Though I've worked for many years with large universities, I have also gotten to know a lot of small charities and non-profits, which is the most common agency size in Canada.

Sometimes, as donors, rather than fundraisers, we get the opportunity to support a small operation that is exceptional. For me, this year, that group is the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Kingston, more generally known as "Vinnie's."

The story is that last December, I realized that the entire giving season had gone by without having made the time to support a food program in my community. I suspected that some of these organizations would be in need of cash donations rather than goods in order to purchase essential items that rarely get donated. I decided (fairly randomly) to call up Vinnie's for the first time and make a gift.

What was probably not atypical of a small operation is that Vinnie's only employs 1.5 staff members. One person runs the warehouse, food pantry and all the administration and the other half-time person cooks the lunches and manages the kitchen. There really isn't a website, there aren't a lot of fancy things like online giving or twitter and the location is in the wrong part of town.

So, where's the magic?

In early January, a thank you letter arrived. It was hand-addressed, it included my daughter's name, it had a personalized message, it was hand-signed, it was four pages long and the most recent newsletter was enclosed. Moreover, it contained an invite to come by for a visit any time.

I took them up on the offer for a visit. I also realized about that time that I'd unwittingly reserved a book at the library called "A Year of Living Generously" that described the author, Larry Scanlan's, volunteer involvement there a year prior. The "50-cent" tour, as they described it was eye-opening, humbling, welcoming and world-changing. I became hooked and joined the fundraising volunteer committee.

The letter I received stood out for me among the many electronically signed, impersonal and even entirely absent thank you letters from other, much larger and better-staffed organizations I supported last year. This was the only one that did a great job of telling me specifically how my support made life better for others. It also got me through their door for the first time. What I saw that first day made me feel an incredible desire to do more. 

Sometimes seeing is believing and I know that when it comes to charities, believing is at the heart of giving.

Things are going well. Our capital campaign launch started out with an open house and support is coming in to help with badly needed building repairs. I think the success is based on the personal outreach to others via those that volunteer there. Thelma, who helps out in the kitchen each day, shared how Vinnie's is her family and how the experience has changed her personally. Most of the room was teary-eyed by the end.

For fundraisers: Does your thank you letter compel your donors to engage further via a personal invitation to look and even step inside your work? Does it help to make them feel that they are a part of your effort to create a better future in a tangible way? Are you telling a story that touches others?

For donors: Giving may not (always) be about receiving recognition, but thank you letters are about helping you to feel like a partner in the mission. It's important to consider the role you wish to play through your giving and whether the relationship being built with you by the agencies you support is the right fit for you.



 

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