How to Write a Donor Thank You Note

Dec 12, 2019Donors, Leadership, Message, Nonprofits, Philanthropy, Relationships

How-to-Write-A-Donor-Thank-You-Note Donors Leadership Message Nonprofits Philanthropy Relationships


A donor thank you note is the beginning of future gifts.

Let me share my hard-earned lesson learned about showing donor gratitude.

It was early in the formation of the foundation that I helped establish and ran for 10 years. The staff headed out for our week-long, annual convention that was months in the making. Consequently, we left a skeleton crew at the office and planned to respond to any gifts received when we returned. We knew we would have gifts to process when we returned.

With great surprise, a major gift came in the mail when we were out.

Immediately upon my return, I received a call from the major donor. Needless to say, he was not happy. He had not heard from us. You see, he had mailed in $5,000 and wanted to know if we had received his gift.

To say the least, I was devastated.

Obviously, I apologized and tried to explain that we had been at our annual convention. It didn’t matter to the donor. He had not heard from us. As you can imagine, he wanted to know we received his gift that he had mailed over a week ago.

I pledged never let that happen again.

Without question, I pledged to always be prompt in thanking donors.

First of all, donors want to know you received their gift and you appreciate them and their gift. They want to feel valued by the organization.

Letting the donor know they are appreciated is critical.

The first step upon receiving a major gift is to make a personal call to say thank-you. As soon as you hang up the phone, write a personal note of thanks.

Let’s consider the thank you note. Not all thank you notes are created equal!

Here are Three Absolutes with Every Donor Thank You Note:

1. Send a hand-written, personal, and heartfelt thank you note.

When writing your note, consider your personal connection – what the donor values about your organization.Consider how you can make your first line memorable. It's important to be sincere when you write your message.

Additionally, be sure to hand-address your note. 

You have only one chance to make a first impression when someone opens your note. Make your words count.

2. State specifically in your donor thank you note how their gift will make a difference.

Help your donors understand that they are part of the solution. Let them know they are the hero for your organization.

Certainly, they are the reason you are able to do what you do.

Share a story that conveys the impact of their gift. Say, for example, “thanks to you, 140 homeless women and children received a community style holiday dinner.”

Share recent conversations you had with beneficiaries of your work.

3.  Send your thank you note within 24-hours of gift receipt.

After immediately making the phone call to the donor to say thank you, send a note.

Sending a note promptly sends a message of how much you value them and their gift.

State the amount in the note – it lets the donor know you know the size of their gift. They put much thought into how much they would contribute. It was not on a whim. Being a major gift, they had been thinking about it for some time.


Note, these handwritten notes are in addition to the acknowledgment letters generated from your customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Furthermore, have your board chair sign the acknowledgment letters with a special hand-written note at the bottom.

Additionally, have other board members send a thank you note or make a personal call to say thank you.

Be creative in how you show gratitude.

Most important, you cannot over thank your major donors. They have more to give.

Read about how to instill a culture of gratitude.

Again, your major donors allow your organization to fulfill its mission and keep the lights on. Treat them like they should be treated – with great respect and admiration.

Question: How do you make your donor thank you notes special and personalized?

(Originally published December 26, 2018)

Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising guide. She provides overwhelmed nonprofit leaders with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at nancy@nancyrieves.com.


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