When saying thank you, remember why

Most of us learned everything we need to know about saying thank you while still in kindergarten. Yet a lot of nonprofit folks, including those working in faith-based settings, do a really rotten job of voicing appreciation.

beveled_card_thank_you_14447For example, there’s the time it takes many small (and some bigger) nonprofits to get a thank you letter out the door. From what I see, two weeks is a speedy reply and that for a thank you which is more like a receipt than a letter.

Or how about the thank you letter that hasn’t been changed in months? Occasional donors likely don’t notice, but for folks who give several times a year, the same old, same old gets old fast.

And then there’s what my friend John Pearson of John Pearson Associates experienced recently — the thank you that ignores the purpose for which the gift was given. In John’s case, it was the response to a memorial gift that triggered a “rant” (his word). John wrote:

A dear friend, Larry, lost his wife last month after a long illness. The “In lieu of flower” message suggested donations to a ministry* dear to his wife’s heart.

I sent a gift for camp scholarships for kids from San Clemente, in honor of “Mary Smith*.” The donation receipt captured it correctly. Amazing!

BUT…the generic ‘thank you letter’ from the ministry’s president thanked me for my generic giving (not to honor Mary) and then talked about his hot button that week.  Really!

*names changed of both the generous and the guilty


You’ve likely received similar thank yous for memorial gifts, but don’t let the bad examples be your guide. To avoid setting off future rants, consider the following when responding to gifts given in remembrance.

1: Have a template thank you letter ready and waiting for when a memorial gift arrives. This is especially important for organizations that haven’t yet or don’t often receive memorial gifts.

2: When personalizing the template letter, describe the connection the memorialized one had with your ministry. Recalling his/her involvement with the organization provides an opportunity to tell your story without taking away from the one for whom the gift was given.

3: If the memorial gift comes from someone who’s new to your organization, include an invitation to learn more about your work. Something like this — If as Mary did, you have a heart for (whatever it is your organization does), I invite you to visit our website where you’ll learn about our ministry to (whoever it is you serve).

When the source of the memorial gift is a regular donor to your organization, try something like this – We praise God that friends like you and Mary have hearts for (whatever it is your organization does). Your support makes a difference in the lives of (whoever it is you serve).

4: Promptly provide the family with the names of memorial donors, along with a copy of the thank you letter you’ve created in their loved one’s honor. A year later, get back to the family with an accounting of the good that has been accomplished with the help of the memorial gifts.

5: Please, do not add donors of memorial gifts to your solicitation list. If the gentle invitation to learn more about your organization (see point 3 above) results in a second gift from a first-time-donor-via-memorial gift, then it’s okay to treat him/her as a supporter. For most memorial donors, however, your organization is simply a conduit for channeling a message of respect and sympathy — a means to an end and nothing more.

Stick to this script when handling memorial gifts and your thank yous will be remembered as fondly as the ones in whose names the gifts are made. It shouldn’t take a rant to remind us that in saying thank you, why matters.

For more on the topic of thank you, see:

Put the focus on thank you, please

Tips for perfecting your thank you

What part of thank you don’t you understand?



  1. Thank you for the Generous Matters posts. John Pearson and you always have encouraging words of great wisdom to incorporate. Thank you!

    • It’s great to hear from you, Pam. It was fun to include a story from John in this post. His rant was the perfect springboard for what I hope is helpful advice on saying thank you for memorial gifts.

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