Donor Thank Yous: Crafting the Perfect Email in 6 Steps

Donor thank yous are about more than just showing appreciation. They act as an essential piece of your email marketing strategy because they build long-lasting donor relationships.

However, crafting the perfect message, from the subject line to the P.S., is key to tapping into the full potential of those benefits.


If you’re struggling with how to create thoughtful donor thank yous, below are six ways you can write an email that your nonprofit will be proud to send out:

  1. Customize your email to make it personal.
  2. Keep your email short and to the point.
  3. Use a conversational tone.
  4. Make a great first impression.
  5. Let donors know where the money is going.
  6. Don’t ask for more money.

Let’s go deeper into how these components come together to create meaningful thank yous.

Step #1: Make your donor thank yous more personal.

First, you want to create an email that is tailored to the person you’re sending it to. The more time you spend customizing your emails, the more appreciated donors will feel. Donors are expecting to receive a genuine thank you. After all, they did make a donation to help support your cause.


• Include their name in the greeting.

Donors are savvy enough to recognize when they’re reading a mass email. Personalizing the greeting shows that you’re willing to put in a little extra effort. And with modern email technology, you can use programs that help you by auto-populating the name field, saving time and stress.

• Send your email to a real person from a real person.

Send emails with a real person’s name in the ‘From’ section so that donors can better visualize the person behind the organization. Plus, people are more likely to open an email sent from an actual person.

• Include the campaign they donated to.

Consider how you write thank-you cards for wedding gifts. It’s usually expected that you’ll mention the gift you received. Mention the result (or expected result) of the donor’s contribution to show that you value their gift specifically. Donors will appreciate being remembered no matter the donation size.

• Include an image of your handwritten signature.

The small step of adding a handwritten signature to your closing will make your email feel more like a true letter that is coming from a real person. You can scan a copy of your signature for your closing or create an online signature.

Bottom line: Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to creating an email. Use a combination of these strategies to create a thank you that is more personal and makes donors feel appreciated.

Step #2: Keep your thank yous short and to the point.

While donors enjoy receiving an acknowledgment, they don’t have a lot of time to spend reading.

Donors want to feel appreciated, so conveying your gratitude should be the focal point.

Be considerate of your donor’s time by keeping youremailthank yous short without making it look rushed.

Break up the text in short, easy-to-read paragraphs. Crucial information should be emphasized for the reader to take away. Formatting your thank-you this way allows donors to skim through the email and still retain key details from the important sections.

Additionally, the more visually appealing your email is, the more time donors will spend reading it. So nonprofits should incorporate images and videos to help keep donors engaged.

There are multiple ways you can use images and videos to enhance your emails. You can include pictures or videos of:

  • Staff expressing their gratitude through banners or posters.
  • Work in the community.
  • The people, places, or animals you serve.

Content like this will give donors a better understanding of how their donation leads to real, tangible results.

Bottom line: While you want to keep your email short, don’t lose the emphasis on gratitude in favor of a quick read.

Step #3: Use a conversational tone in your donor thank you.

You don’t want to treat your thank-you like a professional business letter. It puts distance between you and the donor when the goal is to establish a relationship and truly convey your appreciation.

Imagine that you’re talking to the donor in person. How would you speak to them? You’re probably going to avoid using stiff, complicated language to ensure that donor wants to continue the conversation.

You’re more likely to talk with the donor not at the donor when engaging them in conversation. You might even use incomplete sentences and hand gestures to get your point across.

All the strategies you use when talking face-to-face can be translated in your writing to make your message feel friendlier.

To make your email sound more conversational, you can:

  • Use ‘you’ more often than ‘I’.
  • Avoid insider terms (like peer-to-peer fundraising) without explaining them first.
  • Make use of short or incomplete sentences.
  • Ask questions.
  • Add punctuation or emphasize (bold, underline, italic, etc.) words to better convey your point.
Bottom line: While it isn’t possible to thank every donor in person, you can use these tips in moderation to make your writing read as if you’re transcribing a face-to-face conversation in your donor thank-you emails.

Step #4: Make a great first impression.

The last thing you want is to spend all this time creating great donor thank yous and have the recipients never read them. That’s why it’s important to write an email that is creative and attention grabbing.

This also goes for the subject of your email as well. If the subject doesn’t grab the donor’s attention, then there is a possibility that they may never open it. Ditch the predictable subject lines and go for something that stands out.

For example, instead of going for the traditional “Thank you for your gift,” go with something more immediate and eye-catching like “You’re a Hero!”

Grab the reader’s attention in the first few sentences as well. It’s one thing to get them to open your email, now they have to be motivated to read through it.

However, creativity doesn’t stop after the introduction. Be as engaging as possible throughout the email to make sure your last impression is as good as your first.

Bottom Line: Predictable subjects and openings will get fewer reads. Be creative with your thank yous to immediately grab the reader’s attention.

Step #5: Let donors know where their money is going.

A great thank-you email leaves the donor feeling proud and accomplished because they’ve done something to help support your cause.

The bulk of your email should be reserved for this purpose. To accomplish this, in the body of your text, let donors know where their money is going (or has gone). It helps instill confidence and trust in your organization.

Donors that feel comfortable about where their money is going will be more likely to donate again.

How a donor’s gift supports your nonprofit may not always be the same. That’s why it’s so important to avoid writing the same email to every donor.

For example, a private school thanking donors after a school charity auction will thank Donor A, who participated in the auction differently than Donor B, who donated items for the auction.

  • Let Donor A know how their donation made the whole charity auction possible. You can also explain to Donor A how their donation contributed to the larger picture: your reason for the charity auction.
  • Donor B will want to know the purpose of the auction and how their contribution will be used.

As much as you can with your nonprofit’s capacity, give donors a clear understanding of how their support contributes to the larger picture and remember that how you convey the message is just as important. Just stating the facts is not as effective as showing them through storytelling.

Storytelling impacts the supporter on an emotional level and can inspire people to further support your cause.

For example, if your nonprofit provides school supplies for children whose family can’t afford to buy them, tell a story about one of your students (with their permission). Maybe you provided utensils to a young boy who was able to explore his passion for painting because he received the right supplies for his art class. That narrative will resonate with donors.

Bottom line: Letting a donor know how their money will be used builds confidence in your organization and gives the donor a sense of accomplishment.

Step #6: Don’t ask for more money; focus on the donor thank-you.

Never ask donors for more money in your thank-you emails. This makes your email feel less genuine.

Instead, there are other ways that you can keep donors engaged. Rather than asking for more money, give them options so they can stay updated on your nonprofit. For example:

  • Include links to your social media.
  • Suggest they sign up for your newsletter in your donor thank yous.
  • Remind donors of upcoming events.
  • Give donors a point of contact so they can respond if they want to.

These are all ways nonprofits can stay in the minds of their donors. If you’re looking for more ways to engage with supporters, check out @Pay’s guide to newsletters.

After you’ve sent out your thank-you letter, it’s fine to find an organic way to re-introduce your donors to your fundraising communications. Just reserve asking for donations for other email interactions.

Bottom line: It’s never a good idea to ask donors for more money in a thank-you email. Instead, suggest other ways donors can stay updated on your nonprofit organization.

Ultimately, donors want to know that you care. Thank-you emails are an easy, inexpensive way to show your gratitude.

Before you send out your donor thank yous, make sure that your message is donor-centric and that you expressed your appreciation in a clear, impactful way.

John Haydon