How to Thank Your Donor So She Actually Feels Thanked

Thank You.

The goal of your Thank You and/or Receipt package is not just to acknowledge your donor’s donation.

Any organization can do that.

Any autoreply or receipt letter can do that.

Your goal should be to make your donor feel thanked, appreciated and important.


When you thank her for helping your organization do its work, you’ve made it about you, about your organization.

What you want to do is make it about her. So, thank her for her generosity. Tell her what her gift is going to do (instead of saying what your organization is going to do). Tell her how important she is to your organization.

When you do that, you’ll find that most of your Thank You/Receipt copy is about her. And less of it is about your organization.

Less about You, More about Her

Donors are inundated with requests for support. In the United States, there’s one nonprofit for every 200 people. And almost all of those organizations talk about themselves. Endlessly.

But a very few of them have learned the secret: your donors are more interested in themselves – their lives, their values, their impact – than they are in your organization.

So if you talk to donors about their lives, their values and their impact, they will finally feel like a nonprofit “gets” them. They’ll feel that there’s a nonprofit that’s working on their behalf – trying to help them do what they want to do – instead of just another nonprofit trying to sound great to get their next donation.

Do you feel the fundamental difference? The posture of gratitude for what the donor did, not for what she helped your organization do?

If you can embrace that fundamental difference, and start communicating to your donors that way, you’ll begin to build a tribe of loyal donors who will give you more gifts, larger gifts, and will give to you for longer.

This post was originally published on May 21, 2019.

Six Tips for the First Sentence of Your Next Thank You/Receipt Letter

Heat Map

How you write the first sentence of your receipt letter (or autoreply email) makes a great deal of difference for whether your donor keeps reading… or not.

Let me give you five tips we live by at Better Fundraising.

Be Direct

The more direct and “to the point” you can be, the better. Here are two first sentences that I use all the time:

“Thank you for your generous gift of [GiftAmt]!”

“You are so generous, thank you!”

Using your first sentence to “send the main message” is an effective tactic in your donor communications. Your donor doesn’t have to read any further and she’s already received the message you’re trying to send.

Short and sweet

Think of the first sentence as the “on-ramp” to the rest of your note or letter. If the on-ramp is easy, your donor is likely to keep reading.

If the on-ramp sentence is long, with lots of clauses or jargon, your donor is less likely to keep reading.

Share the Outcome

Another powerful idea is to share the outcome of the donor’s gift. This isn’t always possible, but here are some examples:

“Thank you for your gift to put on this fall’s exhibit.”

“Thank you for your poverty-fighting gift!”

“Thank you for your generosity, your gift will fund vital research!”

It’s great if you can thank your donor and give her a sense of what her gift will accomplish – in one short sentence.

Start with the Beneficiaries

It’s always a good idea to mention the people or thing your organization serves! This results in first sentences like this:

“Thank you for your gift to protect endangered wetlands!”

“Thank you for your gift to help the children!”

“Thank you for preserving heirloom quilts for quilt-lovers to see!”

Use ‘You’

The word “you” is magical at getting your reader’s attention. It’s also a good way to signal to the donor that this piece of communication is about them – that they should be interested in this and want to read it.

“Your generosity amazes me!”

Use the word “you” early and often.

It’s Not About Your Organization

One of the secondary benefits of using the word “you” is that you’re not writing your organization’s name, or the words “we” or “us.”

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with those words or your organization’s name. Just remember that the best Thank You’s tend to be about the donor and their gift – and not about the organization.

Final Thought

You want to write something that your donor is interested in reading, and makes her want to keep reading.

If it helps, here’s an example of what not to do. It’s my all-time favorite bad opening line of a thank you / receipt letter:

“Recently, we returned from an all-staff retreat.”

Ask yourself, why would a donor want to keep reading?

If you want your donors to keep reading, follow the guidelines above. Your Thank You’s and Receipt Letters will improve in no time!

