Fundraising is filled with things that seem to make sense, but don’t. One of those areas is when it comes to thanking donors.

When we thank donors, we think we need to prove to them that we did great work. So we fill our donor newsletters with

  • Statistics (we fed X many people)
  • Staff accomplishments (our staff earned these certificates)
  • and awards (we received this amazing recognition)

We think that by telling all the good things that our nonprofit did, a donor will feel good about their gift.

But this isn’t thanking donors. This is merely reporting on activity.

And donors aren’t interested in activity. They’re interested in results.

You see, donors don’t have the context you have about the activities you do. They have no idea if “X number of families fed” is good or bad.

Thank donors, don’t try to impress them

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating these statistics and achievements. But the audience for that report is the nonprofit staff and board. They are the only ones that will understand the importance of those accomplishments.

If you really want to thank donors, thank them. Use phrases like “thank you” and “because of you” and “you helped make this possible.”

As Steve Screen says, donors are incredibly generous and very busy. If we want them to know that we are thanking them, we need to make it really clear. A publication of the nonprofit bragging on itself is not clear. It’s sort of like the boring person at the party that keeps talking about himself. “You are great because you support me. Let me tell you how amazing I am.”


Would you be interested in being around a person so self-absorbed? Neither are most of your donors.

Don’t be that guy.

Remember to talk about your donor in your report to them

So send them a newsletter filled with the word “you” – you meaning the donor. And two or three specific stories of impact. The happy endings that donor gifts made possible.

Not sure what stories to tell? Look at the problems you share in your fundraising appeal. If you told them a story about a specific problem needing help in the appeal, in the thank you to donors tell them how the story ends. “Because of you and people like you, this instance of that problem is fixed.”

Fundraising appeals invite donors to fix something that is wrong.
Donor newsletters report back to donors how their help made that fix possible.

A warning

This focus on the donor is not meaning you change your nonprofit’s mission. Your organization’s sole purpose is not to stroke donor egos. Your nonprofit exists to fix something that is wrong – help people, protect animals, preserve the environment, promote the arts. That mission doesn’t change.

But this focus on the donor is about integrity. If you need donor funding to do your work, you couldn’t do your work without donor funding. So you are having the integrity to report back to donors the amazing things their gifts are making happen.

If you want more on making newsletters that aren’t an operational expense but actually raise funds, check out Steven Screen’s newsletter training in The Nonprofit Academy:

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