The Power of Mail in Times Like These

Recently, this article popped up on my newsfeed. Just a nice little article about how the simple act of sending a letter - a real live handwritten letter - to someone can put more happiness in their life and in yours.

As you may know from my writing and that of my colleagues here, here, here, here, and even here I am a fan of using direct mail for fundraising by charities. Fan might be too subtle. Superfan? Evangelist? Unapologetic promoter? You get the idea.

But no, even the best direct mail piece is not like getting a note from Grandma, or a birthday card. I know this well.

A handwritten experiment

You see, I live far from my family. My nieces and nephews are states away. I don’t get to see them as often as I want.

After all, they are kids with busy schedules of school and activities. And finding the time on both sides and sometimes even the money and vacation days can mean we just don’t get together more than a couple times a year.

This was weighing on me one day as I commuted home from work. How could I stay present in their lives, just a little more?

So they know that their aunt who lives far away adores them beyond belief, and is ready to host them whenever they feel the need to run away from their parents, watch TV and eat processed food? (I’m kidding, my sibs are completely amazing parents and I try to eat healthy. But kids become teenagers and teenagers ... well ... you get my drift.)

And then the most obvious thing occurred to my somewhat dense mind. I would start writing them letters. Real live letters. Stamps. Handwritten, even though my handwriting is truly terrible.

Letters strengthen family ties

When I began, my oldest niece was at the age that she could read simple letters on her own. As her siblings have come along and become older, I’ve included them in the letter writing, too.

And because I know what sibling jealousy is like (Hi bro! Hi seesters!) for the first rounds I sent the littler sibs in the same household fun things – stickers and pictures – so that when the mail hit the mailbox no one felt excluded.

Staying Power:  A few of the letters Terri has saved from her nieces and nephews.

Staying Power: A few of the letters Terri has saved from her nieces and nephews.

As they have grown older, their letters back to me have become more sophisticated, and so have mine. We had a discussion once on a family trip where I told them I could write more often if my letters were typed. They told me that was ok with them.

Now I sometimes use my letters to my oldest niece to help me think through things, knowing that she may not understand everything I’m trying to say, but will appreciate reading it, nonetheless.

And for you aunts and uncles out there: let me tell you, this solves the gift-giving crisis indefinitely. I have given them all note cards, return address stamps, stamps, pens, you name it.

But I have to tell you, this simple act of writing and receiving letters has impacted my life with these kiddos in so many positive ways. Even though we’re far away, I feel more connected to them. I’m almost crying just thinking about this and writing THESE words.

And if you are like us, you have good mail days (a payment you didn’t expect, the good coupons from the grocery store) and bad mail days (bills, mostly). Handwritten notes from your nieces and nephews transform a good mail day to a super-fantastic-I’m-the-luckiest-person-alive mail day.

We all need more of those!

Write from the heart

Since this is a blog about direct mail fundraising, I guess I need to tie this back for you. Outside of a handwritten note to a donor, I think I can safely say that nonprofit direct mail will never make people feel like I do when I get a letter from those kiddos, or when I send one.

But if your charity mail CAN convey the feeling of GETTING a letter from friends or family, even a tiny bit, I’d argue it leans more toward the kind of mail we need (and save!) rather than the kind of mail that’s headed straight into the recycle bin.

As a fundraiser, I am forever making the point that giving makes your donors feel good. So inviting them to give is not "having your hand out" or begging. It's inviting them to change the world with you, and that makes them feel good when they do.

Well fundraisers, this is your opportunity to give. Write a letter. To friends. To family. To donors. Even if the donations don't roll in immediately, or ever, you'll know that you shared an authentic part of yourself with another human being, and that in and of itself makes it worthwhile.

Send a letter now - good feelings await!

Terri Shoemaker is co-founder of Abeja Solutions, a fundraising marketing firm in Phoenix, Arizona. A professional fundraiser, Terri has raised millions of dollars for nonprofit and higher education institutions. Read more from Terri.

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