When should you stop writing letters?

I was reading the sunday papers last weekend when I came across an intriguing start-up company called Inkpact Marketing. The genius idea of Charlotte Pearce, they hand-write letters for clients:

to offer a truly unique, exclusive and personalised marketing service, through handwritten letters. Our business is built on the understanding that relationships are fundamentally the most important part of business.

You could argue that outsourcing handwritten letters slightly flies in the face of a personalized relationship, but it’s still an intriguing idea and it seems to have impact with customers…or inkpact!

When I was young, I remember the day after Christmas being sat down to hand write all my thank you letters. My family is big, so it was a herculean task. Many years later, and my thank yous to family tend to be more on the electronic spectrum. My older siblings do still hand-write their thank yous, and I’ll freely admit, that feels special. At work, handwritten letters in their entirety are rare, but I try to personalize my communications as much as I can.

But there is a dilemma I feel I am no closer to resolving. As a fundraiser, I know that the personal relationship we have with supporters can be key to success. I’ve lost count of the number of charity blogs and expert advisers that talk about personalizing thank yous. They’re right, of course. I had a fundraising boss who used to set aside Friday afternoon every week just to personally write (ok, type, I think!) thank yous. I do type personal thank you letters and then top and tail. My personal bugbear? If you have time to actually sign a letter, then you have time to hand-write the salutation at the top!

I also encourage my team to personalize, and to be honest, they are brilliant at it. Our Events fundraiser juggles hundreds of supporters and over £300,000 of income every year and yet manages to sustain personalized communications with the vast majority. Undoubtedly this has brought supporters closer to the cause and motivated them to do more. Similarly, our Community fundraiser has developed a personalised approach to supporters that has increased their engagement and made them feel like we really care. (And, crucially, this is true. In the office, rarely a day goes by when we don’t comment on one or more of our supporters and the astounding commitment they show to help others. We describe them as amazing and fantastic because they really are! So we do care about them.)

What’s less easy to judge is exactly how much of a financial uplift happens as a result of these more personal relationships, and at what point might we have to reconsider our approach. We would all like to continue as we are, but as a charity, we have ambitious plans for growth and the more time spent personally communicating with supporters, the less time there is for the many other demands on our time. I balk at even writing that sentence but it needs to be said.

In the end, what our supporters are keen for us to do is spend their hard raised money on helping everyone affected by cardiomyopathy. It’s not always easy to justify spending time handwriting letters in that context. At what level do handwritten letters reduce our investment of time and people in growing income in other ways? If I hand-write to all our individual givers, they may really appreciate it and some may well increase their donations, but all I would have time to do would be a personal letter writer. Not apply for tens of thousands of pounds in grants, not think strategically about tying together our annual appeal with our campaigns. Should big charities have teams of personal letter writers? Would donors really accept that, however much personal delight they felt when receiving one themselves?

As I said, it’s a dilemma I am no closer to resolving, however appealing the idea of handwritten letters may be!

What’s your view?


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