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.

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  • Dana Van Nest

    Fantastic advice — simple and to the point. One page of “You, marvelous donor, you — you made all these great things happen for us!” goes a very, very long way.

  • http://twitter.com/sldoolittle Shanon Doolittle

    Oh, all kinds of yes to this! Donors may find you because of your cause but the stay for the experience. Upping the delight on your communications is exactly what you need to keep your donors happy and engaged. Fab post, Erica. Clapping wildly on my keyboard.

  • loriljacobwith

    Love this post! I like to have clients read their thank you letters out loud to each other at a staff or fundraising committee meeting to really have them understand the “robot-like” nature. Also counting the number of times the word YOU is used is a good guideline to warm letters up.

    • http://www.millscommgroup.com/blog Erica Mills

      What a great idea to have people read them out loud–nothing like a “live” reading to banish robo-speak! Thanks, Lori.

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  • Karyn McKelvey

    Thank you, Erica, for the awesome reminder that we should all thank our donors the way WE would like to be thanked – as if sitting across the table as humans. :) This year at the YWCA, we decided to call every single end of year donor. EVERY. ONE. More than 500 calls that our team made during several weeks! It was a delight to spend a little time doing this each day, learning more about our donors and being reminded why our work inspires them to give.

    • http://www.millscommgroup.com/blog Erica Mills

      Hats off to your whole team, Karyn, for making time for call every year end donor. That’s awesome. Very inspiring! And, yes, isn’t it fun to do thank you calls? Love those. (Great thing to have your board help out with as well!)

  • Lindsay Bealko

    Great reminder to shake things up! We are all just trying to survive and get stuff done, so we forget to stop and ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing actually any good?” We think a thank you letter has to be a certain way (or it’s just always been done that way), and so we start with “Thank you for your donation of $X.” Thanks for the permission & the reminder to be our authentic selves, which is way more fun, and – in the end – more effective.

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