IMG_3059Last year my grandma gave me a big envelope, contents bulging. “What is it?” I looked in.

“It’s cards and letters,” she said. “I don’t want my kids having to clean things up,” she added in her no-nonsense way as I pulled out a card. They were written to her from me when I was a kid. I looked through it a bit when I got home, but feeling melancholy I put it in my box of mementos.

But last week I was tidying the shelf that had the box of old photos and keepsakes and this unmarked envelope rose to my attention.

There it was: everything I ever wrote to her. I sat on the floor and read every one. There were lots of thank you notes and chatty letters, postcards from travel, some get well cards, my birth and graduation announcements she had kept. I felt sentimental and happy she had saved them.

It made me think: what would it look like if my donors had saved every thank you letter, correspondence, newsletter… Would your donors have a certain sameness (everything on letterhead) and would there also be a certain sameness to wording and sentiment?

Here are some of the opening lines of letters I’ve saved…

“On behalf of the 11,000 people in our province living with (disease)…”

“Thank you for your tribute gift of $50 to Charity X. Your generosity and support are greatly appreciated. Below is a summary of your pledge.”

“Thank you for your recent contribution of $30. It will help to fund (disease) research at Canadian medical centres.”

“Thank you for your generous donation to Charity Y. Donations of $25 or greater will be issued a charitable receipt for income tax purposes. (That, dear reader, was the opening line of the donation confirmation email for a gift of $100.)

Or do your donors actually feel inspired?

“Behind every changed life is someone who made it happen. I’m thrilled that someone is you!”

“Thank you for being a partner in ending violence against women!”

“Through your generosity, in 2015, approximately 1,000 young adults will have the opportunity to climb, paddle, and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives, and connect with others doing the same.”

I hope that you are doing a few things to surprise and delight your supporters:

  • Write warmly, suffused with gratitude. Wooden, impersonal business writing is so 1970. So why do so many charities persist? Recall a time when you received a birthday gift that really spoke to you. Channel those true feelings of appreciation into your Thank You letters.
  • Don’t thank your donor for helping your charity do the work, thank your donor for getting the work DONE. This is a big mistake charities make. You want the donor to feel they are the solution! Not just a cog in your machine. More YOU (the donors) and less WE (the charity).
  • Show and tell impact. Especially if the gift was directed to a certain program, share a story. Share the breadth and depth of the work your donor is getting done! (and, psst! if the letter goes to two pages to share the story, that is OK!)
  • Remind your donor why the gift is needed now. You likely needed the money now to get the work completed, underway or to continue. Tell your donor. In heart-felt terms.
  • Invite your donor to keep in touch. In many of my letters to grandma (and other letters I still write) I ask questions. No, they won’t be answered until the reader sees the question – but it is the start of a dialogue. Invite your donor to share, to respond, to visit. Simple prompts like, “We love hearing why hospital X is important to you – drop a line to share your own story.” Or use an engagement device where the donor can send back a card, ornament or note. (Hat-tip to Agents of Good and their Humbert campaign.)
  • Change up how you keep in touch. Hopefully your donor will get at least TWO thank yous for each gift – the acknowledgement that is usually triggered by the gift via the database entry procedures and… a call? a handwritten card? an email from someone else in your organization? a video? Surprise and delight your donors with something out of your charity’s ordinary. And keep in mind the thank-to-ask ratio should be HIGH on the thanking side, not just 1:1.
  • Include your details to be in touch. Sure, some charities have letters signed by the Executive Director and then have the phone number or email of the gift processor or annual giving manager in case the donor “has questions.” The writer and signatory of the letter should include her or his details! After all, caring about donors should be part of every charity’s ED/ President/ CEO portfolio. (And if you are afraid there may be too many negative calls, then perhaps there is a more systemic problem!)

Not every thank you letter will be cherished by your supporters. But imagine it will. Why not try to write one worth keeping?


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