A thank you letter is one of the first touch points a donor receives after making a gift to your organization. Much like a first impression, the words in that letter matter.
So why do so many thank you letters sound so boring and uninspiring?
As Jeff Brooks wrote in The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, the best copy is colloquial, informal and simple. Three things that most thank you letters are not. Most thank you letters are corporate sounding, formal and complex. Today I want to offer you 10 tips for writing a better donor thank you letter.
Tip #1 Personalize as much as possible
There’s nothing worse than reading something that feels like it has been mass mailed, and it’s probably one of the quicker ways to turn your reader off. Especially in a thank you letter, it is important to personalize it as much a possible to build rapport with donors. This includes using their name in the salutation (or greeting) of the letter and including their gift amount.
Tip #2 Lead with a story
How many thank you letters have you read that started with “On behalf of. . .” or “Thank you for your recent gift. . . “? Probably far too many letters, I’m going to guess. If you want your letter to be memorable, then be different. You could try using a creative opening, such as leading with a story. Using a story can immediately and tangibly connect donors to the person or cause that they have helped.
Tip #3 Find your voice
When you read your organization’s thank you letter, does it sound like something you would actually say to someone? If not, chances are your letter sounds too formal or not human enough. It’s important that the words on that page sound like something someone would actually say. Go through your letter sentence by sentence and think about what you would say to someone if they were sitting across the table from you. That’s your natural voice!
Tip #4 Be genuine
It is great to shower donors with gratitude. But I do think there is a point at which it can start to sound a bit insincere. Be grateful without being over the top.
Tip #5 Write short sentences
If you want your letter to be easy to read, write in short sentences. Sentences that run on are difficult to read and leave your confused. Again, think about how we naturally communicate.
Tip #6 Use short words
You don’t have to use big or academic words to get your point across. In fact, if you do use big words, you are more likely to lose your reader along the way. Our main goal, after all, is to inspire and engage donors are they have made a gift. This means we need to explain the work they contributed to in a simple, straightforward manner.
Tip #7 Use the word “You” often
Using the word “You” is one way to grab your reader’s attention, and it has the added benefit of making the letter sound more personable. Many thank you letters will use the word “we” to talk about the organization, as well as the organization and the donor. But this can alienate the donor. Instead, keep the focus on the donor and use the word “you.”
Tip #8 Be specific
Nothing drives me more up the wall than reading a thank you letter that says something like, “Your gift is making an impact.” If you use words like “impact” or “difference” you have to explain what that impact or difference is. All to often I read thank you letter that don’t explain this and it leave the reader wanting more, though not in a good way. Be specific about the impact or difference your donors are part of.
Tip #9 Be uplifting
Your organization may still have miles to go before your mission is achieved or perhaps the problem your working to solve is showing no signs of slowing down, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the strides you have made. It is important to use an uplifting tone and perspective in thank you letters. You don’t want donors to feel hopeless about making a gift to your cause. You want them to feel good about that decision.
Tip #10 Demonstrate vision
As you wrap up your thank you letter, end by demonstrating a vision. It could be a vision for the program that your donor gave it. It could be a vision for your relationship with the donor, or something else. By demonstrating vision, you will keep the door to that relationship open. You will have a reason to keep in touch and provide them with updates. This is an important part of the relationship building process between solicitations.
Thank you letters are such an important part of a donor stewardship program. If you are looking for more resources for creating a donor stewardship program that inspires and retain donors, be sure to check out Stewardship School. Registration for our next class opens on August 24!