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How to Write the Perfect Donation Thank-You Letter (Plus a Handy Template)

19 min read
September 07, 2022
Abby Jarvis
Wooden tiles that spell "thank you"

You’ve probably written many thank-you letters, whether they were for birthday gifts or party invitations. But writing a thank-you letter for a donation can feel different. 

The stakes are low when you write a personal thank-you note: Your Great Aunt Dottie is unlikely to shun you if your thank-you note arrives a little late or doesn’t include details about how you’ll use her gift. But thank-you letters for donations that arrive late or contain incorrect information could sever your relationships with those donors.

A great thank-you letter will make your donor feel good about their decision to give. It’ll also strengthen their connection to your organization and make them more likely to give again in the future. 

Here’s how to write a thank-you letter your donors will love—and a free, downloadable donation thank-you letter template that you can use to get started!

If you’re looking for specific information, use these links to jump to different sections.

Why a Donation Thank-You Letter Is Important

Improving donor retention rates is one of the top priorities for many nonprofits. There are many reasons donors may not support a nonprofit after their first gift, but not being thanked for their first gift is one of the most common. Getting a donor to make a second gift is a tall order, and saying “thank you” is a powerful first step toward inspiring them to give again.

People are wired to be altruistic. It makes us feel good to give to a cause that we believe in. That’s a feeling that should be nurtured! When you send a thank-you letter after a donation, you signal to your donor that you notice and appreciate their generosity, and that makes them feel good. Your donor will associate your organization with the warm-fuzzy feeling they got when you celebrated their kindness. That association can result in future support.

This article specifically covers thank-you notes for donations of money, but you should also send thank-yous when a person supports your nonprofit in other ways. Try thanking your supporters when they volunteer, attend an event, take a class, or give an in-kind donation.

How Should You Send Your Donation Thank-You Letter? 

There are two primary ways that organizations send donor thank-you letters: By email and by postal mail. Both channels have their strengths and their weaknesses—let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each. 

Send Donation Thank-You Letters by Email

Email is one of the most popular communication methods for nonprofits who want to get in touch with their donors. Even though email inboxes are an increasingly “noisy” channel (just think about how many emails you get in a day—yikes!), it’s a reliable way to get your message in front of your supporters. Most people have an email address, and many people check their inboxes multiple times a day.

Save Money

There are other advantages to sending thank-you letters for donations via email, too. Email is far less expensive than postal mail, for example. There’s no need to buy envelopes and stamps, and you don’t need to invest in the printer, ink, and other materials you’d need to send your letter. Sending an email is practically free.

Save Time

Email can also be less time-consuming than postal mail. That makes it easier for your organization to get your thank-you letters to donors sent faster, which is important—we’ll touch on that a bit more later. 

You may be able to save even more time if you automate your thank-you letters! Depending on the nonprofit donor management software that your nonprofit is using, you may be able to send thank-you emails with your donor’s information (like their name and the donation amount) automatically added to the message. 

Get Creative

There’s also more room for creativity when you send your thank-you letter via email instead of by snail mail. You can include elements like videos or slideshows, links to upcoming events or volunteer opportunities, and social media buttons to encourage your donors to connect with you online.

If you’re interested in engaging new donors by sending thank-you letters by email, you might also want to consider creating a welcome email series for new donors.

Send Donation Thank-You Letters by Mail

The benefits of sending thank-you letters via postal mail versus email are a little harder to quantify. Tracking metrics like your letter’s open rate isn’t possible, for example, and you can’t tell whether or not your recipient takes meaningful action after they read your message. But the benefit of sending your donor thank-you through the snail mail is easy to sum up: It just feels more special. 

Make an Impression

Physical letters make an impression on your donors. Think about it: How many emails do you get a day? Dozens? Hundreds? How many physical letters do you get? Even on the most junk mail-heavy days, you probably only receive a handful of them. 

You can take that sense of specialness to the next level by personalizing your thank-yous. Try including some specific details about your donor’s gift, signing the letter yourself (instead of using a computer-generated signature), or adding a special note to the side of a printed message. A handwritten sentence or two on the side of a printed letter adds a special touch that will make a positive impression on your donor.

