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A good thank you does more than set up your next ask. It’s the key to retaining and upgrading your donors. Fundraising guru Penelope Burke found in her research that donors define over solicitation not by an excessive number of appeals but by being asked to give again before they knew their first gift had an impact.

Most donor thank you’s are just that – a receipt. The sad state of our sector is that most donors aren’t properly thanked. You could be reading this blog post right now thinking, “Oh, I thank donors. I’ve got an email auto-responder set up.” Or “I’m fine, we send them a tax receipt letter on our letterhead.” But if you gave to your own organization would either of those pieces of communication inspire you to make another gift? If you aren’t sure, try it out! There’s an actual holiday for this, it’s called Be Your Donor Day.

Donors overwhelmingly desire more information about how their specific gifts are being used in order for them to feel motivated to keep giving. There are 1.6 million nonprofit organizations in the United States and your donor chose to make their gift to YOU! Let’s tell make them feel celebrated.

5 Keys to Killer Thank You’s That Retain Donors

Here are a few tips for crafting a killer thank you from Penelope Burk’s first book, Donor Centered Fundraising.

1. Don’t be predictable.

Everyone is expecting you to lead with the perfunctory “Thank you on behalf of the board, the staff and the clients we serve…” Yawn, yawn, yawn. Stand out! Make them feel they are there in the room with you. “The screams and squeals from the 9th grade class at the Ann Richard’s School for Young Women Leaders when they found out thanks to YOUR generous gift they’d be going to the nation’s capital were positively deafening.”

2. Do not ask them to do anything, like take a survey or make another gift.

This is a time for expressing gratitude and sharing the meaning of their gift, not for giving them homework or potentially offending them with another ask.

3. Do not recycle the same copy indefinitely. Make it meaningful!

How often do you change out you thank you copy? I recommend changing it monthly. Be transparent and provide insight as to how the gift will be used. Show the gift in action.

4. Make it personal

I spent 12 years running a nonprofit organization and we gained scale and efficiency with our thank you cards by using branded cardstock and preprinting a variety of close up photos of the programs in action in each. We even engaged students and volunteers in the fun and had them write the cards. If possible  grade class at the Ann Richard’s School for Young Women include a personal touch, such as a photo of someone the organization has helped through the mission.

5. Make it speedy

Ideally you are getting this out within 24-48 hours. Don’t exceed 5 days, but late is better than never. When you approach your big gala, end of your fiscal year or the holidays make sure you are prepared to allocate time and staff accordingly. I recommend a weekly or daily stewardship “power hour”. The longer you keep your donors and cultivate them effectively, the more they will give over time!


What is your organization’s process for crafting a killer thank you?