An organization’s executive director asked me to review a letter he planned to send to major donors. This was a thank you letter at the turn of the new year to thank the previous year’s donors, not a letter in response to any specific gift. That’s a terrific way to show appreciation for donors.
It also included several donor-centered statements, expressed outright gratitude for the donors, and provided examples of the programs that were funded by donations.
However, the appeal started with the dreaded “On behalf of…” which kills the warm, fuzzy feelings of any correspondence. At points, it read like an organizational resume rather than a rousing celebration of the donor’s accomplishment.
I’ll show you some of the changes I made to make it more donor-friendly. It may be helpful for you to know that the organization serves Catholics working on a variety of justice issues, within the church and the larger society. To protect their anonymity and because these lessons apply to every nonprofit, I’ve replaced the organization’s name with “Catholic Nonprofit.”
Opening Paragraph Before
On behalf of the entire Catholic Nonprofit community, I express profound thanks for your generous donation. Your gifts have made a significant impact in the lives of thousands of Catholics across the country who depend on the Catholic Nonprofit to advance the work started by the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis has encouraged the Catholic Church to pastor to members as a “field hospital” would do. Your generous contributions make it possible for the Catholic Nonprofit to function as a “field hospital” to Catholics who have lost their home church, who are in pain and who have been marginalized.
- Expresses outright thanks; acknowledges the donor’s “significant” impact.
- Puts the donor first with “Your gifts….” and “Your generous contributions….”
- Gives a sense of scale by saying “thousands” of Catholics have been helped.
COULD BE BETTER:
- Opens with “On behalf of,” which is formal and, to be honest, boring.
- Includes a “field hospital” metaphor from Pope Francis, which many recipients may not understand without more context.
- Emphasizes the organization’s role in achieving goals, rather than the donor’s role.
Opening Paragraph After
Catholics who have lost their home church, who are in pain, and who are marginalized no longer need to feel alone, thanks to you. You’ve made a significant impact on the lives of thousands of Catholics across the country who have found a loving and inclusive spiritual home at the Catholic Nonprofit. I am profoundly grateful for your generous donation, your prayers, and your continued support.
That’s more interesting, isn’t it? It avoids the cliched “on behalf of” opening and replaces it with evocative language about who the organization serves. I replaced the “field hospital” language with the organization’s own terminology from its branding guide to describe its mission in positive terms. This opening celebrates the donor’s role in building spiritual community and recognizes the many ways they support the organization—not just through donations.
The executive director was thrilled with the edits because with just a few changes, I had altered the tone of the letter to be more engaging without changing his sentiment.
Next week: Turning organization-centered language about program accomplishments into donor-centered language.