Get Read

Sending a physical letter has another advantage over emails: Your donors are far more likely to read them. Despite the fact that you can’t track open rates for mailed letters, you can be confident that your message is getting through more so than it would be via its digital counterpart. 

The sheer volume of emails people receive every day makes it likely that your donors will overlook your thank-you letter, even if it’s only by accident. People’s mailboxes are less crowded than their inboxes, which makes them more likely to open and read your message.

Consider Thanking Donors by Phone

If you really want to make an impression on your donors, try making a personal phone call. Phone calls require a bit of a time commitment—they usually require a little more time than an email, though less time than a physical letter—but they’re one of the most effective ways to make donors feel seen and to increase retention.

You may not have time to call every single donor every time they make a gift. Try prioritizing calls to first-time donors, donors who have recently created a recurring gift, and donors who give at or above a certain level. 

You can also try splitting up the list of donors you need to call. Get other staff members or even your board members involved in calling and thanking your supporters. And don’t worry if nobody answers your phone call: Leaving a voicemail thanking your donors for their gift is still effective.

To learn more about the benefits of calling donors to thank them, check out our blog article, Why You Should Be Calling To Thank Donors For Their Support.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Donation Thank-You Letter

Just as there are some rules for sending personal thank-you notes—like writing a thoughtful sentence or two about why the recipient is special and why you appreciate them—there are some best practices you should follow for thank-you letters to donors. Here are some do’s and don’ts you can follow to make the best impression on your supporters.

Do: Send Your Donation Thank-You Note Promptly

As a general rule, you should send your message within a few days of your donor’s gift. This way, your donor will be less likely to forget about their gift (which, coincidentally, is another common reason first-time donors don’t make a second gift). You’ll also sustain the good feelings this person already has towards your organization in the days after their donation. Try using a donor management system like Neon CRM to automatically send donor thank-you letters within minutes. 

Don’t: Ask for Another Donation

Asking for another donation is the number one thing you should not do when someone has just donated. Think back to the personal thank-you notes you’ve written: You’d never ask for a second present when thanking someone for the first! Turning a one-time donor into a repeat donor is a delicate process requiring patience and diligence. Immediately asking for a second donation will wreck it.

Do: Demonstrate Their Donation’s Impact

Donors give because they want to make a difference. The more you can share with them about how you’ll use their gift, the better they’ll feel about their decision to support you. Get as specific as you can. Don’t talk about your organization’s overall work—that’s too vague. Instead, focus on how their support will affect a specific program or client.

Try telling a story about a client and how the donation has made a positive difference in that person’s life. Sharing personal stories will help your donors understand that their gift is making a real difference for people in their community. For long-time donors, you can try emphasizing the impact of all the gifts they’ve made over their time as a donor. 

If you’re interested in understanding why reporting a donor’s impact is important, might like this article that explores the psychology of philanthropy.

Don’t: Make it About You

Instead of centering your organization in your email, use donor-centric language to make it about them. Whenever possible, replace the terms “we” and “us” with the word “you.” Talk about “your donation” and “your impact” and how “you made a difference.” 

Do: Make it Personal

Personalization can take your donation thank-you letter from “meh” to “wow.” Including your donor’s name in the letter’s salutation and referencing their gift amount is a great start. 

If you’re using a donor management system like Neon CRM, you can use tags or tokens to include other specifics about your donor’s gift, too. Try creating different content for different donation restrictions, various gift amounts, recurring vs. one-time donations, and other elements that will help you create personal, relevant thank-you letters.

The more data you have on your donors, the easier it will be for you to create personalized thank-you letters. For long-time donors, try digging into their history to see how long they’ve been donating, what programs they’ve supported, events they’ve attended, or times they have volunteered. Then, reference their dedication and impact in your letter.

The more personal you can make your thank-you letter, the more your donor will feel connected to your organization and understand how their support is truly making a difference. 

Don’t: Be Overly Formal

This shouldn’t sound like a letter coming from someone’s attorney; it should feel like a letter from an old friend or colleague. Use plain, down-to-earth language to describe what this donor’s gift means to your organization and how it’s positively impacting your work. Think to yourself: If I received a letter like this, how would it make me feel? Write something that you would want to read or, better yet, something you’d send to a friend or family member.

