Four ingredients for a fabulous thank you letter

Thank you letters have come a long way since your Mom made you sit down and write one for that weird scratchy wool sweater Grandma sent for your birthday.

A fantastic and timely thank you is one of the most important, basic contacts you can make with your donor – because if they don’t hear pretty quickly about how much your organization needs and appreciates their gift, why would they bother to give again?

Yet all thank you letters are not created equal – there’s a vast difference between the fundraising version of the Dear-Grandma-thanks-for-the-sweater letter, and one where your heartfelt appreciation for the amazing impact of the donor’s gift just leaps off the page.

Let’s take a look at four different ingredients that guarantee your thank you will stand out from the crowd, and make your donor feel like they can’t wait to give again!


Sure, this may go without saying – a thank you letter should express gratitude, right?

The traditional approach to thanking donors often applies the Organizational Facts Sandwich model to building a letter.

It starts off with a thin crust of thanks on top…

Thank you for your donation of $25 dollars to our 2017 Snuggle the Puppies Campaign.

Fills the middle with dry statistics about all the organization’s accomplishments…

Founded in 1984, we’ve reached over 1.5 million puppies in the Greater Dogtown Area, helping increase their cuddle to snoozle ratio by over 20%.

And closes with a stingy slice of gratitude at the end…

Thank you again for your support.

I’m sure you’ll agree – that’s not very tasty. Who knew even puppy snuggles could be boring!

Let’s take that gratitude up a notch or two. Have a hard look at a couple of recent thank yous – are you serving your donor a dry Organizational Facts Sandwich, or are they getting a juicy treat – a letter dripping, oozing, and glowing with gratitude?


I had to look this up, as I wasn’t totally sure it’s even a word (it is!).

Are you setting a scene, describing a moving experience, or painting a vivid picture? What do you see, hear, smell, and feel when you are describing the impact of their support?

If you’re lucky enough to be able to witness your cause in action first hand, slow down and take some time to visit, and just absorb all the sights and sounds around you.

How will you use these observations to tell a more effective story, and write to bring your work to life for the donor?


A thank you letter shouldn’t read like a soulless business communication. It’s a great opportunity to let the personality of your organization, and the person signing your letter, shine through.

One of my favourite people I’ve written for leads the Children’s Program at a shelter for women and kids fleeing domestic abuse.

No matter what the day threw at her, she was a shining light of positivity, enthusiasm and joy – and a true champion for the potential of every child she worked with.

I always held her in mind when writing, thinking about how I could bring her voice to life on the page, and share her infectious optimism with the donor.

Think creatively about some of the people who could sign your letter – program folks, volunteers, beneficiaries - or even a heart named Humbert!


Ok, this one’s definitely not a word (but it should be).

When I’m working together with a client to increase the impact of their donor communications, I always apply and share Tom Ahern’s powerful ‘You’ test.

Simply take a pen, and circle all the times you use the word ‘you’, and variations thereof, in your writing. For bonus points, use a different colour pen to circle variations of ‘we’ – and aim to make sure your ‘you’s out number your ‘we’s by at least 2 to 1.

You is often referred to as the single most powerful word in sales (that’s right – I take the sometimes controversial stance that great fundraising and great sales are the same thing.)

Want to give your thank you letter a you-lishious makeover? Try the You test, and think about ways you can re-frame your “we” statements to make the donor the subject.

Do you have a fantastic thank you letter that includes all the four ingredients above? I’d love to see your wonderful work, and share with other readers for inspiration!

Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraiser who has been helping great causes like yours build and grow successful fundraising programs since 1995. She’s the President-Elect of the world’s largest Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chapter in Toronto, and the National Chair of AFP’s Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy. Contact Emma to book your free discovery session, and find out how you can work together to strategically focus your precious resources on the fundraising initiatives that truly work.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts