Thank you letters are a funny thing. Everyone knows they’re a golden opportunity for building loyalty and making donors feel warm and fuzzy. There are all kinds of elements that make a thank you letter work, and there are all kinds of ways to muck it up. We all know the major Don’ts: Forgetting to personalize. Not reporting back. Using lots of org-speak.

But there’s one sneaky way to undermine your thank you letters that often flies under the radar. It’s subtle. But it also totally takes your donor out of the story.

“Your contributions have helped us ensure…”

“…your gifts have made possible…”

“With your donation, we will…”

These are one of my greatest peeves in thank you letters.

Consider this: A donor isn’t actually giving to you. They’re actually giving to a cause they care about. Your charity is the vehicle they picked to make that gift, because they believe that you are the best steward of their dollars. They trust that you know how to make the greatest possible impact with their hard-earned money.

Your donors are well aware that you’re the one providing the services. But you know that you’re only able to do that work because of those compassionate donors. So why not give them a little more credit?

When you phrase thank you letters like the examples above, you discount the donor’s agency in their gift. It shoves you, the organization, right into that powerful relationship between donor and cause. You remove the donor from the outcome of their gift. You make it about you, when it needs to be about them. You’re like an awkward third wheel on a date.

Instead of telling donors what their contribution did, tell them what THEY did. The gift came from them, didn’t it? It’s an extension of the human being, in financial form.

Example: Joanne’s gift to you didn’t help thousands of children get vaccinated – Joanne vaccinated thousands of children. You aren’t purchasing new equipment thanks to Max’s gift – Max purchased that new equipment for you. Put the donor in the driver’s seat of your stewardship.

Let your thank you letters empower your donor. When you do, a donor hears a very clear message. It is this: “Look at what I did. Look at the impact I had. Wow, I’m so glad that Charity X was able to help me make such a difference. They are great and I trust them and I will upgrade to monthly giving right away.”


Banner image by David Michalczuk from Flickr via Creative Commons.