Acknowledgment letters are more than an obligation. They’re an opportunity—to build donor relationships, to educate and hopefully, to inspire future giving. But let’s face it, many of these missives leave us less than inspired. Do you read all the nonprofit thank-you letters you receive? Me neither. What’s different about the ones you do read?
Here are some do’s and don’ts for improving your acknowledgment letters:
• Don’t open with “thank you.” Remember learning how to write a thesis in school? You don’t start with your topic sentence, but lead into it after an attention-grabbing sentence or two… something surprising, profound or heart-wrenching. Starting with “thank you” also risks seeming like you’re getting it out of the way, which comes across as insincere. However…
• Don’t bury the “thank you.” It should show up early in the letter and should stand out. Some organizations put THANK YOU in caps or in bold. I like to write a very short (1-2 sentence) first paragraph, then use “Thank you” as the first two words in the second paragraph.
• Don’t ask for more money. That wouldn’t seem very grateful, would it? Be patient—you can ask again later (after giving them an update).
• Do say how the gift will be used—specifically. That doesn’t mean a vague rewording of your mission statement. Tell donors how many backpacks will be filled with food, and how those children’s lives will be better for it—improved focus in school and better grades? Stronger family life? Fewer doctor visits? Better yet…
• Do tell a story! Stories make a great opener and show impact in a more memorable way than numbers alone. Here’s an easy template for a short and powerful story (borrowed from Network for Good):
Once upon a time _____, and every day ______ until one day _______ and because of this ________ and because of this _______ until finally __________ and ever since that day __________.
• Do use bullet points, bolding and other ways to call attention to key points. Just because it’s a letter, it doesn’t have to read like one! Donors are less concerned with your ability to follow formal writing rules and more concerned with getting to the point.
• Do follow the 3-4 rule. No more than 3-4 paragraphs, no more than 3-4 sentences per paragraph.
• Do use the active voice. Not only is it more concise, but it shows donors you’re an organization taking action… Instead of “This historic site is being preserved through your gift, so it can be enjoyed by future generations,” try “Your gift helps preserve this historic site for future generations.”
• Do tap into the donor’s perspective. Here are the main reasons why donors (particularly high-net-worth ones) are motivated to give:
> Make a difference
> Have a meaningful relationship with nonprofit
> Know and respect people involved (board, staff and volunteers)
> Understand mission and needs
> Able to see measurable results
> Feel communication from nonprofit has substance, and is meaningful and consistent
• Do consider adding a photo. Not only will your letter look more engaging with a colorful image included, but it’s another way to show impact.
• Do end with an opportunity to get more involved. This works well as a P.S. or a “final thought” before the signature.
Don’t lose sight of the joy of giving, and remember to write a letter you would want to read.