“Thank you for your donation of $100.”

Every time I see that as the opening sentence on a thank you letter, I die a little inside.

Gratitude Attitude

Last week I gave a training for more than 40 nonprofits who work in the Abilene, Texas community. The topic? Gratitude and how to use it to build relationships, one thank you at a time.

Your gratitude to donors and supporters should never be an afterthought! With every fundraising campaign you compose, thank you should be part and parcel of the planning process.


Because your donors won’t necessarily remember the campaign letter you sent them. They WILL remember if your thank you was memorable or not.

(Side note: I know how hard you work on those fundraising letters. I know about the annoying edits and comments seven layers of managers feel compelled to note on your copy. I know how many different drafts the letter went through. So it’s important to note that your fundraising letters DO matter! They are what inspire people to give in the first place. But when it comes to recall and donors, gratitude first.)

When your thank you is memorable = higher retention, higher lifetime value.

When it isn’t = donors don’t feel appreciated and they’ll look elsewhere with their giving.

But don’t take it from me. Dr. Adrian Sargeant has done a vast amount of fundraising research and when he looked into how a thank you letter correlates with further giving, here was his main finding:

Dr. Adrian Sargeant on why gratitude is so important to fundraising

If your gratitude doesn’t give donors the warm and fuzzies; if it feels perfunctory and bizlike; if it doesn’t focus on the donor and how they’re solving a problem and making the community a better place, odds go down of you receiving a gift the next time you ask.

The Opening Line

Your organization’s thank you letters have to shine. And that starts with the opening sentence!

Consider this great statement from Beth Ann Locke:

Beth Ann Locke explains why it's so important to thank donors for their generosity

The amount a donor gave should NOT be the lead! You want to start your gratitude letters with a heartfelt thank you for simply giving, whether it was $10 or $10,000.

You want the opening sentence to capture their attention.

“Your scholarship gift means Amanda can stop dreaming about going to college and instead, start attending classes next month!”

“Thank you for providing meals for 15 homeless families in our community.”

“Y‎our donation of 100 dolls for our pediatric care patients will bring a smile to their faces!”

Lead with the gift. Lead with “you”- put the donor at the center. Lead with how a donor is helping to solve a problem.

The actual gift amount? Put it in paragraph three or four, after the lead and a story that connects the donor with a service recipient they’re helping.

Leading with the amount makes a supporter feel like a cash cow. Makes the gift feel transactional, rather than something they did to change the world.

Please go look at the opening line of your thank you letters. If needed, change them.

Make it heartfelt. Make it emotional. Make it memorable.

Your donors will feel great. And then they’ll respond positively the next time you ask.