The donor thank you letter is an important piece of the cultivation process – and should be something treated with care and concern. Many non-profits treat thank you letters as a quick close to a transaction that needs a receipt and some tax deduction info, rather than laying the groundwork for your next ask. And that’s exactly what you’re doing; because you’re most likely next gift is from whoever gave your last gift.

All donations should have a letter mailed to them within 48 hours of receipt of the gift. Plain and simple. No excuses, no exceptions. At some organizations, this is hard to do, but it must be done. And other organizations are making it happen, so you better too.

As much as I am a firm believer the thank you letters should be form letters generated and merged from your donor database, you also need to be sure to personalize the letter. And you better make certain sure that the letter gets a live, hand signature. If you’re using a digital signature or stamp, STOP! Now, it may be that the Executive Director simply cannot hand sign all the thank you letters – and that’s fine. But then someone needs to be authorized (and capable of creating a similar looking John Hancock!) to sign his or her name. Whether you have the ED sign only donors he or she knows, or donations of a certain dollar amount, or some other criteria, have a plan for how to be sure letters get signed in a timely fashion.

When you write your appeal letter or event sponsorship request, write the thank you letter at the same time. Not only is it best to have the acknowledgement mirror that appeal, it can give follow-up to the story/testimonial that was used. Don’t wait until you get the first donation to write the thank-you letter – plan ahead so you can get letters out the door quickly! And go ahead and get it loaded into your donor database while you’re at it.

Encourage questions and action in your acknowledgements. If you host monthly tours, invite your donors through the letter. If you have a particular need for volunteers, let them know. If you have an upcoming event, ask them to attend. If you recently updated your website (and don’t even get me started on this one…), include the URL so they can check it out.

Most importantly, don’t forget to say thank you. And say it three times, in three different ways. Convey why you are glad they gave, what importance it plays in your organization, and some kind of change that has been brought about because of their generosity. Thank them for believing in your mission and for partnering with you to make a change, not just for making a donation.