Email remains one of the most effective, most efficient ways to contact and connect with your donors. Responding to a donation quickly and clearly is critical to keeping and honoring that donor.

But email can be a deluge, and ensuring your message gets read is important; consider the template of your thank you email carefully.  Below are a few easy steps you can take to help assure that your email gets read.

The Guts:

  • What: email donor acknowledgement and thank you-include all details of transaction ( date, amount, credit card/ check, restrictions, honoraria/memoria)
  • Who: Send directly to the donor
  • When: Acknowledge donations within 24 hours, and a more formal thank you within 72 hours, although preferably 48.
  • How: Directly, succinctly, sincerely.
  1. Subject Line:

This is the single most important determinant for deciding whether to open an email or not. Sure, you can get cute  and tricky, but this is not the best approach. Be direct and clear, and if you can, add an element of interest.

  • Boring, but true: Your Donation Receipt
  • Meh: Many thanks for your donation.
  • Better: Your donation just made life a little better for  ’….’.
  1. Addresses

I love getting emails with a reply line that looks like this: This is far too impersonal and generic. Instead, use an address from your organization, even if it  is a mailbox address such as, but it is always better if it can come from a person.

  1. Your brand identification

If you plan to use a third party payment processing plan, be sure your name, your logo and direct contact information are included. We are always a bit wary of ‘blind’ opportunities to give away money, be sure your identity is associated with the payment portal.

  1. Address to someone, not “Dear Donor or Dear ATM card”

Even the most basic email programs offer you the option to include the donor’s first name in the greeting. Personalized greetings have far more impact and show the donor you are paying attention to them. No one likes to feel as if they are merely an ATM, and may not be the most welcoming way to start things off with a new donor, and definitely not with a previous donor.

( This is such a no-brainer that I am continually surprised by organizations that make this basic, dumb mistake.)

  1. Manner and Tone

What’s the feeling your donor will get after reading this email? Will they feel as if there is a person talking tio directly to them in words they use in real  life, or will it be formal and stiff?
Don’t be afraid to take a conversational tone in your email, unless it absolutely different that the other communications you utilize. Think how you would like to be thanked- what words would make you feel best about making that gift?

  1. Less is More

This is not the great American novel, nor it is a comprehensive review of your organization’s’ work. Keep it short, simple and clear. If you need to add information,  consider using bullet points.
If the first thing anyone sees is a brick wall of words, its a good bet that it will not get read. For an acknowledgement letter, 2-3 sentences are optimal in at most 3-4 paragraphs, maybe add one more if you have to, but keep it short, sweet and to the point.

(A good rule of thumb is there should be at least 25% white space on your page. Clutter and density don’t attract eyeballs.)

  1. Start Off With These Words

The first words of this email need to be “ Thank you….” and then convey the gratitude and appreciation you have for them making this gift.  One or two short sentences are best, do keep it shorter rather than longer.

  1. The impact of the donation

The second paragraph needs to communicate the impact that their donation has made. “Because of you, this mama and her 4 puppies will have food and shelter for one week” or  “ Your $20 has just supplied the tools needed to clean and clear our local polluted pond’.

(Avoid hand wavy and overly general statements, such as ‘Whales will have a better future because of you”, that means nothing.)

  1. Engagement

Engage your donor beyond this gift: ask for their feedback or an opinion on a relevant issue. Give them a chance to say more, ask more or do more, with you. Mention upcoming events, volunteer opportunities or other activities in your area that are related to your work. Offer your donors this chance to connect  again with you, and preferably not with another ask for funds.

( BTW, PLEASE don’t include a another ask with your thank you, just don’t.)

  1. Make it Real

Sometimes the smallest thing: a link to a video, a picture or a quote that is relevant to your work can make a standard email jump out for the reader.  Show the donors that you are not just an organization with a mission, but you are a collective of people who share a commitment for change.

It can be powerful to add a link to a video or add images that makes the donor feel as they are closer to the work you do. Add a photo or a short sentence that humanizes the impact: “Now walking alongside the pond, without the plastic bottles, bags and trash, we see birds and plants and the wind over the surface of the water.”

  1. Now what?

Ok, we have acknowledged the gift with sincerity and enthusiasm. We have made our work tangible and accessible. So now what? This is a relationship you want to develop and nurture if it is a new donor, or deepen and strengthen if it is a previous donor. Let them know what they can expect from you: will they be on a mailing list, receive a newsletter or  invitation or notification list? Be clear about what you plan to do and then do it.

Follow up and follow through are utterly key to maintaining and cultivating support and interest.

  1. Sign it with a real name

Even if someone ghostwrites your thank you letter, be sure there is a person attached to it, over a signature. I don’t like getting machine generated letters, and your donors don’t either- it hardly makes one feel special.

  1. Required tax information

The term “tax receipt” and your organization’s name should appear in plain text at the bottom of your email.

Be sure to add the language “ No goods or services were exchanged for this donation”*, your tax ID number, and your address, phone and email information.

Make it easy to see, and remind them  to retain that copy for their own tax records.

*As long as that is true. If there has been any kind of exchange, you will have to do a little bit more record keeping.

  1. Social Media

The absolute key for the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge was the massive use of social media. Consider adding links for Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to your email to give your peeps to share their support. The sense of community is extended far outside your local reach.

Click To Tweet is a simple and free tool for creating pre-written tweet links suggest a short tweet with a hashtag for your cause and organization. These are the essence of short, sweet and to- the- point pieces of information, and a great way to share with others quickly.

Invite your donors to follow you on your Facebook and Twitter and Instagram pages and consider following your supporters.

  1. SPAM

As this is transaction-based, these acknowledgement emails are exempt from CAN-SPAM regulations, which means you do not have to provide  the option to unsubscribe.  Depending on how your manage your email programs, offering the option of  changing the frequency of emails and unsubscribing is a thoughtful consideration.

When I continue to get emails I don’t want because there is no unsubscribe option, I being to detest them.  This is probably not an optimal donor cultivation strategy.

  1. Most Important Line in the Whole Letter

When you get a letter, what are the first three things you look at?

  • Who it’s from
  • What do they want
  • Who signed it

The last part, the signature, offers you a great way to speak directly to the reader, often before they have read the rest of the letter, the PostScript line.


Use this opportunity wisely and thoughtfully, this will be the last thing they will see, whether they go ahead and read the whole email ( which short anyway) or not.


As easy as this is, if you would like some customized assistance, do call, we are here to make this easy for you as well. 310 828 6979

PS: If you have read this far, thanks, I am grateful for every set of eyeballs on my newsletter. Gracias.

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