How to thank your donors

Hopefully by now we know that it is good to thank donors, but there’s a phrasing that works and a phrasing that does not.

By “works,” I don’t just mean that it warms the donor’s heart and fills them with joy.  That is a part of thanking a person; you want them to feel the gratitude that you are trying to impart.

But there’s a hard-hearted financial reason to thank people as well.  Just like your mom told you, people whom you thank are more likely to do what you wish them to do.  One study found that people asked to give comments on resume cover papers were twice as likely to volunteer for a subsequent page if they were thanked for the first.  More relevant to our areas of practice, that same study found that telling a volunteer fundraiser that you are grateful for their work gets volunteers to do 50% more fundraising calls.  (The full study is available here)

So, how do you say thank you in a way that makes the thanked person happier and more likely to donate in the future?

Researchers looked at two types of thank yous (in this case, between couples):

– Those that focused on the impact the deed had on the thanker.  This is things like “It made me happy when…” and “It let me relax…”  We’ll call these the self-benefit thank yous.

– Those that focused on what the deed said about the person who is being thanked.  This includes things like “I feel like you are good at…” and “It shows how responsible you are…”.  These are called the other-praising thank yous.

Before I say which of these performed better, please think of two things:

– Which do you think worked better?

– How are your current thank you notes and emails written?

I’ll wait here while you ponder.


I’m Henry the 8th I am.  Henry the 8th I am I am.  I got married to the widow next door.  She’s been married seven times before and all of them were named Henry – HENRY.  Henry the 8th I am.

Second verse!  Same as the first!  Little bit faster and a little bit worse!

OK, you’re back. 

When researchers asked those people who received gratitude how they felt afterward, other-praising gratitude was strongly related loving and positive attitude.

Self-benefit gratitude had essentially no impact.

This seems a little odd.  After all, if someone donates, it’s because they want you do use the money in the best possible way.  It would seem natural to say “Your gift made X happy again” and talk about a concrete impact in this way.  If someone donated money for a well, well, they want to know a well was built and well-built.

This would tend to say it isn’t exactly so or, at the least, it’s not what people want from their gratitude.  Yes, when I help, I want to fill a need, but I also want to be the type of person who fills a need when a need needs filling.  Our gifts are an expression of who we are and the extent to which we can recognize this in our thank yous will dictate how many such gifts we can expect in the future.


P.S. This was covered in the Nonprofit Alliance’s (TNPA’s) February Test of the Month webinar.  You can see the video about this study here and sign up for future free webinars from TNPA here.

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