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Resources – Articles

Thank You Letters – A Fundraising Courtesy Fundamental
by Karen Zapp

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ZAPP Nonprofit Leader

I’m old school. I believe in saying please, thank you, excuse me, you’re welcome, and so on.

And speaking as a donor, I like to have my gifts to nonprofit organizations recognized. Simply stated: Please tell me “thank you.”

This presents you – the charitable organization – with a few appreciable challenges. First you need a system in place to send out thank you letters. And second you must get it done quickly. I don’t diminish the effort and logistics involved in either of these challenges.

But again, speaking strictly as a donor ... they don’t matter to those of us writing the checks. As stated several times in an older movie starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson (“Strategic Air Command”): “Don’t tell me your little problems. I’m only interested in results.

That sounds cold; but it is reality.

A common trend among many recent studies is the number of donors sending you money is declining ... but the average gift is higher. The bottom line varies with the majority of nonprofits gaining in overall revenue received. Others are holding steady and unfortunately some lost ground.

In all cases it means donor cultivation is more important than ever! And saying “thank you” is a big part of effective donor cultivation.

Making the decision to cut costs by eliminating thank you letters is really cutting your revenue. Even with the ongoing increases in postage rates, I don’t believe you can afford this cost cutting strategy. Oh, and please don’t send out generic pre-printed postcards either. Definitely not a courteous gesture.

Your thank you letter doesn’t have to be long or elaborate. Just make certain you ...

  • Say thank you for their gift of $xx.
  • Get it to them QUICKLY. Many organizations have the policy to send it out within one to three days of receiving the gift.
  • Remind them why they gave. Perhaps mention something from the letter they responded to. You’re reassuring them they made a wise decision and you’re eliminating any “buyer’s remorse.”
  • This letter absolutely must be warm and friendly. Think of the sweetest and dearest person you know. Imagine they just sent you a nice gift and now you’re writing to thank this dear, sweet person.
  • Of course praise is always appropriate. Comment on how vital they are. Mention their wonderful impact on your work – what’s possible because of them.
  • I recommend giving them a progress update if possible. Tell them more about what has happened as a result of their gift. If you reached a specific goal – say so. Let them know the great things they’ve done (i.e., the donor).
  • You need to thank them again. This can be done at the end of the letter or possibly
    in the P.S.

What else ought to appear in your thank you letters?
If you want in-depth guidance on what you've read so far in this article - and a whole lot more - then please read what you'll find in your copy of the  ZAPP GUIDE to Thank You Letters.

Depending on the size of the gift you could make a really strong impression on your donor with a phone call. It’s worth every second of your time. This added personal touch is not only a classy way to say thank you, it’s definitely old school courtesy.

Or perhaps for larger gifts add a handwritten sentence or two on the letter. A special note of thanks for their thoughtfulness and generosity. And I don’t mean a simulated script by the print shop. But a note written by an actual human with pen in hand.

Old school courtesy will help your bottom line.

If you’re still not convinced, I give more reasons for sending thank you letters in my article, WHY You Must Send Thank You Letters – The Missing Link in Fundraising Appeals. This article includes benefits to the charitable organization for sending heartfelt thank you letters.

Finally, I'd be happy to write a thank you letter for you. Or perhaps you prefer to have me critique a letter you've already written. Just drop me a line and we'll take it from there.

Interested in more fundraising and marketing insights?


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I look forward to helping you prosper.

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