Why your charity (still) needs better thank-you letters.
Exhibit one: letters from Lee Saunders.
So you’ve heard that, thanks to Lee Saunders, SOFII will champion the renaissance of the charity thank-you letter.
Renaissance, you say? A lofty word, that, for the humble thank-you letter.
But if you aim to raise money for good causes, the thank-you letter is still among your mightiest tools.
To illustrate, I’ve swiped a few paragraphs from Ken Burnett’s blog:
I say ‘the thank-you letter is still your mightiest tool’ because it’s still largely overlooked and its quality remains both an afterthought and an annoyance, even for nonprofit organisations with very, very deep pockets.
That’s a tragedy. And that’s why your charity needs better thank-you letters.
Let’s face it: do you really want to be the man or woman who passed up the chance to raise more money and keep more donors for your charity?
Of course not – so, let Lee’s thank-you letters, which have been fully annotated, help you begin your journey to writing the world’s greatest donor thank yous. You’ll find a checklist below summarising the comments and suggestions from the critique of Lee’s letters – and for more samples of thank-you letters and a basic checklist, visit the original SOFII thank-you letter clinic.
Then be on the lookout for future exhibits to help you continue your journey.
The Lee Saunders thank-you letters:
1. Include two dates on all thank-you letters: the date you wrote the letter and, if your database permits, the date your charity received the gift – as in, ‘Your gift of £25 was received on 21/6/10…’
2. Say how the gift will be used, or how it’s presently being used. If it was for a specific appeal you should refer to that. Also say when you’ll next send an update to the donor.
3. Establish a one-to-one tone: the thank you is a letter from one person to another; Lee’s tone in these letters does a great job of getting that point across.
4. If you must ask again, make it relevant – for example, you could include information on bequests in letters to long time supporters. For the record, I am not a fan of additional asks in thank-you letters but plenty of fundraisers use them. For more, see SOFII’s ask/no-ask debates.
5. Aim for an engaging lead: Lee’s second sample letter handles the opening of the letter exceptionally well by drawing the reader into the remaining copy.
6. Beware of false impressions: watch how you talk about the amount of money received, as well as the number of donors, etc. (see sample two) It may lead readers to infer that you don’t need their help all that much and weaken your case for support.
7. Guide readers through extra pieces in the package: if you include receipts, brochures, or other enclosures in your thank-you packet refer to them if you can. In this way you ‘guide’ the reader through your packet.
8. Carefully choose your signatory: an executive-level signatory, such as the CEO, is usually your best choice for a thank-you letter. But if, for example, your appeal came from someone working in the field then your thank you would come directly from that person.
9. Watch similes and metaphors: Lee uses a simile in sample three that may, in fact, be entirely appropriate for Australian readers. I would have chosen a different, more positive image for a US version of an in-memoriam thank you. The lessons learned here are twofold: pay close attention to cultural differences if you have international donors and always consider the context in which donors will read your letter.
10. Know when to break the rules: nine times out of ten I advise using a postscript, or PS, in both appeals and thank-you letters and, for a very good reason, they get read. But Lee’s third sample is an in-memoriam thank you and, in this case, I think he’s spot on for omitting a postscript. To me a PS would detract from the respectful tone he’s established. Nicely done.
11. One last comment: in each of Lee’s samples note how successfully he makes use of white space: tabbed paragraphs, short paragraphs, nice wide margins and a short overall letter. Easy to read and never daunting to the eye. Kudos.
© Lisa Sargent's article was first published on SOFII in 2010.