What a Heat Map Should Teach You About Thanking

Heat Map

I want you to think about the graphic above the next time you look at your Thank You/Receipt letter.

Why?  Because let’s make sure you’re not accidentally hiding the main message you’re trying to send a donor right after they’ve given you a gift!    

Heat Maps

The graphic above is what’s called a “heat map.”  It tracks where reader’s eyes looked as they read this piece of direct mail fundraising.  It also tracks the order in which the Reader looked at each area.

Not all heat maps look the same, but they generally look like this one.

And if you look at any of them, you quickly see that donors tend to read the beginnings and endings of your messages, and not much in between. 

A Question for You

I want you to visualize your organization’s Receipt letters and Thank You letters.  Better yet, print them out and put them on your desk.

With this heat map in mind, do your receipt letters and Thank You letters actually communicate what you are trying to communicate?

Is it easy for a donor to read that she is being thanked, and that your organization is full of gratitude for her?

Or have you accidentally hidden the main message in places where your donors are less likely to read them?

My advice is to make sure that there is a clear Thank You in two of the following three places:

  • The first sentence
  • The last sentence
  • In the upper right corner

Why two of the three?  To increase the chances that a “skimmer” will read one of them.  Because you don’t know what part a donor is going to read!

Your Assignment

I could go deeper on all this.  But I’d rather you spend your time looking at your Thank You and Receipt letters.  Same thing goes for the email versions.

Make sure that your message of gratitude is easily seen at just a glance – because that’s often all you get! 

Does the rest of your message need to be well-written?  Of course (I talk about it in this post).  But a surprising amount of Thank You success is dependent on getting the top and bottom correct!

An Unfortunate Thanking Adventure in Three Paragraphs

Today I want to share an example of an unfortunate Thanking experience that happened to me.

It’s from a small, under-staffed organization. I’m not throwing rocks here – I love the organization, we’ll donate again, and I know full well the challenges of doing all this stuff well at a small shop.

But it’s a real-life example of how a Thank You can get off-target in just three short paragraphs.

The Salutation

“Dear Stephen.”

Ouch. Not a great start to misspell my name (especially after spelling it correctly in my email address), but we’ve all done it.

The First Paragraph

“Your generous donation is greatly appreciated!”

That’s a great first paragraph. It starts with the word “you.” It’s short and easy to understand. The exclamation point makes it feel human, not corporate. Great stuff.

The Second Paragraph

“You are cordially invited [Organization Name]’s Giving Circle and gift a free membership to the [Organization Name]’s Health Advisor Training Program to anyone of your choosing. You can find an explanation of the giving circle here:”

This is where this short Thank You email loses track of its job, its purpose. A Thank You should be about the donor and the gift they just gave, not about the organization and the donor’s next gift.

A one-sentence Thank You followed by an invitation to give more is not what I’d recommend when thanking a donor for a gift.

The Third Paragraph

“Please find attached a personal thank you from [Name], Executive Director of [Organization Name]. If you would like to receive a magnet ([Organization Name]’s logo) in the mail, please reply to this email with your physical address. Again, thank you for your support!”

As a donor, I wondered why the Executive Director didn’t send their Thank You to me directly. The subtle message to the donor in a situation like this is that “I’m not important enough to hear directly from the highest-ranking person.”

As a fundraising professional, I marveled at the email bringing up another thing for me to do. If you’re scoring at home, that’s three (join the giving circle, give a free membership to something I’ve never heard of, and get a magnet), which is two too many.

The Lessons

There’s a lot going on in this little three-paragraph Thank you. But here are three lessons you can use to make sure your Thank You’s are on target:

  • I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: a Thank You should be about the donor and the gift they just gave, not about the organization and the donor’s next gift. Use your Thank You’s to make your donor feel appreciated and special. Save any overt talk of further giving until later communications.
  • Keep it simple. Sharing a way a donor can get more involved is a great idea – the magnet in this email is a nice touch. But giving a donor three different things is too many. There should never be more than one.
  • Save it for later. There’s a lot of great content in this email; it’s just too much for one email. Save some things for later (or your New Donor Welcome stream), and use them as reasons to contact the donor again. For instance, this organization could send me a separate email about the free membership that I can give.

