Seven Hour Thank you Letter

I have just started the first fundraising campaign the theatre has had in about three years. Prior to assuming the job, the temporary theatre director was also the executive director of another arts organization. Because of the conflict of interest with soliciting donations, he didn’t run any campaigns.

At the 1.5 week mark, we have had some modest returns though we have also seen donations from people who haven’t previously contributed which is always good.

Because the current thank you for your donations note has been used for many years, I have been working on a new thank you letter. Now it may seem like an easy thing, but I had a theme I used in my appeal letter and wanted to complement that theme with my thank you letter.

Essentially, I am trying to educate my audience about what sort of things their money is going for. It always seems to me like fundraising campaigns underscore the sexy aspects of what the money goes toward and downplays the less prestigous stuff. Either that or the appeal is so vague, you don’t know what the money is going for.

I take my inspiration, in part to a post on Artful Manager from two years ago where Andrew Taylor suggests arts organizations have a discussion about “worst practices.” My letter is a long way from mentioning mistakes we made, but that entry got me to thinking that references to less sexy, but essential needs, over time will more broadly inform my audience about elements beyond the curtain line that they can impact and feel good about.

My aim is to let people know what sort of things the money supports without making it sound so unsexy they don’t see any worth in giving again. While we aren’t buying reams of people, we are making purchases that are important to the safety of our operations and contribute to hospitality for our artists. If you aren’t in the business though, it is difficult to appreciate the significance of the materials and how grateful we are to have the funding.

Thus why it has taken me seven hours across three days to write the dang letter. I had a lot to say and then distilled the concepts down to a shorter letter, rewrote that, showed it to people, rewrote some more, rewrote, rewrote, etc, etc.

I did much the same thing with the appeal letter. But of course, I was asking for money at the time so my incentive was obvious, right? My thank you note is part of what I hope will be an ongoing relationship with my donors and ticket buyers so it is just as important as the appeal.

I want to take every opportunity I have to tell them the different aspects of my theatre’s story while attempting to avoid cliche phrases and common platitudes. I want to set my organization apart from the letters they are getting from the other non-profits by writing something different, something interesting…something brief…something sincerely gracious. And it all has to look effortless.

But it ain’t.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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