Health and Growth

4 Lessons I Learned After Donating Online to 10 Nonprofit Organizations

Looking for tips to improve your online giving? Here are some great examples and lessons learned after donating 10 non-profits.

4 Lessons I Learned After Donating Online to 10 Nonprofit Organizations

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

We hold this truth to be self-evident—nonprofits rely on donations. No matter what the cause, the size or the location of the organization—chances are their support comes from the charitable giving of others.

Endless online giving research has been done on what motivates donors. Why do they give? How can we get them to give more? What is the best way to communicate with donors?

I’ve seen some of this research myself. However, I wanted to experiment on my own by taking on the perspective of the giver. How do different nonprofits respond to donations?

The experiment

During December 2016, I donated $50 to 10 nonprofit organizations. Some were small local nonprofits. Others were major, internationally recognized brands. My goal was to compare the giving and cultivation experiences on a variety of levels.

I donated online for the sake of ease and consistency. It ensured that my gifts would be received at the same time. Online giving is also the future of the industry. It seemed the best way to test out how well these organizations were prepared to use technology.

I gave $50 because it was a donation large enough to warrant some level of response. Also,  all of this money came out of my pocket. As a nonprofit professional myself, I know the value of working on a budget (and a limited salary).

This experiment was far from scientific. I made an effort to remain objective, but the results are more observational than exact. Take my findings with a grain of salt.

The nonprofits

Below is the list of 10 nonprofit organizations I chose to give to. Half are local nonprofits in Atlanta. The other five are global, but all based in the United States.

I chose organizations that support a variety of causes, including poverty, hunger, housing, disease. However, I made sure to only select organizations that I would personally like to support.

The giving process

It took me about two hours to process $50 donations to these ten nonprofits. No doubt, this process was significantly slower than normal as I took notes and screenshots to document the process.

For that reason, I used a desktop computer, rather than a mobile device. However, all nonprofits should be sure to test out the mobile giving experience. More and more donors are choosing to give directly from their mobile phones.

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Here is a summary of some of my findings from the online giving experience:

  • All ten charities that I chose had an online giving option.
  • Nine out of 10 included a donation link in their main menu.
  • In five cases, the giving option was more prominently displayed as a button. And in four cases, the link was the last item on the far right side of the menu.
  • Nine out of 10 times, the term Donate was used. Only one website asked people to Give.
  • Six of the giving forms had suggested giving levels—from as low as $10 to as high as $2,500. They ranged from between four to six recommended donation amounts.
  • Two of the sites had the donation amount pre-populated: one for $60, the other for $200.
  • Only four of the organizations recommended making the gift monthly or recurring.
  • Four of the donation forms allowed donors the option to give using PayPal. For two others, PayPal was the only giving option.
  • Four of the organizations allowed donors to select which projects the dollars would go toward, or give to a general fund. In those cases, I selected the general fund.

A good example

Charity: Water  had a donation form embedded into the homepage of their website. Initially, I thought this might just be for the holidays, but it’s still currently at the top of their homepage.

Embedding a giving form is a great way to put the need and means to give at the forefront. It was also one of the more straightforward forms to fill out and one of the more visually appealing.

The email response

Thankfully, all 10 of the nonprofits had an automated Thank You email triggered following my donations. All but one of them came within five minutes of the gift. The one exception came trailing into my inbox a few hours later that day.

What was more interesting was the email follow up after this initial contact. Only two of the donation forms directly asked me if I wanted to sign-up for regular email updates. I clicked Yes in both cases to get the full giving experience.

Check out Email Fundraising for Churches: 5 Steps to Creating a High Response

Five of the nonprofits followed up with other solicitation emails within the next month. I try to open and read as many of these emails as I can.

Over six months later, I occasionally receive email updates from six out of the ten. The content of these emails includes donation asks, event promotions and accomplishments of the mission.

A good example

New Story has a charity model that’s built to show donors the impact of their support. 100% of donations go directly to supporting a new home for a family in a third world country.

All of the emails I’ve received from New Story are updates on the family my money helps. It took a few weeks for these messages to start arriving, but I can see directly where my money is going. And the emails come directly from a staff member and feel very personal.

Another good example

Love Does started a weekly email series called We Love Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, they send me an email with a beautifully designed graphic depicting the children they help and a quote.

A button allows you to download the graphic to share on social media; which I’ve done a few times.

This tactic works because it’s content beyond another ask for money. It’s a subtle reminder that Love Does exists and the impact they’re having.

The direct mail response

It took three weeks before any response came via postage. But I ended up receiving more direct mail than initially expected—more than 24 pieces in the six months since making the donations.

Normally, I’m not a fan of direct mail solicitations. However, it was more meaningful to receive this mail in response to my donations. Each piece of mail was a satisfying acknowledgement of my donation and a subtle reminder of my connection to that nonprofit.

  • In total, I received print mail correspondence from seven out of the 10 nonprofits.
  • The lack of printed response from the other three nonprofits was likely intentional. These three charities were no doubt more focused on the digital donor experience.
  • In the first week of January, I received three handwritten postcards, two from the same organization. They were personalized and written by someone at both of the nonprofits.
  • A week later, I got two automatic donor acknowledgment letters from two others. These were more formal in tone and didn’t include any photos or visual elements.
  • The final week of January, two more postcards came from two different organizations.
  • In February, I received two newsletters updating me on how my donations were used.
  • I’ve filed all of these direct mail pieces away for examples as future design inspiration.

Some good examples

Several of the nonprofits—Heifer International, Love Does, Sunshine on a Ranney Day—sent simple postcards with a bold image on one side and a personalized message on the other. Postcards are an inexpensive way to share a custom note to a donor.

MUST Ministries even mailed a letter out inside of a brown paper bag, which was appropriate since part of MUST’s mission is delivering meals to underprivileged children. The brown paper bag was a recognizable symbol of how they help the community.

What I learned after donating online

  1. No matter how we think that our messaging might be stale, our donors aren’t seeing them as often as we are. Don’t be afraid to repeat a single message just a bit harder to ensure that your audience hears you. I didn’t often hear consistent messages among the nonprofits; those that were consistent stood out significantly more.
  2. Every touch point is a reminder that your organization exists and cares. Even during the experiment, I often forgot about who I gave to. That is until I received an email or letter in the mail. These were instant reminders that the organization valued my contribution.
  3. Make the response personal. Most of the print pieces I received had been handwritten directly to me. These no doubt took more time, but were more valuable to me.
  4. Giving to a nonprofit is easier than ever. Thanks to the power of the Internet, I can donate to 10 nonprofits from my couch. The way that charities can differentiate themselves is how they respond to these donations and show their appreciation to their supporters.

It’s one thing for nonprofit professionals to make assumptions about their supporters. It’s another thing to put yourself in their shoes and see for yourself.

While far from scientific or comprehensive, this little donation experiment gave me a new perspective. It also gave me a better appreciation for those who give to charity.

What can your nonprofit change about its donation process? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.


4 Lessons I Learned After Donating Online to 10 Nonprofit Organizations