Making Time to Say “Thank You”

Making Time to Say “Thank You”

By Jessica Traynor

We all know why writing thank you notes is good practice. Why don’t we? Is it because we have so many donors it’s hard to keep up? Wouldn’t that be great!

When I was a fundraiser, thanking the donor was the single most important part of the job. Later in my career, as a grantmaker, I was shocked at not only the lack of acknowledgments but also how dry they were. Recently, I made some small, personal gifts to some Berkshires nonprofits and only received standard IRS donor receipts. No matter how busy the nonprofits are thanking a donor should be a priority.

Acknowledging a donation is part of stewardship, which is simply, taking care of the donor’s gift. In addition to thanking the donor, the organization recognizes the donor and regularly reports on the gift’s impact. These are all important components of stewardship. Recognition varies quite a bit, depending on the organization, and reporting often depends on the donor’s wishes, but thanking the donor should be standard. In fact, many organizations have created alerts when a gift comes in prompting an immediate response.

Here are some reminders on thanking a donor:

Respond Quickly

The thank you note should be sent quickly. A handwritten note card is lovely, but not always practical. A short, sincere, personal email sent within 48 hours of the gift works just fine.


If the donor has a relationship with someone at the organization, that person should send a personalized note. If there’s no relationship, the Executive Director should send it. In the note, in addition to thanking the donor, personalize it in some way. Make sure it doesn’t read like a form letter! Here’s a note I received from an organization’s director of development: “I just returned from a few days off and saw your donation come through. What a wonderful surprise – thank you so much for your support and donation to the XX! I really enjoyed the time with your parents recently and am glad to hear they enjoyed it too!”

Be Creative

One of the best acknowledgements we received at the foundation where I worked was a handmade thank you card from one of the children who participated in the program. You can engage your donors with your work while thanking them.

I contributed to a small organization in my neighborhood and within three hours, I got a phone call from the staff member who processed the gift. It was a bit shocking to get a call, especially from someone I didn’t know. I asked if this was standard practice, and he said he saw I was a first time donor, so he thought he’d call and say thanks. I gave again the next year!

All of us in the nonprofit world know the importance of thanking donors. Sometimes we need a reminder. Sometimes we should tweak our current system. Sometimes, we actually need a system. Thanking donors is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work, so have fun with it!