a box to be checked off; this donor matters to your school in a personal and meaningful way.

Don’t Ask for Anything More!

One of the biggest mistakes you could make in a donor thank-you letter is to ask the donor to take some sort of action—any action—according to development guru Penelope Burk’s Donor-Centered Fundraising. This letter is a note thanking them for the gift they’ve already made. There will be time in the future to ask them to give again or differently, for them to take a survey of their experience, or to invite them to share their experiences with others.

This letter is all about the donor, the gift, and what his or her generosity means to the school. It is not a time to be asking for more money, or handwringing whether you’ll meet your goals for the year, or wanting information or contacts. The thank-you letter thanks your donor, and only that. Write a timely, meaningful thank-you to your donors, and you’ll reap the benefits down the line with increased loyalty and greater gifts.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 12 No. 3 Donor Recognition: Appealing and Gratifying to the Donor
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 9 No. 9 The Donor Bill of Rights
ISM Monthly Update for School Heads Vol. 9 No. 3 The Head's Role in Landing—and Keeping—Major Donors
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 9 No. 5 All Kinds of Thank Yous

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 32 No. 10 Seven Gift Planning Tips for a Small Development Office
I&P Vol. 31 No. 16 The Development Quartet: The Core Leadership Team of the Comprehensive Development Model
I&P Vol. 35 No. 6 Influencing Upward: Skills for the Development Director

blog comments powered by Disqus
Connect with ISM: