Turning Lame Letters into Donor Delight

Erica Mills

I believe a well-written, thought-out thank you letter is the perfect opportunity to further develop your relationships with your donors. I am presenting two webinars this week on thank you letters if you want to join us, but in the meantime, Erica Mills has written a great blog post for us on how to avoid three major thank you letter mistakes. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Erica Mills, Claxon

Doesn’t it seem weird that after spending so much time cultivating, woo’ing, engaging, and generally working really, really hard to get you to donate that you’d receive a lame thank you letter? And yet, based on the pile of yawn-inducing thank you letters currently piled on my desk (and probably yours), we seem to have a lame letter epidemic on our hands.

I’m the first to admit that resolutions are often over-rated. But this epidemic is serious enough that I’d like to us to make a collection resolution to put an end to lame thank you letters in 2013. Let’s use these letters to delight rather than deflate. You in?

If so, here’s how we can make good on our resolution: In Pitchfalls: why bad pitches happen to good people, I go over the five main reasons that pitches—whether they’re elevator, fundraising or some other type of pitch—are generally boring and ineffective. Three of the five pitchfalls—both in terms of what’s not working and how it can be fixed—apply to thank you letters just as much as they apply to pitches.

If we all avoid these three pitchfalls, we’ll make good on our resolution, have delighted donors and be giving each other high-fives come December. Sounds good, right?

Here are the three pitchfalls we need to collectively avoid:

  1. Sounding like a robot
  2. Talking about yourself
  3. Talking too much

Pitchfalls EbookLet’s break these down a bit:

#1 You sound like a robot

If your thank you letter starts with “Thank you for your gift of $x”, it’s time for a re-do.  Yawn-o-rama. How many times have you received this thank you letter? A lot. Did any of them make you think, “Dang, I’m so glad I gave to that organization.”? Nope. Because it sounds like a robot wrote the letter. Robots are wonderful in many ways, but compelling writers of thank you letters they are not. You’re a person saying thank you to another person. If you were saying thank you in person, would you say thank you like a robot? Of course not. Write like you’re saying thank you to the person in-person. Be human.

#2 You talk about yourself

True, they gave a gift to YOUR organization but that gift was about them, not you. It was about them seeing you as a way that they could make the world a better place. As in all your donor communications, make the thank you letter about them, them, them.  “Your gift was AMAZING. You made X possible. You rock.” You get the point.

#3 You talk too much

Some thank you letters go on and on and on, usually talking about the organization, rather than the impact the donor’s gift made possible. (See #2 above.)  If you can write a super compelling multi-page thank you, have at it. But short, sweet and full of gratitude is likely to make a bigger impression than lengthy, loquacious and full of a bunch of fluff.

I know you’re recovering from the holidays and just want to get the thank you letters out the door. Totally hear ya’. But if you take a few minutes to update your thank you letter, you’ll make your donors really super happy. And happy donors make for happy fundraising.

Here’s to a year that is free of lame letters and packed with fundraising goodness!

Erica Mills heads up Claxon, a company on a mission to help those doing good get noticed. She is a self-proclaimed word nerd and an internationally recognized expert on mission-driven messaging and marketing strategy. Erica teaches at the University of Washington.   Download your copy of  Pitchfalls.