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10 Elements of a Good Donor Thank You

There is debate in the sphere of fundraising these days about how “donor-centric” a nonprofit organization should be. Some argue that the mission should always take a front seat, and putting the donor first is a mistake. We believe both are possible–that there is a “right intersection” of focusing on your mission/community and on donors who will give and feel good about the difference they can make.

Young woman expressing appreciation with her hands crossed over her heart

Most agree that saying thank you is important.

Expressing gratitude is not just an activity for the approach of year-end, but it is a great time to revisit the elements of effective donor communication. Individual and cultural preferences may surprise you, so asking how a donor wants to be acknowledged is a great practice.

Generally speaking, here are a few of our guidelines for showing appreciation here at MCF:

  1. Be sincere. We know that genuine words of gratitude can truly be felt by a recipient. Neither flowery language nor institutional jargon are compelling. We just try to be real about it.
  2. Make it simple. Donors are not expecting an extravagant thank you for the charitable gift they make or commit. Many are offended by spending dollars on recognition items that do not help to advance the work of the organization, so we limit those.
  3. Make the thank you timely. Getting an immediate thank you (within 24 hours) is ideal. A simple email will work while our official gift acknowledgement letter is in process.
  4. Don’t ask for anything else. We make the first contact after receiving the gift one of gratitude. We choose to ask later for the next gift.
  5. Talk about the impact. A sentence or two about what the gift will accomplish–or is part of accomplishing–reinforces the great decision a donor made to invest in us.
  6. Put your board to work. A quick note or phone call from a board member lets the donor know they are important and recognized. It also provides our board member with a way to feel how simple stewardship–the act of caring for donors–can be.
  7. Get personal. Sometimes we receive an email with a story about a person who benefitted from a grant. It’s no more than a short paragraph and a simple note–“Just wanted you to know about the kind of impact we see because of gifts like yours…” It personalizes the work in a way that is hard to forget. We love to pass these along to donor advisors.
  8. Ask a question. Is the donor new to us? When we communicate with new donors, we ask what brought them our way. It can be the first step in building a relationship. It also helps us learn how people are discovering our work. Quite often, we learn that we need to thank a current donor or professional advisor for recommending our organization.
  9. Do not make assumptions. Some of the greatest planned giving prospects make annual gifts of $100 or less. A small gift is not necessarily a gift made by a donor with small means. We treat all gifts as important. They are.
  10. Make a practice of saying thank you. It is not time consuming to reach out to a few random donors each day to thank them for their past giving. We take the time to ask them about what is on their minds, if they are aware of the latest work we are doing. Quite often, those calls, emails, or notes will lead to an unexpected gift.

We love the practice of gratitude.

Outside of its benefits to your nonprofit and to the generous people who think of you with their charitable dollars, it feels good to be thankful.