How to Write Your Thank You Letter

One of the most powerful things that every fundraiser does is say ‘thank you’. It’s also something that a lot of organizations find difficult. There’s always the temptation to turn the thank you letter into a gift receipt, to ask for another gift, or to write about things that are more important to the letter writer than to the donor. Some organizations even forget to say ‘thank you’ altogether!

So I’m providing this short guide on how to write a thank you letter. For my examples, I’ll use the Greater Madison Animal Welfare Center, which I’m pretty confident is a fictional organization.

The Salutation

While all of your letters should be personalized, this is especially important for thank you letters. Select a salutation that fits with your organization’s voice, whether that’s formal (e.g., Dear Mr. and Mrs. Jones) or informal (e.g. Dear Jack and Jill).

Example: Dear Jack and Jill,

The First Paragraph

This may be the only part of the body of the letter that your donor reads, and that means that it has to do the heavy lifting. This paragraph should absolutely say ‘thank you’. It can also let the donor know that you know the amount of the gift and – in a general sense, what it was used for.

Example: Thank you so much for your gift of $100 to sponsor one of our kennels! Your gift is being put to work to provide a comfortable home for a dog until he finds his forever home. Thanks to you, a dog will have a warm, safe place to stay, along with good meals, medical care, companionship, and play time.

The Middle

This is a good opportunity to expand on what you wrote in the first paragraph. The most important thing here is to connect the donor to the good that her gift did. This isn’t about your budget. This isn’t about your organizational concerns. This is about the work that the donor has done by giving that gift. In other words, this is about the people you serve.

Example: Dogs like Beauregard. Beauregard is a four-year old terrier to came to us last week. He’s energetic, friendly, and gets along with everyone. We’re sure he’ll find a forever home soon. Until then, your gift is providing a wonderful temporary home for him.

The Last Paragraph

Take just a moment to say thank you one last time and let the donor know how big of an impact she had.

Example: Thank you for partnering with us through your generous gift. We, and the animals we care for, are ever grateful.

The Valediction

Yes, the part of the letter where you write ‘Sincerely,’ or ‘Yours Truly,’ has a name! It’s the valediction. Don’t sweat this too much, but make it something professional, warm, and suited to your organization. Most nonprofits might use ‘Yours’. A church might use ‘In Christ’s name’ or ‘Grace and Peace’.

Example: Warmly Yours,

The Signature

There’s a lot of debate to be had over who should sign a thank you letter. Some people say that the executive director or president of the board of directors should sign letters. Others suggest that the people who run the program the gift effects should sign the letter for that gift. There’s a case to be made for each of those, and an easy way to solve the dilemma is to have layered thank you letters (i.e.the executive director sends one thank you letter, which is followed up by a letter from a program director).

There is one hard and fast rule, though: always hand sign thank you letters. Printed signatures are not acceptable.

The Postscript

The postscript is one of the most read parts of any letter. This is a great opportunity for a call to action, as long as that call to action isn’t asking for another gift. I recommend providing donors with a way to get more information about the work that their gift is doing. This might include an invitation to view stories on your website. And don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ one more time!

Example: PS: Thank you again for your generous support. If you’d like to see more about the work your gift is doing, please visit us at madisonanimals.org/news.

That Pesky IRS Language

It’s true that our friends at the Internal Revenue Service mandates that your gift acknowledgements contains certain information. This information includes:

  • The amount of the gift or, if it’s a gift-in-kind, a description of the gift,
  • A statement about whether the donor received any goods or services in exchange for the gift, and
  • If goods or services were received by the donor, a good faith estimate of their value.

But this should not be the focus of the letter! If you’ve followed the example above, you’ve already included the amount (though you might want to include the amount and date again). So, if it’s a thank you letter for a regular gift, you just need a statement that the donor didn’t receive any goods or services in exchange for that gift. I prefer to put this in a small note at the bottom of the letter.

Example: For your tax records, and in compliance with 26 US Code§170(f)(8), this letter also serves as verification that no goods or services were given in exchange for your gift.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the template above is useful. The most important thing to remember, though, is that the thank you letter has a very simple job: to let the donor know you received the gift, to thank them for that gift, and to tell them that the gift is being put to work as they intended. If you keep that in mind – and an attitude of gratitude in your heart – writing a thank you letter shouldn’t be an arduous task.

Here’s the whole letter:

Dear Jack and Jill,

Thank you so much for your gift of $100 to sponsor one of our kennels! Your gift is being put to work to provide a comfortable home for a dog until he finds his forever home. Thanks to you, a dog will have a warm, safe place to stay, along with good meals, medical care, companionship, and play time.

Dogs like Beauregard.

Beauregard is a four-year old terrier to came to us last week. He’s energetic, friendly, and gets along with everyone. We’re sure he’ll find a forever home soon. Until then, your gift is providing a wonderful temporary home for him.

Thank you for partnering with us through your generous gift. We, and the animals we care for, are ever grateful.

Warmly Yours,

Jane Johnson
Executive Director

PS: Thank you again for your generous support. If you’d like to see more about the work your gift is doing, please visit us at madisonanimals.org/news.

Date of Gift: September 9, 2016
Amount of Gift: $100

For your tax records, and in compliance with 26 US Code§170(f)(8), this letter also serves as verification that no goods or services were given in exchange for your gift.