When Donors Say Thank You

When Donors Say Thank You


22 November 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Many of us are familiar with the concept of matching gifts. And with Giving Tuesday right around the corner, finding matching gifts is on most of our minds.

And not too long ago, I posted about Legacy matching campaigns (see Funding Now and Funding Later – Legacy Match Campaigns), where matching gifts were used to stimulate people letting you know that the land trust has been remembered in their wills.

Now imagine being one of those donors and getting a thank you card in the mail – from the matching gift donor.


Some of you who went to Rally this year met Bob. Bob is a New York City philanthropist who has provided matching grants for Legacy Match Campaigns for some fifty or so organizations, including several land trusts. Part of his program is that he writes thank you cards to the donors who help meet the match. He writes multiple cards at a time and sends them, complete with LOVE stamps, to the organization’s development officer. She then includes his card with her own message of gratitude.

Bob’s message is along these lines:

Thank you.

Thank you for arranging a future gift to the ABC Land Trust as part of your estate planning. I have made an immediate donation in your names to the organization we both love.

Three reasons:

                • Our gifts help the land trust now.
                • Your planned gift will help the land trust long into the future.
                • Planning our gifts can encourage us to make or update our estate plans.


Doing so helps us personally, helps the people we love, and helps the land trust we love.

Thank you very much,



This message comes in a beautifully designed card with original artwork. Bob commissioned the artwork himself from a local artist.

Bob does not know the names of the people he is thanking. Nor does he know their addresses. He sends the cards to the land trust office, and they send them on from there.

Carol Abrahamzon is the Executive Director of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy in Wisconsin. She pairs Bob’s card with the following letter she prepares in the office:


Dear Mary,

Bob is sending you this thank-you note because he cares just like you care. Your gift to future land protection means that you care about bluffs, prairies, forests, streams, and farmlands of our beautiful area. You are providing food and shelter for our birds, bees, butterflies, and all wildlife.

Thank you for caring!

Your bequest secures the growth and stability of Mississippi Valley Conservancy. We know we must do more and do it faster to protect our plants, animals, and communities from the destruction of climate change and land development.

Thank you for protecting the land and the future of the Driftless Area.

Together in Conservation,



And here’s another example, from John Matthews at the American Museum of Natural History:


Dear Mary,

This is a quick follow-up to my earlier letter about the step you have taken to include American Museum of Natural History in your planning with a bequest in your will.

As I mentioned, a donor was so moved by your commitment that he has made a gift of $1,000 to the Museum on your honor. He has also written a note to thank you for taking part, which is enclosed.

The commitment you have made to the future of the American Museum of Natural History means a great deal to all of us here – and to the millions of people who love the Museum. I hope you and I can talk again soon, or maybe even see each other in person when you are comfortable with that. Until then, thank you again.

Regards, John


Here’s what I want you to notice about these letters.

  • They are very short. Thank-you messages need not be long.
  • Giving is emotional. Thanking should be as well. The letters come across as heartfelt, even though the writers obviously write many of them. In that context, they are also easily adaptable to the shared experience of each donor.
  • They are explicitly inclusive. They speak to the organization “we both love.” Compare that to messages like “We couldn’t do this without generous support of our wonderful donors – like you!
  • They speak emotionally to the reasons people give. Bob writes about their giving decision that “helps us personally, helps the people we love, and helps the land trust we love.” Carol talks about “bluffs, prairies, forests, streams, and farmlands of our beautiful area” and securing “the growth and stability of Mississippi Valley Conservancy.


I wrote in another post that giving “exchange” was important. A donor makes a gift, and the organization notices. I was complaining at the time that organizations that take weeks to say thank you undermine the emotional part of giving and make it less likely that donors will give again.

These thank you letters do the opposite. They meet the emotional content of the gift with an equally emotional “noticing.”

That quality is magnified when the person noticing is another donor.


So thank you, Bob!

Three reasons:

                • You are noticing the important work these organizations are doing – and that’s more important than the financial support you have also provided.
                • You are noticing the important contributions the donors make in a very powerful way.
                • You setting an important example for all of us.


Thank you so very much.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Cheers, and have a great week.




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

Photo by World Wildlife courtesy of stocksnap.io.


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  • Ashley UpChurch
    Posted at 10:21h, 22 November

    Love this idea and hope to explore it more further soon!

    With regards to prompt thank you’s, how do you recommend thanking sustaining donors (those who give monthly)? A thank after every gift seems excessive, but is it enough to only thank them once a year?