If you want to go deeper, I recently shared a free template for a Thank You/Receipt letter, and an 8-minute video walking you through the template, over at Work Less Raise More.

The Thank You section of that letter is a great example of a short, powerful Thank You.

Good luck with your Thank Yous!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Thank you for the work you do!

On behalf of your beneficiaries or cause, you make the generous act of asking donors to help. That’s a gift to who or whatever you serve, to your organization, and to your donors.

Fundraising is often hard, draining work. You have to see and hear so many stories that are tough. Then you have to share them. You have to be other-focused. All of which is wearing.

But there are so many parts of fundraising to be thankful for! For the funds you help raise that make your organization’s work possible. For increasing people’s awareness of what you’re working on and giving those people a chance to do something about it. For the incredible changes made possible by your organization.

You make the world a better place! As Dr. Martin Luther King says, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Thank you for “bending the arc” towards justice – and we at Better Fundraising love getting to be a small part of the great work you do.

Thank you for being a Fundraiser, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

~ Jim & Steven

Donor-Centricity and Boundaries

Line island.

A quick post about donor-centricity…

Based on my understanding of donor-centricity, I believe most of the critiques are targeting what I’d call “donor-centricity taken too far.”

And anything can be taken too far. No technology or tactic has ever been invented that hasn’t been misused or corrupted. But that doesn’t mean the technology or tactic is bad.

What IS Donor-Centricity?

Donor-centricity is a marketing tactic. The principle is borrowed from advertising and is based on the first rule of human persuasion: you must meet someone where they are before you can get them to go anywhere.

This shows up in fundraising writing. A donor-centric e-appeal might start off with, “You know how important it is to have enough nurses during the pandemic.” Where an organization-centric e-appeal might start off with, “Our nursing program produces the most qualified nurses in the tri-state area, and we’ve grown 140% in response to the pandemic.”

Donor-centricity is also an organizational stance, a “leaning in” towards donors and their needs.

This shows up in how an organization spends its time and resources. A donor-centric organization might send a hand-signed thank you note to each new donor within 48 hours of their donation. Whereas another organization might send thank you notes but “batch” sign them at the end of the month when it’s easier for the signer.

Neither is right or wrong. An organization’s level of donor-centricity depends both on how much it adopts the approach and on how many resources are available.

Organizations have adopted donor-centric approaches over time because they tend to result in increased money raised and increased capacity for the organization to achieve its mission.

However, an organization’s “increased capacity” is not more important than the organization’s staff or beneficiaries.


Organizations should have boundaries around their donor-centric approach.

For instance, an organization can practice donor-centricity and absolutely say things like:

Donor, you are not welcome at our events any longer because you make the younger staffers feel uncomfortable.

I’m sorry, Donor, but we can’t accept your donation and its requirements because that would change our mission.

Staff Member, I see that writing the daily Thank You notes is one of the things causing you to burn out. Let’s change that practice because you are more important than a marketing goal.

Donor-centricity should never harm your organization, staff, beneficiaries, or ability to perform your mission.

Knowing what donor-centricity is (a marketing tactic, an approach) and knowing what it isn’t (“the donor is always right”) can lead to an organization having both the fundraising and relational benefits of donor-centricity AND a healthy organizational culture.

In Memory of My Fundraising Mentor


I’ve been wondering how to talk about a certain situation, and Jeff Brooks just did me a favor.

Here’s the situation…

My Father passed away a little more than a month ago.  He was my fundraising mentor. 

