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The Donor Acknowledgment Letter: a Humble Mailing with Huge Potential

Many organizations are required to print and mail certain documents, letters, and notifications at the end of Q4 or the beginning of Q1. Savvy ones strategically utilize “the most wonderful time of the year” to touch base with clients, prospects, contributors, and community members.

One specific mailing with huge potential is the donor acknowledgment letter.

Required to be mailed before Jan. 31, donor acknowledgment letters are a necessary tax form, but they also present an opportunity to connect, impress, and appeal for the following year.

According to Cullinane Law Group, attorneys who specialize in serving nonprofits and social enterprises, “Proper written acknowledgments can include many forms—letters, e-mails, or postcards. There is no official IRS form that the exempt organization has to complete.”

They legally have to include the following:

  1. The organization’s tax-exempt status.

  2. Name of the organization and the name of the donor.

  3. Date of the contribution(s).

  4. The amount of cash given or the value of a non-cash contribution.

  5. Good faith estimates of the value of goods or services the donor received for the gift.

But after the legal requirements, your organization can be fun, engaging, and strategic with its efforts.

Describe the donation’s impact in detail.

Consider telling the donor how you used their donation, specifically what it accomplished for your organization, the community, or the world. Use page-popping infographics, illustrations, and photographs to chronicle the donation’s impact.

Be specific: Did their donation leverage or match other dollars? Use the numbers to make an impact. Examples can include:

  • How many people were served

  • How many events were funded How many pieces of equipment were purchased

Even talking about the percentage of the light, water, or heating bill the donor’s gift paid for can have a sobering effect. Donors realize their contribution makes a tangible difference.

Tell a true and personal story.

Profiles of volunteers, staff, clients and other donors can be a powerful way to connect the letter’s recipient to your work. Many of the stories of a nonprofit’s interactions —especially in human services—are confidential. Details must be obscured for safety and privacy. Yet, with some careful planning, you may be able to tease out a personal story that is a powerful example of the difference you make together.

Use professional photographs, colorful callout text, and embellishments to jump the stories off the page and into the hearts of donors. Rather than letter paper, use a heavier, glossy stock to express the sentiment and importance of your work.

Link out to online gratitude.

There are so many ways to thank donors that aren’t an end-of-year tax document. But since you have to send one, consider frontloading your website and social media with digital thank you “notes.” Think videos, slide shows, public acknowledgments, personalized landing pages, real-time fundraising updates, and more. The sky is the limit.

On paper, you can add a uniquely designed QR code linked to your online assets. You can even print it on the outside of the envelope to entice donors into engaging as soon as they open the mailbox.

There are so many ways to say thank you. As a nonprofit, you’re required to do it, so make an impression your donors won’t soon forget!

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