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Donor Appreciation Letter: Everything You Need To Know To Craft The Perfect One

Published: Jan 7, 2021

13% of donors leave because their gift was never acknowledged. 

While it may seem like a small number, even a single donor leaving can cause a ripple effect and set your fundraising efforts back. 

Ensuring that you properly thank your donors is a simple way to avoid this and boost donor retention

But, when we talk about gift acknowledgments, it’s not about sending a generic thank-you email anymore. 

As the communication trends of 2021 demonstrate, people only respond well to personal communications. And nothing could be more personal than a donor appreciation letter. Here’s everything you need to know about crafting the perfect letter. 

Why does a donor appreciation letter have more impact?

When it comes to donor acknowledgment, thank you letters for donations have a remarkable impact. 

Penelope Burk, a nonprofit fundraising author, and consultant demonstrates the power of a donor appreciation letter with this real-life incident:

“A community hospice sent their new donor-centered thank you letter to a first-time donor who had just made a $100 contribution. The delighted donor called the organization because she ‘wanted to meet the person who had written such a beautiful letter.’ 

The donor and the fundraiser fell into conversation about the Hospice and its future plans. The next day a check arrived via courier with a post-it note attached which read, ‘For your hopes and dreams.’ The check was for $25,000.”

The simple act of following up with a personal thank-you letter led to a personal conversation and ultimately a much larger donation.

If you’re thinking about this being a lucky encounter, here are some stats that prove otherwise: 

  1. Donor appreciation letters drive repeat donations: Studies have shown that 85% of donors who receive a personal thank-you letter for donations will give again.
  2. Appreciation letters can increase gift size: The same study as above also showed that 86% of donors receiving personal thank-you letters would give a larger gift. 
  3. Letters boost donor retention: Research shows that sending out personalized thank you letters can increase donor retention rates by up to 39%.

Apart from this, some more obvious benefits of thank-you letters are:

  • They are unique: In the age of digital communication, sending a letter can make you stand out from the crowd.
  • Serve as a physical reminder: A letter also serves as a reminder about your organization, work, and how the donor helped. So the next time they want to donate, they are more likely to reach out to the organization they distinctly remember. 

So, if you haven’t thought about including letters in your nonprofit’s communication strategy, it’s time to start now.  

Donor appreciation letter do’s and don’ts

Before you get started with sending out donor appreciation letters, keep the following in mind to ensure maximum impact: 

1. Don’t: Delay sending the letter.

There is a brief period when your acknowledgment letter is going to have an impact. After this period, donors might forget about making the gift, and a late thank-you is going to feel more like a formality than a genuine gesture. 

Do: Send it within 48 hours for maximum impact.

Studies show that you have 48 hours to send out the acknowledgments. This is the sweet spot. However, sending out a letter within this time may be impossible. It takes a couple of days for mail to be delivered. Here are a few things you can do to save time:

  • Create templates for the letter before the campaign begins. Personalize them as the donations come in and send them out immediately. 
  • Send out a personalized text immediately after the donation is received. Thank them and let them know to expect your letter, as in the example below. This can buy you some time till the letter reaches. 

Use peer-to-peer texting to make the interaction more conversational and reply to them in case they follow up with a question. 

2. Don’t: Include a generic salutation.

The salutation is the first thing donors read in a donor appreciation letter. So, if the letter starts with something like “Greetings” or a “Dear Friend,” donors will immediately lose interest. 

Personalize it to keep their attention. A generic salutation will set a generic tone for the letter, which the donor may not be open to reading. 

Do: Personalize the salutation with the donor’s name.

Reading their name is what’s going to pique their interest. Only then will they continue reading what’s next. Keep in mind that the salutation cannot be the same for everyone, though. 

Understand your relationship with the donor first to craft the perfect salutation. Here’s how the salutations differ based on the relationship:

  • Dear Pam – Salutation for donors you’re close with, like a major donor, recurring donor, or even a young supporter
  • Respected Mr. Nicholson – Salutation for more formal relations like the executive of a business you may have partnered with or a representative of a foundation. 
  • Hello Michael – Salutation for a semi-formal relationship, typically first-time donors. 

Read Next: The only reason why donors leave (and what you can do about it).

3. Don’t: Talk about what you will achieve.

When a donor makes a gift, they are happy to be a part of bringing change that the world needs. If you want them to continue to donate, you have to ensure that they are at the same level of happiness/motivation. Talking about yourself and what you will do to help others is not going to do that. 

Do: Talk about what donors will help you achieve. 

Use donor-centric language if you want your donors to feel good about donating and hence donate more. The key is to make the donor the hero of the story. So change your statements to highlight how donors will help you bring change rather than how you will do it: 

  • “We did it” >>> “You made it possible.”
  • “We were able to (impact you made)” >>> “Your generosity has helped us (impact you made)”
  • “With the funds we raised, we will (impact you make)” >>> “Your gift was needed. With your help and several others like you, we will (impact you make)” 

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4. Don’t: Ask for another gift at this point.

Asking for another gift is going to diminish the sincerity of your donor appreciation letter. It’s going to make donors feel like nothing but a source of funds for you. This, in turn, leads to them forming a negative opinion of you. 

Do: Make low-barrier asks to get them more closely involved with you.

One way to enhance donor loyalty is by getting them more closely involved with your organization. Sure, a gift is a great way to get involved. But, when donors feel like they can do much more for you, they’ll be more invested in the cause and your organization and hence, more loyal to it. 

A few low-barrier asks you can ask them for include:

  • Getting their testimonial about why they donated that can be featured on your website or newsletter. 
  • Asking for their feedback about the donation process or your work and how you can improve things. You can use text-surveys for this to improve response rates (given that texts have the highest open rate – 98%).
  • Getting them to spread the word about your organization among their network and help you reach more people. 

