When thanking your donor is a weak fundraising approach

It seems like the most natural thing in the world to open a letter or email to a donor with something like: “Thank you so much for all of your generous support.”

It’s putting attention on the donor. It’s conversational. It’s friendly. And it’s safe — after all, who would object to being thanked?

It may seem like a good idea, but as an opening gambit to a donor when you’re going to lead up to an ask, it can sometimes be pretty weak.

Because, for one thing, your donor should ideally have been acknowledged and thanked for previous gifts in a separate communication, and that’s where you would go overboard with appreciation and praise.

But even more than that, opening a letter with a statement of thanks is weak when it’s used in the absence of a strong offer. Thanking your donor in the opening isn’t a substitute for leading with an offer. Nor is it a substitute for presenting the donor with an opportunity to make a difference.

It’s even worse when the communication goes like this: “Thank you for all of your generous support. As you know, ABC Charity operates a variety of innovative programs and services in countries around the world, and our experts in logistics and international relief are among the best …”

In cases like these, the “thank you” line is there simply to create the appearance of donor-centricity, while the rest of the message is all about the organization.

There’s no question that it’s good to thank donors for their gifts. That’s why thank-you letters are crucial.

And there are even times when thanking can work as an opening. For example: “Your last gift of $25 made a real difference in the fight against cancer. Thank you! And now, I have an even more exciting opportunity to help end cancer as we know it.”

Here the thank you is keyed to a reminder of the last gift amount as well as to donor impact and donor opportunity.

The opening in a letter or an email is how you’re positioning and framing the entire message to your donor. It has to be right, or the communication won’t get read.

That’s why one of the most reliable letter leads (among many others, of course) is, “I’m writing to you because …” Whatever you fill in to finish that sentence will most likely be a valid proposition to your donor and an opportunity to have an impact.


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