    • Bob Ross
      Posted at 10:41h, 22 November

      Two years ago, when COVID shut us down, I accepted Erica Waasdorp’s, doyen of sustaining giving, suggestion, and donated $10 a month to 50 different charities. It was shocking how badly charities treated me — only 5 or 6 of the 50 did even a passingly good job — and Erica agrees.

      The major mistake was that the great majority only contacted me once a year — usually with a tax receipt. In the meantime, I didn’t know anything about what the charities were doing with my money.

      Professor Richards has found strong evidence that donors should be “touched” seven times before they are asked for another donation. A tax receipt is one touch, but your sustaining donors should be touched at least six other times a year.

      There are many ways to do so: David has suggested several.

      Remember two things: monthly donors tend to stay faithful for seven years on average; sporadic donors only two and a half years. And, monthly donors are excellent candidates for bigger gifts or bequests.

      The best do wonderfully well; we have now run six campaigns to gain more sustaining donors with six different charities, each with splendid results. In all six campaigns, we added, a challenge donor to the campaign, and in the last we added five couples, who donated $17,500 as a challenge. The charity got 150 new sustaining donors, who will donate over $70,000 in the first year, and a projected $400,000 over the next six years.

      I chose to work with them because I heard from them nine times during the year after I signed on as a $10 a month donor, and got a personal note when I canceled.

      Lesson: nuture your sustaining donor at least seven times a year. Or you may lose them.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 13:13h, 22 November

      I love Bob’s comments in response and can’t add much here. You asked how often you should THANK your monthly donors. His answer was more about contacting them. If you are sending an overt Thank You card (or letter) I recommend sending it just once or twice each year. The “receipt” letter can be one, but the other should be much more personal – along the lines of the theme in this post. Bob recommends seven CONTACTS – and I have used that number as well. So, what about those other five?

      I break the possibilities down into three categories, and there won’t be a formula per se, as much as a commitment to diversity. The first group is the “news as it happens” group. But not in a chest-thumping “look at how great we are” way. Think about it as showing THEM what they are accomplishing with their money. This group includes small-group receptions and presentations on specific conservation topics. And their response becomes important, because when they respond at all they show you what they are interested in. The second group includes personal invitations to organizational events – field trips, the annual meeting, the gala, and so on. And the third group includes all the myriad ways in which we spend one-on-one time with donors – a private tour of a recently closed preserve, coffee, introductions to organizational leadership, and so on.

      One last nuance – seven contacts is great, but if they don’t respond, you can’t assume they got them. So, in addition to seven contacts, I look for a response to at least four of them. This comes into play when we start counting monthly e-Blasts and quarterly newsletters as contacts. Maybe they are, but maybe they are simply deleted without reading them.

      Great questions – keep them coming!


      • Bob Ross
        Posted at 15:25h, 22 November

        David, I should have mentioned two points on the thank you front.

        First, ask on the sustaining donor page how the donor wants to be thank — once a year or monthly.

        Second, every time you “touch” a donor, thank your donors if possible — and once in awhile thank the sustaining donors.

        Example: We are happy to announce we completed the acquisition of Black Acre. Thank you all who made this possible.

        Adding those two words to every touch where it is possible is cheap and makes a big difference based on my experience with 50 charities.

        PS: One easy touch is to ask members and donors to have Amazon make a 0.5% gift in their name as part of any purchase. It doesn’t cost the donor anything. You won’t raise much money, of course, but Amazon always mentions that they have made a gift to the charity as part of the purchase and receipt process.

        Regards, Bob

  • AB
    Posted at 08:46h, 22 November

    What a beautiful demonstration of the way relationships ripple!

  • Bob Ross
    Posted at 07:30h, 22 November

    You are very welcome, David. One very important point; the thank you card package is only 5% of the story — it merely opens the door to the development officer or the executive director to reinforce the message.

    Carol, John, and the other officers who send the package on do all the heavy lifting and deserve the great majority of the credit for the sometimes amazing results from a financial perspective.

    In all cases, there is great nurturing of donors: thank you from a donor to another donor has a special meaning, and the message from the officers carry great weight. Studies show that charities do best when they “touch” donors seven times before asking for money for a second time. Count this as a double touch!

    Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 06:43h, 22 November

    Bob is such an inspiration – he gets it when it comes to donor centric fundraising and he gives from the heart.