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How to Write Thank-You Notes to Donors By Lisa Smith

Heartfelt Thank-You Notes Return a Blessing

As you steward the resources entrusted to your organization, one of the most important skills you can cultivate is writing thank-you notes to donors. Your Christian nonprofit team has the privilege and responsibility to be thankful.

Scripture is clear that we are to be grateful to God. Likewise, numerous passages demonstrate the significance of gratitude in all relationships. Even so, many of us can easily relate to Jesus when he questioned,

“Where are the other nine?”

Luke 17:17

He healed ten lepers, and only one returned to thank him. This narrative is a popular children’s story because it teaches the value of a timely, heartfelt thank you.

It is fitting to affirm your donors for the vital role they play in enabling your organization to further its mission. There are several things to keep in mind when saying thank you.

Handwritten

In today’s teeming email inboxes, a handwritten note garners more attention and creates a moment with your donor. It dramatically increases the likelihood that your message will be read—and remembered. Long before electronic giving, there was wisdom in the saying, “If they took the time to write a check and mail it, then I can take the time to write a thank you note and mail it.” One hybrid approach is to include a handwritten note on a form letter or standard gift acknowledgment to be mailed.

Personal

Whenever possible, make the note personal. Excellent, thank you notes are personalized enough that you couldn’t write the same thing to anyone. Try to include something to make your donor feel known. One helpful practice is to keep notes in your CRM to track conversations, circumstances, or significant life events. Did you see them at a recent event? Mention something from that context they can relate to simply because they were there. In the same way, you could refer to an upcoming event to make an impact statement that personalizes the fruit of their giving when you do not know the donor personally.

Timely

When writing thank you notes, you should aim to respond promptly. In determining timeliness, it can be worthwhile to consider the method of the donor’s gift. They should have received a standard email confirmation if they made a gift online. On the other hand, if they directed a distribution from a Donor Advised Fund (DAF), the donor will not know your organization received it until they receive some acknowledgment. Furthermore, distributions from DAFs are not tax deductible, so they are excluded from your organization’s standard protocol for generating tax letters. Be diligent in letting the donor know their gift was received and appreciated. Good, old-fashioned checks in the mail also deserve prompt acknowledgment. Remember the hybrid approach to writing thank you notes to donors and consider including handwritten notes on routine gift receipts.

Monthly Donors

Another meaningful practice is to rotate sending notes to monthly supporters so that in a year, they will receive at least one personal letter from someone at your organization. This rotation is another helpful item to track in your CRM. Personalized thank-you notes to monthly supporters are great opportunities to include impact statements that emphasize the ongoing needs being met by your organization’s mission. You can also invite them to pray about a specific upcoming ministry event.

Planned Gifts

Most often, your team will have been working with a donor to design a gift that meets the donor’s goals. You may have opportunities throughout the process to express gratitude, but you should always follow up with a personalized note once the planned gift is funded. Additionally, when you secure a planned donation for your organization, you have a unique opportunity to express thanks with every distribution to the donor as an income beneficiary.

Genuine

One last characteristic of excellent thank-you notes is that they are genuine. Like the one leper who came back to Jesus praising God in a loud voice, be thankful to God first. Let the reality of his generosity inform your message. Reflect on his faithfulness as you write genuine thanks to those who partner with your organization in its mission.

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Lisa Smith is the Chief Compliance Officer of Cornerstone Management, a registered investment advisory firm specializing in providing investment consulting and planned gift administration services to Christian nonprofit organizations. Since joining Cornerstone in 1996, she has developed extensive experience in nonprofit client service. 

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