Tips on Writing Thank-you Letters

Thank-you letters are an important way to let your donors know they are appreciated. You can never go wrong sending an appropriate thank-you letter. Below, we have supplied you with some good solid ideas on writing thank-you letters.

David Zemel , Senior Program Officer at the Charles and Lynne Schusterman Family Foundation writes: “As for ‘thank you notes,’ you wouldn’t believe how many recipients omit this simple courtesy – and sometimes for grants in six figures. Normally, I recommend the following: Upon notification that a grant has been awarded (that day): A phone call from the Development/Program staff that worked on the request. Award notification plus two days: An informal written thank you from the Executive Director is in the mail. Award Notification plus 5 to 7 days: A formal thank you letter is mailed from the recipients Chief Volunteer Officer.

“Thank You Gifts are another matter. Generally, I advise agencies to go very easy on gifts. A small token of appreciation (and a marketing piece that others might see on a donor’s desk or bookshelf) might be appropriate for extraordinary support or as part of a major campaign. Otherwise, they are expensive and don’t help your clients. Besides, if the donor really needed a clock, coffee mug, pen or G-d forbid, a medal, they have the personal resources to acquire them without your help.”

From Patti Diamond of Family & Children’s Service: ” W hen writing a thank you note, I always handwrite a little something at the bottom, perhaps a simple Thank You or a few more words as the mood/situation hits me.”

And now some great tips, from Rich himself:

  1. Keep it to two pages. One page is too short, but three pages or more will overwhelm the reader.
  2. Ask board members to give you a list of ten people they know who might be interested in donating to your organization. Make sure the board member writes a personal note to these potential donors and attach it to the annual appeal letter.
  3. Make it emotional/compassionate. The reader should feel a sense of empathy when they read the appeal.
  4. Write with a sense of urgency but without a sense of crisis . You may really need the money, but don’t let your reader know that. He/She should conclude from the letter that you simply hope for a nice end-of-the-year gift from them to help with your wonderful programs and campaigns.
  5. Use quotes and stories – these play to the heart and illustrate that individual donations really do help!
  6. Underline and use bullets for emphasis. Make it something that can be read quickly.
  7. Write a recent quote on the first page – for major emphasis.
  8. Ask for a specific $ range. They shouldn’t have to think up an arbitrary sum on their own.
  9. Enclose a picture, newspaper article and make sure you include a return envelope without a stamp. The appeal letter will reel them in, but a couple enclosures can further emotionally present your story.
  10. If the mailing is small, hand address the envelope; if large, print the addresses on the envelopes – don’t use a label!

I only have two substantive suggestions; one dealing with the interview or meeting you’ve recommended and the second is really an extension of the section on following the guidelines.

There’s no question that a face-to-face meeting is a great advantage. Some foundations however – our included, discourages pre-application visits for a couple of reasons. Many of our applicants can’t afford to send a delegation to Tulsa, OK. We fund several national programs as well as projects in Israel and the FSU. To maintain a level playing field, to give equal access to all applicants and to keep some agencies from spending a lot of money on trips, we ask applicants to call, write, fax or email their questions. We are  happy to talk with any applicant (or pre-applicant) and are good about returning calls and emails. While it may not be as effective, it’s a cost effective why to open a dialogue. Besides that, if we accepted every meeting invitation we get, we’d be in meetings 3 days a week.

Secondly, I’d suggest a slight (but important) elaboration on the “follow the guidelines” recommendation. We ask that all requests be directed to the foundation staff and not to one of our Board Members. In fact, our guidelines specifically say that “direct communications with the Board are discouraged.” This is itself a Board Policy established because the board spends a lot of money to staff their foundation and they want the resource used. Some applicants think the rule only applies to others – – – perhaps because they serve on a committee of some agency with Ms Schusterman or they met her at a reception somewhere.

Follow the directions. Going directly to the donor – when s/he has asked you to go another route 1) demonstrates that you haven’t read the guidelines; 2) suggests that you think your needs are more important than the donor’s and; 3) doubles the work of the foundation program staff and slows the process. This is normally not the impression you want to give the donor!