5. Don’t: Craft a generic copy.

The problem with a generic copy is that readers lose interest in it. Statements like “Thank you so much” is something they might come across on a daily basis and hence not pay as much attention to it. 

If they lose their interest in reading the thank-you letter, the acknowledgment is not going to make any impact. 

Do: Wrap it in a story.

The donor appreciation letter presents an opportunity to put a smile on your donors’ faces. This is what will leave a mark on their minds and ultimately become more invested in your organization. 

Make the copy more compelling by: 

  • Wrapping it up in a story. A storytelling approach works best in inducing the right emotions. 
  • Using quotes or testimonials from real people to demonstrate the impact the donation made.

To summarize, here’s what you should and should not do:

Send it within 48 hours for maximum impact.Delay sending the letter.
Personalize the salutation with the donor’s name.Include a generic salutation.
Focus on what donors will help you achieve. Talk about what you will achieve. 
Make low-barrier asks to get them more closely involved with you.Ask for another gift at this point.
Wrap it in a story.Craft a generic copy.

With these best practices in mind, you’ll be able to craft the perfect donor thank-you letter that your donors will actually like. 

Here’s a sample thank-you letter created by Pamela Grow, a nonprofit consultant, to inspire you.


Things we love about the letter:

  1. Storytelling: The letter doesn’t comprise of generic, yawn-inducing content like “Thank you for your gift.” Instead, they spice up the copy with the story of an actual beneficiary. 
  2. Quotes: The letter supports the story by including quotes from the beneficiary to add to the impact. 
  3. Impact: The letter specifies the exact impact the donation made, which is really important information for donors. 8% of donors leave because of a lack of information on how their gift was used. 
  4. Contact information: The letter closes with the contact information of the sender. This ensures that donors have someone to connect to in case they have queries or want to do more for you.  
  5. Individual sender: Finally, the letter is signed by an individual sender. A letter sent by an organization comes off as generic or automated. With an individual, it seems as though the letter directly addresses the recipient in a conversation and hence adds to the personalization. 

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Donor appreciation letter samples

There are different types of gifts that you receive when fundraising. The impact of these gifts on your organization’s efforts to help others varies. Therefore, even the donor recognition letters you send out should be different for different gifts. 

Here are a few samples that you can use as inspiration for your letter. These are sample thank-you letters for donations sent by a charity helping out victims of a flood. 

1. Donor appreciation letter sample for a cash gift

Dear {First Name},

To you, it might have been a small amount, but for Nick {beneficiary name used in appeal} and many others, it’s a day’s worth of food and clean water. Your $20 donation has truly been a blessing for several flood victims, and we can’t thank you enough. 

When disaster strikes, it leaves countless people homeless and lacking the most basic necessities. The Disaster Relief Foundation tries to aid those affected by providing them with these essentials. 

But none of that is possible without people like you. It’s only because of you and the others that we are able to provide the flood victims with food, clean water, shelter, and clothing.

Your generosity doesn’t just provide them with the essentials they need to live. It is also an act of affirmation that encourages people who have lost everything to stay strong. 

We thank you again, on behalf of Nick and several others who are keeping you in their prayers as they move on. 

If you have any specific questions on how we’re helping the flood victims or you want further information on how to continue your support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at {telephone number}. 

With best regards,

Patricia Sanchez

President, Disaster Relief Foundation

2. Donor appreciation letter sample for major gift

Dear {First Name}

We received your generous contribution of $50,000 for the victims of the flood. Your generosity helped us achieve a milestone in helping these victims. Thanks to you, we were able to set up 250 tents to provide Nick and countless others a safe place to rest. 

When disaster strikes, it leaves countless people homeless and lacking the most basic necessities. The Disaster Relief Foundation tries to aid those affected by providing them with food, clean water, shelter, and clothing. 

But, none of that is possible without people like you. Your gift was much needed to provide victims with shelter and a safe space. 

“With the tents set up, it feels like things are getting better. We now have a place to stay together as a family, keep our things (whatever’s left), and more importantly, sleep with peace of mind in hopes that tomorrow will be better”, says Nick. 

Your gift has truly made a difference and is helping people stay strong during these challenging times. 

We thank you again for your generosity. If you have any specific questions on how your gift is being used or information on how to continue your support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at {telephone number}. 

With best regards,

Patricia Sanchez

President, Disaster Relief Foundation

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3. Thank-you letter sample for in-kind gift

Dear {First Name}, 

Thanks to you, Nick and several others will go to sleep with a full stomach tonight. 

The six packages of canned goods that you sent were received and distributed among those affected by the floods. 

We never know when disaster strikes. But when it does, it leaves countless people homeless and lacking the most basic necessities. We try to aid everyone in need by providing them with these essentials. 

The floods have not been kind to many. Thankfully, people like you have stepped up during these challenging times and helped us successfully provide victims with food, clean water, shelter, and clothing. 

As you read this, there’s a long line of people like Nick still standing strong because of your generosity. We thank you again for the compassion you have shown today and will always keep you in our prayers. 

If you have any specific questions on how we’re helping the flood victims or you want further information on how to continue your support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at {telephone number}. 

With best regards,
Patricia Sanchez
President, Disaster Relief Foundation

The foundation of a good donor retention strategy is built on strong donor relations. These donor relations are strengthened by demonstrating how much you value your donors. 

Sending out thoughtful donor appreciation letters is a simple way to do that. They go a long way in helping you build a strong base of supporters. Such a supporter base directly translates to more fruitful fundraising efforts and hence a more successful organization. 
Featured image source: Rodnae

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