Can Thank You Letters Contain An Ask And Still Show #DonorLove?

By | February 14, 2014


A thank you letter to a donor can certainly contain an ask for another gift along with a response envelope. However, should it?


This is not just my opinion. Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, also feels that a thank-you letter should be a demonstration of appreciation and not another solicitation.

From time to time on listserves and LinkedIn Groups, there have been a number of discussions on the subject of the appropriateness of including an ask in a thank-you letter. Some development folks say that they generate a number of additional gifts by putting an ask in their thank-you letters or, more passively, simply putting a business reply envelope in with the thank-you letter. However, if two percent (not necessarily an actual result) of thank-you letter recipients respond with an additional gift, that means 98 percent do not respond.

The questions must be asked: How many of the 98 percent are put-off by the ask in the thank-you? How many will decide never to give to the organization again? How many will decide to give again, but will give less?

“Thank you for your donation. It was not enough. So, I’m enclosing an envelope so you can give us more money. You know, the money you should have given us in the first place if you weren’t such a tightwad.”

While a long-term study of donor giving and retention, with a control group and test group, is the only way to determine the impact of a thank-you/ask letter for your organization, most organizations will not or cannot conduct such a test. So, in the absence of such test data, the default position for nonprofit organizations should be to use thank-you letters to simply thank donors.

Think about it. What message would you be sending if you include an ask in a thank-you letter? I think the message would be, “Thank you for your donation. It was not enough. So, I’m enclosing an envelope so you can give us more money. You know, the money you should have given us in the first place if you weren’t such a tightwad.” I don’t think that’s the way to build a long-term relationship with donors.

Burk reviewed hundreds of thank-you letters for her book in which she outlined 20 attributes of great thank-you letters. I felt so strongly about her list that I cited it in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

  1. The letter is a real letter, not a pre-printed card.
  2. It is personally addressed.
  3. It has a personal salutation (no “Dear Donor” or “Dear Friend”).
  4. It is personally signed.
  5. It is personally signed by someone from the highest ranks of the organization.
  6. It makes specific reference to the intended use of the funds.
  7. It indicates approximately when the donor will receive an update on the program being funded.
  8. It includes the name and phone number of a staff person whom the donor can contact at any time or an invitation to contact the letter writer directly.
  9. It does not ask for another gift.
  10. It does not ask the donor to do anything (like complete an enclosed survey, for example).
  11. It acknowledges the donor’s past giving, where applicable.
  12. It contains no spelling or grammatical errors.
  13. It has an overall “can do,” positive tone as opposed to a handwringing one.
  14. It communicates the excitement, gratitude, and inner warmth of the writer.
  15. It grabs the reader’s attention in the opening sentence.
  16. It speaks directly to the donor.
  17. It does not continue to “sell.”
  18. It is concise—no more than two short paragraphs.
  19. It is received by the donor promptly.
  20. Plus, in some circumstances, the letter is handwritten.

Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog by Kivi Leroux Miller contains additional tips for writing great thank-you letters. She states, “Sending out really good thank you letters is an incredibly savvy marketing strategy, simply because so many other nonprofits are doing it so badly.  It’s an easy way to stand out. A very easy way.”

So, make sure that you do not include an ask, either active or passive, in your thank-you letters. Also, pull out a copy of the thank-you letters you are using and see if you can make them more effective by following the tips from Burk and Miller. It’s a good investment in the relationship with your donors. You’ll be rewarded with happier donors who renew their support for years to come and increase their giving over time.

This article originally appeared on the blog, Michael Rosen Says.

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About Michael Rosen

Michael J. Rosen, CFRE is President of ML Innovations, a fundraising and marketing consulting firm. Michael has received the AFP-Skystone Partners Prize for Research in Fundraising and Philanthropy for his best-selling book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing [], which has been included on the official CFRE International Resource Reading List. He has served as President of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia, Vice President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Philadelphia Chapter, Board Chairman of the AFP Political Action Committee, and Board Member of the national AFP Foundation. Active in the community, Michael has served on a variety of nonprofit boards for organizations such as the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, the Pennsbury Scholarship Foundation, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Ark Theatre in Los Angeles. He is the host of the popular blog Michael Rosen Says… and can be followed on Twitter @mlinnovations.

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