Saturday, July 14, 2007

How to: Writing thank you notes

Writing thank you notes is a lost art.  This was never more clear to me than a month or so ago.  A college student we know was preparing to go overseas for a summer ministry and sent us a letter requesting our prayer and financial support.  Since we believe in this student and their work, we sent off a check.  While we later got an updated support letter, we never got a thank you note.

I didn't really think any more about it until someone else mentioned getting a support letter from the same person and that they were wondering whether they should contribute.  Why was there an question?  Because that person had never received a thank you from previous years' support.  Years plural, not year.

That got me thinking again about a great podcast I listened to back in March.  Produced by my favorite management gurus Mike & Mark, they give some great guidelines for the lost art of thank you note writing.

Here are some key take-aways:

  1. Materials - Store bought is fine, but an upgrade is worth it.  Some people get hung up on the quality of the materials and never right the card.  They're afraid store bought cards aren't good enough.  WRITE THE CARD... with whatever you have!
  2. Only say "thank you" twice in the body of the note.
  3. Never ask a question or request a favor in a thank you note.  It completely negates the value of your note. Maybe this is obvious but it should be stated.
  4. It is never too late to write a "thank you".  It's never, never, never too late to send a thank you note.  The debt owed by a kindness never expires.
  5. Hand-written is always best, even if you're handwriting isn't good.
  6. If you're thanking someone for a financial gift, don't mention the amount in the thank you.  This makes the note about the money and not about the relationship.

What should you write in a thank you?  Here's a simple format to get you started.  It should generally be three paragraphs:

First paragraph: One sentence long where you say "thank you".  Like, "Thank you for your generous gift."  "Thank you for hosting us for dinner last night."

Second paragraph:  Two sentences written to personalize the note.  This communicates you've thought about the recipient and not sent them a templated note.  For example, "The steak was great and the company was better.  I'll always remember the jokes we shared."

Third paragraph: Simply restate your thanks in one sentence.  "Again, you have my thanks and best wishes" or "Again, I'm in your debt and look forward to returning the favor."

That's just a simple format that covers all the bases and gives you a structure on which to build.

Earlier in the year I had several lunches with a wealthy man who has contributed significantly to several organizations, including my own.  He shared with me that he had once contacted an agency and asked how much it took to support one missionary family for a year on the field.  When he got the answer he wrote a check to support a particular missionary with that organization.  Months and months went by and he never heard from either the organization or the supported missionary.  He never did.  And he never sent a check like that again.

He told me, I didn't want a plaque, I didn't want a big thing made out of my gift.  I really just wanted some feedback that the gift had arrived and had the intended effect.

Missionaries, by virtue of their calling, often find themselves on the receiving end of things.  Their lives and work depend on the graciousness and generosity of others.  Let's make sure we're equally as gracious in thanking the people who make our work possible.


bernie said...

Jeff, This is an awesome post. It is so critical that we who are in ministry and who are supported by the generosity of the Saints of God show our gratitude to God and to his people in a tangible way. My handwriting absolutely sucks, but when someone gives to our family they hear from me. I think it's important that the male half of the missionary couple be involved with this process of expressing gratitude, as well. I don't leave that to my wife as "women's work" or whatever. (Even though Renee' has beautiful handwriting!). She may add a note, as well - but it's something I personally try to stay involved in. I just think it's important. If we get to the point of taking our support for granted, people will not want to give anymore. They then become disobedient - and we who were not vocal with are gratitude will play our part in causing others to sin. Not something I want to be involved in.

Thanks for a great post.

華榮光 said...

This is a really helpful post for me too, Jeff. I've been pretty good about sending out thank-you notes over the years because Mike Sohm really stressed it when I was going out. However, one of the "sins" I've sometimes committed evident from your post is sharing the amount thinking that the giver might want me to confirm it. Thanks for the post!

Jeff said...

Guys, thanks for the comments. The podcast is excellent and I forgot to mention the URL again; it's worth a listen. I'm not a pro at this, but I thought it was worth passing on.

Mark, the "don't mention the amount" line comes from the Manager-tools forum. I had posted a question to "the community" looking for the wisdom of the hive mind and that was the consensus. Mark Horstman he once gave a $75K gift and was horrified in the thank you note at the continued reference.

Okay, Manager-Tools might not be the best source for this kind of information, but I don't know of a missionary-oriented site that's talking about it. If anyone has any other input on mentioning the amount of gifts in the thank you, I'd like to hear it.

dpeach said...

This is an excellent post Jeff. Thank you for sharing.

Bernie, I take care of the Thank You notes in our ministry. It is funny that my wife does not see the need as much as I do. It normally would be the wife who understands this.

I have better handwriting anyway.

Carolyn said...

Well said, Jeff. Excellent post.

Brian said...

Incredible post! Writing "Thank Yous" something my wife and I are religious about for people who support us. However, I think it is important to mention the amount given (Thank you for your generous gift of $50). But only mention it that one time. One simple reason is that we have had times where a check doesn't get entered in for the correct amount. So we enter X when they really gave Y. Some people do keep careful track of donations for their taxes. And churches often give an amount, but that amount was decided by a small number of people. When they post the thank you note, everyone who reads it knows how much they church gave.

But this is a minor point. Include the amount or don't, but WRITE THE NOTE!

Jeff said...

Brian, thanks for the great comment. I love interacting with people about these things. You raise some good points here on the "pro amount" side of the discussion.

The points you raised were the very things that influence me to include the amount. I'm still a little conflicted about it, to be honest. I'm going to continue to not write amounts, generally, but think there are circumstances when it's probably appropriate.

It may be that including an amount in a thank you addressed to a group (church) is more appropriate than to an individual. What do you think?

I don't have all the answers to this one, but I'm enjoying the discussion.

Katie Baird said...

Jeff, I just found this post and want to convey my appreciation for how you have laid the process out.

In my opinion, not enough people these days agree that thank you notes are important and some view them as anachronistic.

In fact, I just blogged on this topic myself yesterday and have received a couple of interesting comments on the subject.

Anonymous said...

This post from nearly 5 years ago is still helping people. My daughter is going on her first mission trip this summer and has been faced with the responsiblity of raising support. I decided to google "missionary support thank you" to be sure she handled thanking people in the best way. Your blogpost has been very helpful and I just thought you should know.

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Erin Brown said...

Thanks for saying it's never too late to send a thank you. Would it be better to send a thank you soon after the donation is made or after the (short-term) mission trip has taken place? There would be about 3 months from the time of beginning asking for donations to the actual trip. Partly I don't want donors to have to wait for a thank you, but want them to know how the trip went afterward.

Mark said...

Thank you Jeff for this site and everyone who has made comment.They are all helpful.We would ever live to learn how to do things better.I will like to approach thank you from a cultural point of view.In some part of Africa and from my immediate environment thank you is an inspirational reflects deep and great thoughtfulness from the support receiver and helps to strengthen relationship.Mentioning the amount can be based on individual supporters expectation.thank you all for reflecting great minds.Mark

Joan said...

I believe thank you notes are important for every circumstance. It seems to me that to many people today know your address when requesting support, or inviting you to weddings etc but some how seem to have lost your address when it comes time to say thank you.

I was raised sending notes, and I guess still am old fashioned that way, but when I give a donation to an organization and do not receive a thank you or acknowledgement of some sort, I tend not to give support again.