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Do’s and Don’t’s for Gratitude Letters to Donors

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)

A surprisingly high percentage of nonprofits (including churches) do not send thank-you notes to donors. Yet research demonstrates that this is one of the key reasons that donors stop supporting a particular charity.

This non-practice is particularly puzzling when we consider that gratitude and thanksgiving are at the very heart of Christian life and that the basics of “please” and “thank you” are fundamental to the rearing of children whether or not a family is Christian. And don’t we all hope to hear the blessed words of God at the end of our lives, despite all of our sins? “Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

Here are some of the common reasons that are heard as to why parishes do not do this:

  • It is parishioners’ duty to give.

  • The Church is parishioners’ home. You don’t thank people for maintaining their home.

  • We just don’t have the staff to do this.

  • If you start doing this, there is no end to it.

  • God forbid you recognize some people but miss recognizing others. You will be criticized or confronted for this omission.

  • It shows favoritism.

  • I’ve got my hands full just doing the basic priestly tasks of serving, preaching, teaching and pastoral care.

The Fundraising School at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy recommends thanking donors seven times! This would indeed take a lot of time and creativity and since most Orthodox parishes are severely understaffed this would be an unacceptably onerous burden. Yet there must be a middle way.

Consider the suggestions below:

1. Accept the need and the responsibility to express gratitude to all those who give time, talent and treasure so that the parish can fulfill its mission in Christ. 2. Declare expressions of gratitude from the amvon at intervals throughout the Church year, perhaps first expressing gratitude to God “from whom all blessings flow”. 3. Occasionally handwrite personal thank-you notes to those extraordinary volunteers who undertake chairing or leading massive tasks such as festivals, construction projects, etc. Don’t underestimate how much this would mean to a parishioner. 4. Consider sending a personal gift with an expression of gratitude from the parish to each and every family on the mailing list – even it is something very simple and inexpensive. Shocking, I know. Yet parishes should be known for their giving more than their taking. 5. Recruit the parish council once each year to sit down together and personally thank parishioners with a handwritten note. Help them with a variety of suggested texts and biblical quotes. 6. Guard against inflationary language such as “we thank you for your extremely generous gift”, when it is actually a pittance compared to their true ability. (This applies to almost all of us.) 7. In a capital campaign, ensure that everyone who pledges or gives receives a thank-you together with news updates on the progress. 8. Be timely in your response. Once again, the Fundraising School recommends an ideal of a 24-hour turnaround from reception of the gift to an expression of gratitude. This is hardly possible for parishes but waiting too long can also lessen the impact of a thank-you letter. 9. Make the letter as personal as possible. Cranking out obvious form letters is expedient but somehow self-defeating. If possible, note what they have done or what they gave. Describe the impact of their gift. People give to change lives and to save lives. 10. Include a simple call-to-action such as referencing a link on the parish website that posts progress, activity and accomplishments of a specific project or ministry that the donor is supporting. 11. In some cases a personal phone call expressing gratitude is the most effective, impactful and meaningful way to more deeply engage a parishioner in parish life and encourage them to continuing commitment and service. 12. Hand-sign each letter if possible. Donors anticipate that this comes from the top – the priest or perhaps the chair or leader of a particular ministry or project. 13. If there are too many donors, decide on a threshold based on the size or sacrificial nature of the gift for the manner in which a thank-you is expressed. 14. Textual suggestions – keep the letter or note short; use “you” more than “we” or “our”; say “thank you” more than once; share with the donor “here’s what your gift is accomplishing…” 15. Do not ask for more money in the thank-you but if appropriate include a reply envelope for a possible “bounce-back” gift. 16. Lastly, in a quiet moment, deep within one’s heart, offer an unqualified and completely sincere“thank you, God, for everything”. Someone wrote that this in and of itself is sufficient for salvation.


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