Longtime readers know that I mention my mentor pretty regularly.  He’s in this post and in this post.  Though he’s not mentioned, he’s all over this free eBook

I purposefully never mentioned that I was talking about my Dad.  I wanted your takeaway to be the fundraising knowledge that was shared and the power of mentorship, not that I was related to my mentor.

But he was my Dad, too.

So it brought me (and my family) great joy to read yesterday’s blog post by Jeff Brooks at Future Fundraising Now.  With Jeff’s permission, I’m going to post it here in its entirety.

Future Fundraising Now: In memory of Bob Screen, fundraising mentor

In memory of Bob Screen, fundraising mentor

Posted: 24 May 2021 08:38 AM PDT

Last month, we lost one of the giants of fundraising, and my fundraising mentor: Bob Screen.

If you haven’t heard of him, it’s because retired a while ago and has little online presence. But if you’re over a certain age, you’ve heard of him. And you probably know him as a leading figure who helped make direct-response fundraising effective and knowledge-driven like it had not been before. He was especially a pioneer in direct mail and long-form broadcast fundraising.

I met him in the late 80s when I become a copywriter at his fundraising agency, Screen Communications. I had slim experience writing fundraising, but he hired me anyway.

This is the part of my professional journey that I rarely share the details about. I make it sound quick, easy, almost magical. Like: “I struggled in fundraising, then I found a mentor, and everything came together for me.”

That’s true, but it doesn’t reveal quite how it went. It was difficult. Sometimes painful. And it took a long time.

Here’s how my mentor worked with me:

I’d write a project for one of our clients and route it to him. He’d call me into his office, where he’d be waiting with my project (On paper; no email yet!) and a very sharp pencil.

He’d go through the project almost word by word, crossing things out, circling things, scribbling notes … and most importantly, explaining what he was doing and why.

I probably learned more about effective fundraising in one sitting like this than is possible at a whole quality fundraising conference.

But it was far from easy. I didn’t always get it first time around. I routinely repeated mistakes that I learned not to make. Bob never let those mistakes ride. Second time, third time … he’d raise the temperature of his corrections and the importance of the principle behind it.

Here’s the thing: any piece of information, no matter how useful, does not become your own until you’ve used it several times.

It’s necessary to screw up a few times in order to learn.

That doesn’t make it any less embarrassing.

There were times when I would have chewed off my leg to escape. I think you’d have felt the same way.

But it was effective. And over time I internalized hundreds of techniques and truths about fundraising, and became better and better at applying those odd and often counterintuitive truths to new situations.

More important, Bob Screen transmitted a mindset that made it possible to keep on learning. Things like:

  • You are not the donor. Writing in a way you find persuasive is not a dependable strategy. Get outside of your own head.
  • Offer! Always have a specific, compelling, simple call to action for your donors.
  • Write with energy. If you want to get through with your message, no project is ever “routine.”

Mindset is everything, because conditions change. If all you know are techniques, you’ll fall farther behind every year.

These things are gifts that have supported my career in the decades since.

The power of having a mentor — one who will stick with you in that awkward “adolescent” stage, where you’ve learned things, but don’t yet apply them consistently.

It’s not easy. Sometimes not fun. But it’s the greatest professional gift you can receive.

So I join many others who faced the sharp-pencil Bob Screen critiques in saying Thank you and Good bye to a giant.

Robert Screen
1940 – 2021
Everlasting Memory

Thank you, Jeff, for doing a brilliant job capturing so many of the themes my Dad taught – themes that are familiar (I hope!) to longtime readers: that every word matters, that you are going to screw up in order to learn, that you are not the donor, and to have a clear offer. 

That approach – that “mindset” as Jeff calls it – is what I was blessed to receive and what this blog is attempting to pass on.

There’s a final thing to mention.  The “sharp-pencil critiques.”  My Dad reviewed my copy the same way; word by word, explaining the principles behind the edits, and never letting a mistake ride.  He was a hard guy to work for.

