Major Donor Acknowledgment Letter Dos and Don'ts

May 17, 2019Donors, Message

Major-Donor-Acknowledgment-Letter Donors Message

Time to make a major donor acknowledgment letter; a donor has just made a major gift to your organization.

You know the drill – you send a handwritten thank-you note followed by an acknowledgment letter. Yes, you send both a note and a letter.

For more on notes, Read 3 Absolutes to Every Thank-You Note to Donors.

Acknowledgment (thank-you) letters are the beginning of future gifts. They are crucial to retaining your major donors.

Your letters convey how much your value and appreciate the donor. Their gift made a program possible  . . . or partially funded an import initiative that advances the mission.

Don’t brush off the importance of a well-written, sincerely grateful acknowledgment letter to your major donors.

These letters continue the relationship with your current major donors. They are the beginning of a relationship with your new donors.

Here are tips in crafting a thoughtful major donor acknowledgment letter:


  • Customize your letter. You are writing to one person – the hero for your organization. Make your first like memorable. E.g., “You won’t believe it! Mary is now employed, and her family is safe in a new apartment. We just heard the news, and I wanted you to be one of the first to know.”
  • Be specific of how their gift will be used. This should mirror the ask that you made to this donor.
  • Start off with a short, vivid, and compelling story (or quote) that illustrates how their gift will make a difference.
  • Be thoughtful and show heartfelt gratitude in your letter.
  • Focus on the donor, not the gift. For example, say, “You have (not your gift has) made it possible…”
  • Acknowledge the donor’s giving history if they are long-time supporters. 
  • Letters must be prompt. I recommend the acknowledgment letter drop in the mail within 72 hours of receiving the gift. Your handwritten thank-you note drops within 24 hours!
  • Have the most senior person sign the letter. Sign (no stamp) with blue ink. Consider adding a short, handwritten message at the bottom. For example, “I look forward to seeing you Friday. You are the best!”
  • Attach the IRS required information on a separate document enclosed with the acknowledgment letter.
  • Include contact information on how to be reached if they have questions. 

There are however, pitfalls in writing every major donor acknowledgment letter. Make sure you avoid them. 



  • Don’t say “On behalf of…” That distances you from your major donors. Don’t use this and other common phrases that sound like a form letter.
  • Don’t restate the name of your organization in the letter since it is already on the letter.
  • Don’t list an array of achievements or highlight all that your organization does.
  • Never make or imply about another ask in your acknowledgment letter.


Letter writing is an art and requires original thinking.

Be sincere in expressing your gratitude. Write the letter with the donor in mind. Envision the donor opening your letter. How will your words make the donor feel?

Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising coach. She provides executive and development directors with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at [email protected].


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