Commentary & Analysis
Want More Donor Revenue? Write a Better Thank You Letter
Data insights and expert testimony tell a powerful tale: a nonprofit’s “thank you” letter matters more than many people might think. Get it right and donors feel great and are motivated to keep giving. Get it wrong and they disconnect. So get it right!
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: January 22, 2020
Sitting in my hand is a “thank you” letter from Compassion International, a child sponsorship organization, thanking me for supporting two children, Ana Paula and Genesis. This morning, I’d just finished watching a webinar on writing the perfect thank you letter, so the timing was perfect. How did this one compare to the models I’d just seen? Very well on all counts. It made me appreciate Compassion all the more because, clearly, they’d put significant thought into the letter and valued me, as a donor, enough to do it well.
Why does this matter? It drives home the importance of the thank you letter in nonprofit work.
Gail Perry, president of Gail Perry Fundraising Associates, says that the thank you letter may be the most important communication a nonprofit sends, even more than the appeal itself. Why? Because 2–3x more is spent on recruiting new donors than new donors give on their first donation. If you don’t convert donors to recurring givers, you’ll go under. You can’t spend more to acquire new donors than they give in donations. It doesn't work that way.
The fact is, if you don’t thank your donors, they will disconnect and go away. Some more data:
- 53% of donors leave because of lack of nonprofit communication.
- 7 out of 10 people said they had a better recall of receiving thank you letters than the appeals themselves. Thank you letters matter.
- 7 out of 10 people said their thank you letter was “ordinary and predictable.” In other words, “eh.”
If donors are more likely to remember the thank you letter than the appeal, you don’t want to send a letter that’s “eh”!
According to Perry, here’s how to keep donors coming back:
- Make your thank you letter great.
- Give the donor credit for the work you are doing. Say, “With your gift, you are feeding X hungry children,” not “Your donation helps us feed X hungry children.” Make the donor the center of communication, not you.
- Use stories and pictures to elicit an emotional reaction.
- Assure donors they have made a wise investment. Show them where their gift is going and how it’s being used. Be specific.
- Get the details right. No typos, grammar mistakes, or personalization bloopers!
- Get the letter out quickly. One study found that getting the thank you letter out promptly influences 44% of study donors’ future giving decisions.
- Move immediately from “thank you” to nurturing.
- Continue to communicate with the donor, encouraging them to engage on social media.
- Send email updates and status reports.
- Put on special events just for donors.
- Have volunteers make personal phone calls, thanking them for their support.
- Send personal letters from people who have benefitted from the gift. Perry cites data that 76% of study donors say getting a personal letter from someone who has benefitted from the charity’s work is very meaningful.
The thank you letter a nonprofit writes to its donors is one of the most important—if not the most important—communication the organization can send. Get it wrong and donors disengage and go away. Get it right and donors will feel great about their gift and be motivated to keep giving.
As an MSP, this is a great place you can be a truly valued partner to your clients. Don’t let them be “eh”! Help them craft thank you messaging that works.
Source: Data drawn from Gail Perry’s presentation in the webinar “Cultivate Donor Loyalty with the Perfect Thank You,” presented by Mobile Cause.