Stop Sending Me “Personalized” Thank You Letters


For decades I’ve been collecting samples of brochures, newsletters, annual reports, direct mail, and thank you letters. At the beginning, I kept almost everything. Then, when the file drawers started filling up, I started keeping only those things that caught my eye, either because it was really good or really bad. Mostly, the stuff that gets delivered to our mailbox is neither. It’s mediocre and gets shredded, recycled, or thrown in the trash.

The worst are “personalized” thank you letters. By “worst” I mean, the really lackluster, mediocre ones. You know what I’m talking about. They seem to have been written specifically for me. It includes my name, address, and a personal salutation like: “Dear Clay”. The body of the letter is either just a sentence or two with no real content, or it goes on and on about the great things they are doing. At the bottom is the signature, which gives the appearance of having been personally signed by either the CEO or some other executive. I say “appearance” because we all know how busy nonprofit executives are and if you think I believe for one minute that he or she has taken the time to write me a personal thank you letter for my measly gift, you’re wrong.

I’m smarter than that. Usually. I know that the letter is the exact same letter the organization is sending to every person that made a contribution. I’ve done the same thing countless times when I’ve worked as a Development Director or fundraising staff member. It’s common practice. If it’s a savvy fundraising department, they may change up the text of the letter every month. But that doesn’t make it personal.

I think donors can tell. They are smart and perceptive and can tell the different between real and imitation. Most thank you letters are imitations. Maybe they are produced with a genuine intent to give thanks, but they’re still imitations.

The best thank you letters are simple, handwritten notes that match (in terms of tone and length) the amount of my gift. You don’t need to tell me that my gift of $25 is a “significant” demonstration of support for your mission. Really? I’d think you’d reserve that word for donors who made much bigger gifts. Just note my gift and say “Thank You”. That’s enough.

It’s best to be honest with your appreciation. And personal. It may take more time and require you to figure out creative ways to get it done, but you’ll develop stronger and deeper relationships with the people you’ll need to significantly advance your mission.

What are some ways you can make your thank you letters more real and personal?

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