Hand Written Notes: Why?

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at freedigitalphotos.net
I completed an experiment recently:
I saved all of the mail that came into our household for one week. You would be amazed!
So much junk mail. Several bills. A few medical items.
I collected our mail to create a hands-on learning experience in a class I was teaching at the Nonprofit Leadership Center.
Tom Ahern, in his book Keep Your Donors, says we divide our mail into three categories:
  1. “Stuff I canNOT ignore, or something bad will happen to me.”
  2. “Stuff I can SAFELY ignore, and NOTHING bad will happen to me.”
  3. “Stuff I could be interested in. I’ll save that for a second look.”
As a class, we dug through the Leonard family’s week of mail and sorted accordingly.
We found several hand addressed items: a wedding invitation, a birthday card, and a post card thank you note from a favorite charity. While we were sorting it became crystal clear to me what I’ve been teaching for many years: hand written items are very powerful. Their power/value has grown even more in the age of electronic communication.
Let’s be honest, the mail we send from our nonprofit will never be in stack one. The “stuff I can’t ignore” stack is for bills, insurance information, and items from my children’s schools. No matter how much our donor may care about us, our fundraising communications can be ignored without consequence. That leaves us fighting for a spot in the pile of interesting things.
The next time your procrastinate sending handwritten thank you notes, ask yourself how you are going to move from stack two to stack three? (another way to say it: how do you keep from getting thrown away?) The answer is: write something by hand. How can we make this practical?
Try this experiment:
  • Create a list of 200 donors who have supported your organization.
  • Print the list.
  • Each Monday morning put 5 notecards on your desk.
  • During the week, look for reasons to write a personal note to one of those donors.
  • Each time you do, put a check mark on the list.
  • Before you go home on Friday, make sure you have written your five notes for the week.
  • Repeat.
If my math is correct, after 40 weeks, you will have written 200 notecards. Watch what happens. Your relationships with your donors will begin to grow and from that your fundraising will be more successful in the long run.


  1. What a great and simple way to keep in touch with donors, Sara! I would add keeping some printed pictures showing your organization’s work to include. At less than .20 a print, it could make a huge difference.

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