Creating More Donor-Centered Thank You Letters: One Nonprofit’s Success [Examples]

J Merriman on left

J Merriman on left

With so many nonprofits getting thank you letters wrong, writing a great one that focuses on the donor and not your organization is a great marketing and fundraising strategy. All-Access Pass Holder J Merriman of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful shares how tweaking their thank you letter got an immediate response. ~ Kivi

Guest Post by J Merriman of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful

In 2014, Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful will celebrate 25 years of cleanups and beautification projects in Northern Nevada. Our volunteer projects are well-known and well-attended in the community, but in the last year, we’ve really been trying to brand our disparate programs (Truckee River Cleanup Day, Christmas Tree Recycling, etc.) and bring them all under a KTMB umbrella of education, community alternatives and economic development. With this approach, we are hoping to make the cleanup aspect less necessary.

I started out in journalism 15 years ago, and the nonprofits I’ve worked for have been all over the map issue-wise. My job at KTMB as communications manager is basically the same though: database, emails, social media, website, speeches/presentations, blog, photo/videography and putting it all together for storytelling. KTMB is fun because I also get to be outside a lot, planting or recycling trees and doing cleanups.

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide webinars have helped me in so many ways now that I’m part of such a small staff; I feel like my experience and background give me so much and the webinars fill in all the necessary details. For instance, I now have contact with our (completely engaged!) board, which is new (on both counts). The webinars about working with and training boards have been invaluable.

But one webinar’s feedback was just so immediate, I had to share the results with Kivi and Kristina, and they asked me to share with you too.

We don’t have a formal development department at KTMB (our staff is three people), so thank-you letters are now part of my every Thursday. When I started a year ago, I knew the thank yous were industrial, and, as a photographer, my solution was to add photos. But I kept the wording pretty much the same.

After taking Writing Thank You Letters That Inspire Future Gifts, I updated the letter more. We don’t have the money to include actual photos or other add-ins, but we took a lot of before-and-after photos during our Great Cleanup in May, and I thought they’d make for a powerful message: Here’s what you changed.

Instead of being generic, the letter now shows results, tells how the gift was/will be used, and is has more personalized information about the gift itself – workplace giving, event donation, etc. Again, I had an idea we needed to update, and Kivi’s webinar gave me a clear plan and fix-its.

And it worked! I sent out the June 27 thank-you letter to a former board member who gave on a state-wide donation day (Nevada’s Big Give). When I checked the mail next, she’d sent the thank you letter back with a check enclosed, and the amount was more than she’d originally sent!

We almost never get to see such immediate, positive results for our work, and it was so fun to run around the office for a few minutes yelling “Thank You Letters That Inspire Future Gifts!” Usually the only excitement around our office is an escaped cow looking in the window.

But that’s probably just our office.

Here are the letters:

October 2012 (BEFORE)October 2012

December 2012 (with Photos Added)

December 2012

June 2013 (with Photos and Text Revisions)

June 2013

J started her career in journalism 15 years ago, but made the switch to nonprofits after realizing the larger scope for storytelling and that people actually want to talk to you. For the last year, she’s been the communications manager at Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, the Keep America Beautiful Affiliate in Nevada.



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