We labor over the appeal: the language, the images, the right ask.
And then, too often, we treat the thank you as an afterthought.
It’s really not that hard to write a good, emotional thank you letter. No harder than it is to write a dry, organization-focused piece of PR.
And if we’ve been paying any attention, we know that saying thank you well is about more than warm fuzzies. (Though I’m a big fan of warm fuzzies, myself.) A good, meaningful thank you is not just good manners. It’s good fundraising.
And yet. My mailbox and my inbox keep showing me dreck.
Forgive me if I’m a bit harsh here. But I’m going to say it straight out: there’s a good chance your thank you letter sucks.
You should pay attention and you should fix it. Yesterday.
Here are some of the most common mistakes I see.
Bad or no personalization
Folks. It’s 2018. If you got my check, you know my name. Also, if you got my check, you know my name isn’t Mrs. someone. There’s my name. Right by my husband’s, on the check.
A “Dear Friend” thank you isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Don’t do it. In the days of typewriters, it might have been more excusable. Now, it just says “we’re too lazy to bother.”
Thinking thank you doesn’t matter
Well, it does. Both to your donor – and possibly, to you. Read this short article about how we tend to underestimate the power of gratitude. And how it makes the recipient – and the sender – feel.
tl;dr? It matters. A lot.
A hearty organizational pat on the back
This might come as a surprise to some: the thank you letter is all about the donor, not about how wonderful your organization is.
Every time you’re tempted to brag, turn it around and credit the donor instead. (Here’s the text from a letter I received years ago. It was so stunningly devoid of the donor!)
I’m sorry to tell you this (or maybe I’m not) but your hard work is not particularly compelling to your donor.
Guess what? They probably work hard, too. Then they come home and decide to send you some of the money they worked so hard for. That makes them important. That means they get the credit for your mission getting done.
Don’t be stingy. It really takes nothing away from you to make your donor feel like a million bucks.
All about the Benjamins
Yes, you’re thanking a donor for sending you money. But if the letter leads with dollars, not gratitude, you’re sort of missing the point.
Include the amount, for sure. Donors will want that information for their records. But it’s not really the star here. It’s the donor’s decision to give that’s meaningful. It’s the work the donor is accomplishing through you that matters.
Also: the IRS does not belong in the body of your thank you. Stick that information at the bottom of the page. It might be needed, but it’s not really what this letter should be about.
All about business
If your letter reads like a proper business letter, you’ve failed.
It may take a while to get comfortable. I understand. We’ve been taught all our lives to stifle those emotional urges in the office. Don’t cry, for heaven’s sake, or someone will think you’re weak!
But our work is all about making connections. And people are emotional creatures. So if it’s not comfortable for you yet, spend some time thinking about it. Better yet, spend some time on the front lines of your organization’s work. It matters, right?
If you’re still finding it impossible to dig up some genuine gratitude toward your donors, consider that you might be at the wrong organization – or in the wrong line of work entirely.
If you do feel passionately about the work, put it on the page. Your donor and you are working together to make something wonderful happen. Or stop something awful from happening. You’re side by side, working on that mission.
Except your donor isn’t getting paid. Your donor is paying to be there with you. Isn’t that worthy of some real, emotional, gratitude?
You can’t go too far if you’re being sincere. Everyone likes to be told they’re wonderful. That they matter. That they did something really good. Let it all out.
Thank you is only for some donors
Are you kidding me? Really? Listen: every donor matters. Keep saying it to yourself until you believe it.
Also, “big” donors often grow from “small” donors. That $10 gift might be a test. Or it might be the first of many $10 gifts – followed by a bequest.
Donors put up with a lot of nonsense
I’m a fundraiser and a donor. I see it from both sides. So I’m almost certainly less forgiving than most donors. Sadly, they’ve come to expect poor treatment. That really bothers me – and it should bother you, too.
Saying thank you well can be one of the most rewarding parts of your job once you understand how important it is.
It gives you a moment to consider gratitude. A chance to remember you’re not alone in your work. And it really matters.
So, apologies for my rant.
And thank you for your amazing, meaningful, exhausting work.