The Donor-Centered Thank You Letters Project, Volume IV

Every moment fundraisers spend writing outstanding thank you letters is time well spent. 90% of donors say that, when they’re great, thank you letters are more influential than any other written communication they receive. And, they make money. “Donor-Centered” thank you letters inspire some donors to give again immediately, not because they include an ask, but because they don’t. Great acknowledgements have impact and that impact lingers through to the next campaign. Many donors in our research studies say that when they read an exceptional thank you letter, they decide right then and there to give again the next time they are asked.

The Donor-Centered Thank You Letters Project (v4) will include some of our industry’s best thank you letters, each one annotated by renowned researcher and author, Penelope Burk. Submit your best effort. If it is published, you will receive a free copy of this helpful resource.

Deadline for Submissions: July 31st.


What makes a thank-you letter “donor-centered”?

Donor-centered thank-you letters don’t read like typical acknowledgements. They make donors very glad that they gave and they influence donors’ future support because they express sincere gratitude and feel like they were written for a single donor. A full list of the characteristics of Donor-Centered thank you letters can be found in “Donor-Centered Fundraising” by Penelope Burk. Here are five donor-centered characteristics that make your thank you letters stand out:

  • They focus on the donor, not the gift;
  • They start with an original opening line. (80% of typical thank you letters begin with, Thank you for your generous gift of X…”)
  • They convey the gratitude and inner warmth of the writer
  • They are signed by someone from the highest ranks of the not-for-profit, not a fundraiser
  • They never ask for another gift
What about confidentiality?

All letters chosen for publication in Volume IV of the Thank You Letters Project will be edited to ensure the anonymity of your not-for-profit, your donor and the person who signs the letter. (See a sample below).

What are the benefits of participating in this project?

Penelope comments on every letter, pointing out especially positive characteristics that influence donors and suggesting how some aspects could be improved. Penelope’s annotations are constructive and reflect what donors have told us in many research studies.

Volume IV will include thirty or more letters, so this publication is a creative resource for times when you need the inspiration of others to help you craft winning acknowledgements.

Can I submit a letter that is already in production or does it have to be new?

Already in use or just composed are fine, as long as they include your best attempt to be donor-centered.

How many thank you letters can I submit?

As many as you like.

What is the deadline for submission?

July 31st, 2020

How do I submit my Thank You Letter(s)?

Send an email to and attach your thank you letter. All submissions will be acknowledged.

Annotated Thank You Letter

  • A Donor’s Opinion on the Power of Thank You Letters

    I do not want fancy chocolates. I do not want hard-bound books about the history of your organization. I do not want clocks or serving plates or paperweights.

    You know what I do want? A thank you note. One that tells me something about the work you’re doing, and arrives within a few weeks–let’s say four–of receiving my gift. I want that thank you note to reflect the importance of my gift to your budget. In fact, I will assume that it does.

    Over the past decade I have made contributions to several dozen nonprofits in amounts ranging from $500-$50,000 annually. Most of these are civil rights advocacy and human services organizations. I prioritize organizations where I believe my size gift will make a difference, based on budget size or revenue model – i.e., the group doesn’t have many donors at my level, or few non-foundation donors. Because I was formerly a non-profit fundraiser, I give general operating support and often make multi-year commitments.

    The Number One reason I stop giving or downgrade my gift is when an organization doesn’t say thank you graciously.

    Many do! In fact, what’s notable is the absence of any pattern. The tiny Afghan women’s empowerment group whose board member sent a handwritten note has stayed on my list a long time. The advocacy group that solicits me personally, but acknowledges my $25,000 (c)(4) with a machine-signed form letter? Not so much. I love their work, but their response tells me my gift doesn’t matter that much.

    This especially goes for multi-year pledges: don’t treat them like receivables. Say thank you, promptly and with genuine appreciation, when the pledge is paid. Organizations perpetuate a rotten cycle when they pursue and flatter me when I haven’t yet committed for the year, but don’t acknowledge receipt of a $50,000 prior year pledge payment. (A true story.)

    Doing a good job is easy and inexpensive. Just say thank you, nicely and promptly, with a level of effort that reflects how important the gift is to the organization. The gold standard is a handwritten thank-you note – you know, an old fashioned thank you note. A personalized note on top of a form letter will suffice, if it’s written with authenticity. As for swag, I don’t mind a bumper sticker or even a t-shirt that lets me be a brand ambassador for an organization I like. But swag is not a substitute for a good thank you note, and for goodness sake don’t FedEx it.

    Last secret? If I’m a major donor to your organization and you really, really want me to keep giving? Call me once or twice a year to tell me, honestly, how the work is going. Thank you.

    Name withheld at donor’s request.