How to be Great at Gratitude – 5 Tips for Brilliant Donor & Volunteer Thank-you Cards

By: Ilan Mann

February 10, 2020

So you’ve decided to send thank you notes to your donors and volunteers.

Good call!

There are few combinations of words more powerful than “Thank You.” Letting someone know that their gifts or deeds not only contributed to a good cause but also inspired personal gratitude in the recipient is the simplest way to ensure that they feel unreservedly good about the time or hard-earned dollars that they’ve parted with.

Now that you’ve decided to undertake this simple but important step, here are 5 tips to help you pack as much punch as possible into a short expression of appreciation:

1) Make it Physical

The fastest way to take the wind out of the sails of your thank-you note is to email it to the recipient.

There’s a good chance they’ll never receive it. Their spam filter may consider it junk mail.

You lose all of the emotional effect that comes with holding something physical in your hands. A nice, physical, handwritten card triggers feelings of reciprocity. When is the last time that you printed off an email and put it up on your fridge? If you’re anything like the vast, overwhelming majority of people, the answer is, “never.”

When you send a handwritten thank-you card, your recipient knows that you took the time to not only think of them, but also to physically write out an expression of your gratitude, transforming thoughts into words, and words into something physical.

Everyone knows how easy it is to send an email; the recipient may assume (sometimes correctly) that they are one of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people that you thanked simultaneously with the click of a button.

Conversely, even if you use a service like Postalgia to send handwritten notes with the ease of an email, the recipient will believe that much more work went into creating a beautiful expression of your gratitude.

2) Make it Personal

People buy from people. Products don’t sell themselves, and donations to non-profits are much the same.

Don’t be afraid to get personal in your thank-you note to donors and volunteers. Tell them how much you, as a fundraising professional, appreciate their donation.

Donors like to know that their gift did not go unnoticed into the coffers of some faceless organization. Volunteers whose efforts are ignored or lost in the crowd will quickly become ex-volunteers. Both donors and volunteers who know that they are being personally acknowledged by someone at the organization are more likely to give their money and/or time again and again, and in larger amounts.

Use their name, make specific reference to their gift or act of volunteerism, and include any other pertinent personal details that readily come to your mind (or your donor management database) such as their spouse’s or childrens’ names, the last event they attended, or something that your organization does about which they’re particularly passionate.

Postalgia empowers you to drop variables into each card, so that even if you would like to use a tried and true template (or one that is pre-approved, for that matter) as the framework of your card, you can easily personalize each and every one.

3) Make it Snappy

Mark Twain once wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

It’s true that consolidating your thoughts into a brief note is more difficult than writing a long-winded essay, but your recipients will read and cherish every word if you keep it short.

The longer the letter, the less likely the recipient is to retain the information in it. No matter how excited they are when they first rip open the envelope to reveal a handwritten thank-you card, their excitement will quickly turn to distraction as their eyes glaze over halfway through the 4th paragraph.

Remember: You’re writing a quick and powerful expression of gratitude, not the next great American novel. If you want to be great at the former, leave the latter to Mark Twain.

4) Make it About Impact

Donors especially want to know details about where their dollars are going, not only as a matter of fiscal prudence (to ensure that your organization is acting with integrity and honesty), but also because of the innate human aversion to unfinished stories.

If they wanted mystery, they would throw their dollars into a wishing well and pray for an end to Tuberculosis in Africa.

Give your donors what they want: specific, measurable details about the impact that their gift has had on the lives of the people who have benefited from it. Use hard numbers. Tell real stories. Don’t just tell them that you’re grateful; tell them exactly how they’ve had an impact, and you can be sure that they’ll want to keep on having it the next time you ask them for a contribution.

5) Make it Selfless

A thank-you note is not an opportunity to ask for more money or time.

The quickest way to ruin a note of appreciation is to try to save money on postage by including a solicitation at the end.

It’s true that one of the best ways to measure the extent to which your donors are touched by your gratitude is to watch their dollars roll in with greater frequency and in larger amounts, but make sure to keep your gratitude and your solicitations separate.

Otherwise your note seems self-serving, and all the effort you put into generating goodwill and feelings of reciprocity is ruined.

To re-cap, there are 5 key ingredients to a powerful thank-you note:

1) Make it physical – don’t send an email when you should be sending a handwritten card.

2) Make it personal – donors and volunteers can smell a form letter from a mile away.

3) Make it snappy – losing someone’s attention is a quick way to lose the power of the note.

4) Make it about impact – remind them that they’ve done good in the world, and detail how.

5) Make it selfless – Don’t ask for more money or time while thanking them for their generosity.

Want to level up your direct mail? Contact us.