Answer Her Three Questions

Answer her questions.

Here’s a little checklist I use to create powerful receipt packages, autoreplies and thank you letters.

I make an assumption that after a donor makes a gift to a nonprofit, at some level she’s asking herself three questions:

  1. Did you receive my gift?
  2. Did you appreciate my gift?
  3. Are you going to do what you said you were going to do when you asked for my gift?

When writing and designing receipts and thank yous, I make sure the answers to those questions are the very first things communicated.

It’s a simple strategy, I admit. But it works for organizations that are trying to make the shift from organizational-centric communications to donor-centric communications, because it helps them avoid the common mistakes.

Notice What’s Not There

Notice something powerful…

Her questions are not about your organization. Her questions are not about your programs, your mission and vision, or your effectiveness.

Her first questions are about her and her gift.

Is there anything inherently wrong about talking about your programs, your vision and mission, or your effectiveness?

No. Of course not. But I would talk about those things after you’ve answered her primary questions.

“Did you receive my gift?”

This is more important than you think.

And if you think that most donors aren’t worried whether their gifts were received or not, I encourage you to go talk to lots of older donors who give through the mail. They often wonder this, especially when it takes more than a couple days for them to receive a receipt.

“Did you appreciate my gift?”

Donors want to feel appreciated. Valued. Meaningful. Very few nonprofits ever tell their donors that.

If you communicate to your donor that she’s appreciated, valued and meaningful – don’t you think there’s a much better chance that your donor will give you another gift down the road?

“Are you going to do what you said you were going to do when you asked for my gift?”

Most organizations make asks of their donors in specific situations: “please help us raise $400,000 at the event tonight” or “please give a gift to support the annual fund” or “your $25 gift today will introduce a local child to the opera.”

But then those organizations send boilerplate thank-yous that don’t acknowledge the specific ask. They ask you to “introduce a local child to the opera” and then send a thank you letter that says, “Your gift is supporting our 11 programs to support the arts in our county.”

To a donor, this causes disconnect. She wonders, “Hey, did the organization not know that I was giving to introduce a kid to the opera?”

You don’t want your donor wondering things like that!

It leaves the impression that a) the organization doesn’t have its act together, or b) it’s cavalier with donors’ gifts.


You don’t want to leave that impression. Especially if it’s the first thank you/receipt a donor receives.

The solution: customized thank you copy for each specific ask/event/offer you put in front of your donors.

My Suggestion

Answer her three questions first. Then the rest of what you put in there is up to you.

If your organization is exceptionally effective at using her gift, that’s of value to her. If you know she supports the same vision you do, that’s of value to her, too.

Just start by answering the questions she’s asking. That strategy will rarely lead you astray.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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