Do: Invite Them to Continue Engaging With Your Nonprofit

While you don’t want to ask for a second gift in a thank-you letter, you can ask for other things. Your letter is an ideal opportunity to invite your donor to continue their relationship with you through non-financial interactions.

Try asking them to do something simple, like checking out your Facebook page or watching a short video. If you have an event happening soon, invite them to attend. If there is a volunteer opportunity, ask if they’d like to join. This is an early step in what you hope to be a long and fruitful relationship, so be gentle. If you feel that it’s inappropriate, this is okay to drop. Just make sure you have plans to follow up with them later on! 

Including these soft requests in your thank-you letters can help you build stronger relationships with your supporters. For more strategies to retain those donors, take a look at our donor retention checklist.

Don’t: Ramble

Keep your donation thank-you letter as short, clear, and concise as you can. Don’t walk your donor through the entire history of your organization or include paragraphs and paragraphs about your nonprofit’s impact. The purpose of this letter is to say “thank you.” Anything beyond those two words should be carefully chosen. 

Do: Attach a Tax Receipt

If you haven’t already sent a tax receipt when the donor’s gift was processed, this is the perfect time to do so. While tax receipts are technically only required for gifts over $250, consider attaching ones for gifts of all sizes. This sends a message to your small donors that their gift is just as important as your large ones.

Don’t: Forget to Include Visuals

Like any communication you send, including a pleasing visual element will greatly enhance your reader’s experience. A heart-warming photo of a client or something else related to your work will connect your donor to the cause they care about and remind them why they gave in the first place. 

If you’re sending an email, your options are a bit broader than they are if you’re sending a physical letter, but even a pleasingly designed letterhead can pack a nice visual punch. 

Creating outstanding thank-you letters is both an art and a science! If you’re interested in digging into more strategies for creating these important messages, you might enjoy this on-demand webinar about donor thank-yous.

How to Write A Thank-You Letter for Donations 

A good donor thank-you letter usually contains three sections: The introduction, the body of the letter, and a powerful closing. Here’s a breakdown of each section, why it’s important, and what it should contain.

Introduction

When a donor scans a thank-you letter, one of the first things they check is the salutation and the first few words of the body. Writing a compelling introduction is important if you want your donor to read the rest of your message.

First, make sure the salutation is as personal as possible. Avoid addressing your thank-you letter to a “Dear friend” or “Valued supporter.” Use their name! Then, express your gratitude for their support. Open your first paragraph with some visual, descriptive language that will grab your donor’s attention and inspire them to keep reading. Here’s an example of what that can look like:

Compelling: “When Sandra discovered a litter of shivering kittens under her house, she turned to Agloe Animal Shelter for help. Within a few hours, each of the six kittens had gotten a check-up, a good meal, and a warm place to sleep—and it’s all because of people like you. When you donated $30 today, you did more than just support a local animal shelter: You gave the gift of a second chance to local animals.

Less compelling: “Thank you for your gift of $30 to the Agloe Animal Shelter. The Agloe Animal Shelter is a 501(c)(3) that’s dedicated to serving animals here in Chicago. Please retain the following details for your records.”

Body

Once you’ve captured your donor’s attention with a well-written introduction, it’s time to work on the body of your thank-you letter. Your body copy should include expanded details about how your donor’s gift will make an impact—and it should be as specific as possible.

Tell specific stories rather than trying to share big-picture generalities. Telling a donor that their gift will be used to help feed hundreds of people is less compelling than telling a donor that they helped feed a mother and her two children. Your donor will subconsciously know that their $25 gift won’t actually feed hundreds of people, but they can certainly imagine the difference that amount can make to a single family.

Here are some simple tips for making the most of this part of your thank-you letter:

  • Use simple fonts and larger font sizes to make your letter easier to read
  • Make it scannable by prioritizing breaks between paragraphs, avoiding walls of text, and using bullet points, bolded fonts, or pull quotes to draw attention to important points
  • Keep readability in mind: Avoid using multiple fonts, changing font colors, or otherwise complicating the text

Focus on relating a story that demonstrates how your donor’s generosity will make a difference to an individual. You can, of course, supplement that story with statistics. For example, you could share the story of the mother and children who benefited from your food bank, then share that hundreds of other families experience similar situations). But emphasizing individuals will help connect your donor more deeply to your work and the people you serve.

