October 29, 2013

Sometimes nonprofits behave as if the thank-you letter is the end of the relationship with the donor. After all, we got the gift. The donor is ours. Let’s move on to the next donor.


For the first-time donor, the thank-you letter is the start of the relationship. For loyal donors, the thank-you letter is a meaningful continuation of the donor journey, an important wayside moment.

Or maybe not. Maybe your thank-you letter is just pro forma, not particularly interesting, somewhat boring. Not worthy of a smile, not particularly special.

Tom and I are long-time donors to NCLR, the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “The audacity to fight for justice. The perseverance to win.” I like that “positioning statement.” NCLR launches legal battles, goes to court for justice.

So here are my favorite parts of the letter that accompanied the annual report. No solicitation. Just a thank you.

Let’s start with the salutation: “Dear Simone and Tom.” As loyal donors, the executive director calls us by our first names. And she knows that it is “Tom,” not “Thomas.”

First sentence: “I am honored, as always, to enclose NCLR’s 2012 Annual Report.”

A paragraph I particularly like: “I have also included our 2013 Donor Survey. It would mean so much to me – and would help to share and improve our communications with you and our careful stewardship of your giving – if you would complete it and return it to us. (And then Kate, the Executive Director and signer of the letter, offers me the online link, too.)

Here’s the paragraph I just love! “The accomplishments highlighted within this Annual Report are as much yours as they are NCLR’s — without you, none of this would have been possible. There is truly no way to fully express what your support and investment mean to NCLR.”

Tom and I are part of the team. As Tom always says, we are on the field, part of the team. We donors are not up in the grandstands cheering the team on the playing field. We are on the playing field, too.

And then the last sentence of the letter: “Without the right words, I am left only with the two that come closest: Thank you.

And Kate signs it, “In gratitude.”

Look at those two final sentences together: “There is truly no way to fully express what your support and investment mean to NCLR. Without the right words, I am left only with the two that come closest: Thank you.”

Yes, I might make some tweaks. For example, I might say: “…what your support and investment mean to NCLR and all those fighting for justice.” Or: “…what your support and investment mean to the fight for justice.”

Whatever… I was moved. The letter is staying in my files as a good example. Tom wants to put it in his donor-centered communications slide show when he presents. And that donor survey? Yes. Yes. Yes. Smart and important. Donor satisfaction with the fundraising office is one of the major retention criterion.

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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