A Tale of Two Letters


If you've worked with us for any amount of time, you've surely heard us talk about our axioms. These are tried and true best practices and beliefs we hold related to nonprofit work. In today’s blog, Michele Goodrich reflects on our axiom: “The best cultivation is a great gift-giving experience.”

Years ago, I was talking with a seatmate on a delayed flight. When she learned that I consulted with nonprofit organizations in the area of financial development, she was eager to tell me about an unforgettable experience she had when she made contributions to two different nonprofits a few years ago.

She started her story by explaining that she suddenly found herself responsible for the care of two family members with serious health problems. She was overwhelmed by the demands on her time and her lack of knowledge about how to find additional help for these relatives.

Fortunately someone connected her with two local nonprofit organizations that ended up being extremely helpful. Their services provided her family members with the added support and information they needed and afforded her a sense of confidence that she was doing the right things for them.

At the end of that difficult year, as a way of expressing her gratitude to the two nonprofits that helped her family out the most, she sent them both a thank you letter explaining how much she appreciated their caring and knowledgeable staff and the valuable services they provided. She included a check with a generous donation with both letters.

She went on to tell me that she received thank you letters from both organizations within a few days. She appreciated knowing they received her letter and contribution in a timely manner. However, the difference between the two letters was so stunning to her that she will never forget the experience.

One neatly-addressed envelope contained what appeared to be a generic thank-you letter that had been customized by changing the date, amount of donation and adding her name to the salutation. Even the signature of the nonprofit’s executive director was already imbedded in the template. She was accustomed to getting a similar type of letter when she had made charitable contributions, so she quickly scanned it to make sure it contained all the information she needed and put it in a file with her other tax papers.

When she received the second letter, she was surprised to see that the envelope was hand-addressed and even more amazed to find a hand-written letter from the organization’s executive director inside. In the letter, the director expressed how grateful he was to receive her gracious thank-you letter and her unexpected and generous gift. He went on to tell her how her contribution would be used to extend the services her family members received to others in need. She was especially touched that he asked permission to continue to keep her informed about the work of the organization in the future.

She actually started to tear up when she told me the letter made her feel like her contribution made a real difference. In fact, the letter meant so much to her that she folded it up and put it in her purse, anxious to share it with others. By the time tax season rolled around the letter was in terrible shape from being shared and reread so often. She had to ask the organization’s staff for one of those “generic” thank-you letters to take to her accountant!

For me, this woman’s story is a perfect illustration of what the research has proven. Donors want to know that their contribution is appreciated and they want to know how the organization is using it to make a difference. Personal attention and follow up are the keys to creating a great giving experience for our donors. Those two critical elements don’t cost anything more than your time.

At this point, you’re probably wondering the same thing I was when this woman ended her story. Did the executive director follow through and keep her informed and did she make another contribution? The answer to both is “yes.” She has continued to support them because she said, “I know they need my support and they do great things with it.”

The best cultivation is a great gift giving experience.

Have you had a similar experience as a donor or as a nonprofit?


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Posted by Michele Goodrich
Michele Goodrich

Written by Michele Goodrich

Since joining the DBD team in 2010, Michele Goodrich has provided resource development counsel to youth-focused, arts and cultural, health-related and educational nonprofit organizations throughout the country. Her extensive and diverse experience in nonprofit leadership positions makes it possible for her to tailor her approach to each nonprofit client’s set of circumstances as well as its unique culture and distinct strengths.

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