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.



08/10/2011 22:38

You are so right CA, a thank you letter that is personal, timely and heartfelt can bowl us over - ten times so for fundraisers. We know more than anyone when it's done right.

Almost embarrassing that your smallest charity stewards you better than the one you give your biggest gifts to.

Good on you Vinnie's!

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12/31/2011 17:09

It's tough to beat the power of the human touch, Christina.

Influence expert Robert Cialdini says the ideal gift is
- significant and
- personalized and
- unexpected
Vinnie's got all three right. They're setting a wonderful example by showing they care.

PS Most of the greeting cards I received for the holidays and the New Year were generic ... once again. Ditto for the electronic greetings.

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Christina Attard
01/02/2012 14:35

Thanks for the comment, Promod.

The generic electronic greetings lasted mere minutes in my inbox - and I do have emails I've saved since 1999 because I treasure those personal messages.

I did get one excellent Christmas card this year though - it was on paper, it was handwritten (though brief) and signed by the most senior member of the organization. It's also the only card that made it onto the mantle with the ones from family and friends. A pretty prized place for a "work" card and proof of your point that a personal touch is a powerful way to brand your organization.

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12/01/2012 00:53

It's quite impressive.

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06/12/2013 06:10

With your Shop are organized successful fundraising

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06/19/2013 10:36

If you organize a successful fundraiser you need to have a good plan

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07/18/2013 11:19

I'm sure there will be enough good people and you will succeed in fundraising

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07/30/2013 11:27

With a good idea and we can organize a successful fundraiser

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