Conclusion

Your conclusion should wrap up your body copy in a nice, tidy bow. Use your closing paragraph to restate your gratitude and reiterate your impact story. This is the best place to include a soft, optional call to action. Invite your supporter to visit your website or social channels, take a survey to share more about themself, tour your facility, or attend an event. Remember, don’t ask for a second gift!

If it’s possible, invite the user to get in touch and provide contact information they can use if they have questions or want to learn more about your work.

Signature and Postscript

Did you know donors usually won’t read your thank-you letters linearly? Believe it or not, many people will check for a signature and postscript before they decide to read the body of your message. Making the most of your signature and postscript is an important step if you want them to read what you have to say.

Be intentional about the signature you use in your thank-you letter. Who’s the best person to sign it? Development directors, executive directors, and fundraising staff often sign thank-you letters. If appropriate, you could also invite board members, clients, or volunteers to sign your message, too. You might also consider including a small picture of the signor so donors can put a face to the name—it’s a great way to add a personal touch.

Spend some time working on your postscript, too. Since it’s one of the first things people will read when they receive your letter, it’s a great place to reiterate your thankfulness and invite them to engage with your nonprofit. Something as simple as, “P.S. We’d love to thank you for your generosity in person! On Friday, September 9, we’ll be at the Barnett Park food truck rally—please come by, say hello, and pick up a $5 voucher for your favorite vendor” can make a big impression on your supporters.

Tips for Creating Donation Thank-You Letters in Neon CRM

Writing and sending great donation thank-you letters is important, but there’s no denying that it can be a time-consuming project. Using a platform like Neon CRM can help. Try creating a workflow to automate your outreach to donors after they make a gift. Your donors will receive their thank-you letters quickly, and you’ll save yourself and your staff some time and effort.

Once you’ve customized your post-donation receipt, your donor will automatically receive it within seconds of processing their gift. You can make the most out of the receipt by adding a sincere thank-you note, including a brief impact statement, and supporting your message with a nice image. Then, you can drop that donor into a custom workflow.

Here’s an example of what you can do with a workflow:

  1. If you’re sending your thank-you letter via email, use the email builder to put together personalized messages your donors will love. Then, add a step to your workflow to automatically send the thank-you email a day or two later. If you’re sending the letter by post, use the workflow to automatically schedule that task.
  2. When appropriate, you can also automatically schedule other tasks, like personal phone calls, impact reports, or additional messaging. You can also use the workflow to drop new donors into a series of welcome emails. Our eBook on welcome emails explores why that’s a valuable tactic, and it even comes with templates you can use to create your own series.
  3. Then, you can automatically send your donor an impact update. You’ve already thanked them for their gift and told them how you’ll use their money. Now, send a quick update sharing what their gift helped achieve.
  4. Once you’ve thanked your donor and reported their impact, it’s safe to send another appeal. Add a step in your workflow that creates an audience report, then use it to make sure donors don’t receive appeals until they’ve completed the other steps in the process.

Your CRM can also help you personalize your messages. Try using the email builder to include elements like your donor’s name, their gift amount, the programs or restrictions they supported, and other details that will make your thank-you letter feel like it was written just for them.

Enjoy This Donation Thank-You Letter Template

Sending donation thank you letters is a necessary step in the donor retention process. If you aren’t thanking your donors for their generosity, you’re going to have a very hard time convincing them to continue supporting you in the future.

Whether it’s by email or snail mail, there are common best practices you can follow to make your thank you letters pop. Be friendly, be to point, demonstrate your donor’s impact, and invite them to continue to engage with you. When the time comes to make another appeal, they’ll be more likely to give again.

We know building a great thank-you letter from scratch is a big job. Try using this template as a starting point! If it’s useful to you, you can also download a full packet of different templates you can use for all kinds of receipts and thank-you letters.

An image of our donation thank-you letter template.
Click to download this template for donation thank-you letters!

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