Tips for Thanking Donors

Tips For Thanksing Donors

The best thank-you letters are tailored so they are relevant to the donor and speak to how the donor’s gift is being applied.

It’s a fact. Saying “thank you” is key to building strong relationships, and that includes donor relationships. Research by Penelope Burk and others affirms the positive correlation between effective thanking strategies and long-term donor value.

But knowing it’s important to say thank you is not the same as executing with impact. So I’d like to offer four tips to help you take your thank-you program to the next level:

Tip #1 — Make it a priority.

Have a plan. All gifts should be acknowledged, but you need to decide before gifts arrive how you will handle different types of contributions.

For example, how will you thank a new donor for her first gift? What about your high value portfolio donors, or donors who upgrade? How do you thank sustainers giving on a monthly basis? And do you even notice when a donor in your legacy society sends a gift? Also, what channels will you use to thank these donors: Phone? Mail? Email? All of the above?

Map out a plan that makes sense for your organization, and make sure your database supports your plan.

Tip #2 — Make it quick.

Speed matters. Be prompt in acknowledging a donor’s generosity. My husband and I once made a contribution while attending an organization’s annual banquet. The next morning, we received a telephone call from a board member thanking us for the gift. I can tell you this made a strong impression. Similarly, your donors notice how quickly (or slowly) your thank-you letters arrive in the mail. The sooner the better. You want to stand out … in a good way!

How long does it take your organization to process a gift and send a thank-you letter? If it takes more than 48 hours, what can you do to tighten the schedule? And if it takes more than a week to get your thank-you letters out the door, it’s time to convene a meeting of all key players to hammer out a better solution. To borrow from Nike, “Just Do It!”

Tip #3 — Make it personal.

Have you ever received a gift acknowledgement which was nothing more than an obviously mass-produced card with the date and amount of your gift added? Compare this — and donors do — to the thoughtful thank-you letter you (hopefully) have received from other organizations, affirming you for your caring and generous response to a specific area of need.

The best thank-you letters are tailored so they are relevant to the donor and speak to how the donor’s gift is being applied.

Tip #4 — Make it sing.

Perhaps this is as an extension of Tip #3, but I call it out for emphasis. The donor is your hero. And the thank-you letter is an ideal opportunity to sing his praises. Importantly, the point here is to genuinely express how vitally important the donor is in furthering your mission.

Too many thank-you letters are all about the organization when they should be about the donor! You’re not asking for a gift in a thank-you letter, and perhaps because of this it’s tempting to get lazy and just dash off a few boring words of thanks, then shift to institutional lingo.

But this is your opportunity to make sure your donor feels thrilled to be partnering with you. So put some thought into creative ways of saying “thank you,” choosing your words carefully to make sure your thank-you calls, letters and emails have enduring impact in building donor loyalty.


Remember, thank-you strategies are key to keeping your donors engaged and committed to your organization for the long haul. Unfortunately, this is an area where many nonprofits simply under-perform. But by taking a few steps now to enhance your program, you can reap the benefits for years to come.

If you would like additional insights regarding your direct response fundraising program, please feel free to contact me at Our team is ready to assist!

John Payne