And this is the pencil sharpener he used to sharpen all those pencils.  I took this picture when it was on his desk, next to one of his favorite pencils (Dixon Ticonderoga 1388 2 5/10, of course).

As I write this post, the pencil sharpener is on my desk.  It’s a great reminder to pay attention to every word. 

Not because the “writing” must be great. 

But because the right ideas, in the right order, arranged so that they break through into the donor’s life, can change the world one gift at a time.  And then thousands of gifts at a time.

Thanks, Dad.  I love you.

Thank Your 2019 Donors Meaningfully Right Away

Thank you.

We recommend to all our clients to send a meaningful Thank You to their donors in January.

It should be a non-normal Thank You. It should stand out from the rest of your donor communications.

We believe in this so much we invented “Thankuary” several years ago to help an organization do this. (That organization, by the way, just DOUBLED their year-end fundraising from 2018 to 2019.)

Because here’s the thing:

If you want to have the best chance of keeping your donors,

You have to Thank your donors well

Then later Report back to them on the effects of their gift.

Make It Meaningful

It’s January, which means you just Asked your donors quite a bit at the end of the year. (At least I hope you did). Which means it’s time to Thank your donors.

Here’s what to do:

  • Make it stand out in her mailbox. Send it in a larger envelope. Say “thank you” in audaciously large type on the envelope. Use a bold, exciting color.
  • Make it emotional. It should read like a personal note of incredible gratitude. Your ED might not like to sound emotional, but emotion is exactly what’s called for.
  • Do not initially thank your donor for supporting your organization. Instead, thank her for making a difference for your cause or beneficiaries. Thank her for her generosity. Thank her for her attention. Then, after you’ve done those things, you can thank her for supporting your organization.
  • Tell a couple short stories to illustrate donor impact. I’m talking two or three paragraphs each.
  • Send it only to donors who gave in the last twelve months.

This mailing doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. You don’t need photos. You don’t need charts, graphs or graphics.

You just need a letter that makes your donor feel thanked, like an important, valued part of your organization.

If you can’t send out a letter, do as much of the above as possible via email. But know that fewer people will read it, and it will feel less meaningful to them.

Ideally, you can do both. And in a best-case scenario: we have clients send an email to their donors to let them know the letter is coming.

The Effects

Can you imagine a better way – from a donor’s point of view – that you could start the year?

She’ll feel meaningful to your organization. She’ll know she’s appreciated. She’ll know that her gift made a difference.

She’s then more likely to donate when you send your next appeal.

She’s then more likely to donate next year-end.

She’s then more likely to keep you as one of her charities.

Seems like a pretty good return for the investment of time to send this letter, doesn’t it?

Do NOT Start Your E-Appeals with a Thank You

Thank donors.

We ran a test that you should know about.

We randomly divided a nonprofit’s email file into two groups. We sent both groups the same year-end email with just one difference: the first sentence of one group’s email thanked the donor for their previous support.

The version that began with the Thank You raised significantly less money.

The Lesson: don’t start your appeals or e-appeals by thanking your donor for their previous giving

It seems like the right thing to do – but it raises less money.

So we now have a policy: do not start appeals or e-appeals with a Thank You for the donor’s previous giving.

My Attempt to Explain the Results

Always remember that most donors don’t read the whole thing.

Remember the “heat map”? The eye-tracking studies that prove most donors jump around, don’t read things from top-to-bottom, and certainly don’t read the whole thing?

Here’s my explanation: a number of your donors will read the first line of your emails. And if that line is Thanking them for their previous giving, they appreciate being thanked and then delete your message because they think nothing is being asked of them.

Another thing to remember: at year-end, your donors are moving even faster than normal. They have parties to go to, presents to wrap, etc.

And if a significant amount of your donors stop reading after the first sentence, you are going to raise less money.

So for your December and year-end fundraising emails this year, don’t succumb to the temptation of Thanking your donors right off the bat. It feels like it’s the right thing to do. But you’ll raise less money!