We woke this morning to the news of David Bowie’s death. I had no idea he’d been ill.
I’m not qualified to write about his music and life – so this isn’t about music.
But this morning, an early response to a fan letter from David Bowie was making the rounds.
(If you haven’t checked out Letters of Note, it’s worth your time. Fascinating stuff!)
I had to change what I intended to write about today. Because his letter is a good example of what we should try to do – especially with thank you letters.
Bowie’s letter struck me because it’s so down to earth. It’s from a human being. He sounds a little surprised, and very pleased, that a fan from the US has taken the time to write.
When I called in this, my manager’s office, a few moments ago I was handed my very first American fan letter – and it was from you. I was so pleased that I had to sit down and type an immediate reply, even though Ken is shouting at me to get on with a script he badly needs. That can wiat (wi-at? That’s a new English word which means wait).
Contrast that letter with a later one. Now he’s got letterhead, a busy touring schedule and success.
As (form) fan letters go, this is still pretty good. But it’s a form letter. And his fan is more distant.
Which kind of letter are you writing?
When you sit down to write a thank you letter, do you imagine creating something your donor will want to hang on to? Will it make her feel special, treasured, important?
Or will it get filed with the tax information?
I know you can’t write a new thank you for each gift. But your goal should be for each donor to feel as if you did.
Bowie knew only a few things about his first US fan. He knew what she wanted to know about him. He knew she was American.
So he shared the information she asked for (mostly). He told her about himself. His feelings, his experiences.
So much to delight here:
- It’s immediate. (“I had to sit down and type an immediate reply”)
- It’s chatty, even funny. (“wi-at? That’s a new English word which means wait.”)
- It’s personal – a direct reply to her.
- And she’s important! (His manager can wait.)
- Finally, he asks her to write again and share more about herself.
How exciting to get a letter from David Bowie, wanting to know more about you!
That is an invitation to a relationship.
How can you aim for the same response?
Start with what you know:
- You know your donor’s name.
- You know she gave you a gift.
- You know how much she gave.
- You know what she meant for you to do with that gift.
So you actually know quite a bit.
Start by addressing her by name. (And please, please, take the time to get that right!)
Then thank her, sincerely. Not from a committee. Not on behalf of an organization or a board. From you, a person.
Recognize that she did something wonderful and unusual – she didn’t just think about giving, she gave.
That makes her pretty special. Say so.
You also know she must care about your mission. So share with her what her generosity will accomplish.
Then, just as Bowie did, ask her to continue the relationship. Not by asking for another gift, necessarily.
But you could ask for more information. “Tell me why this cause is important to you.”
A warm template and some variable data should make it possible to treat each donor as a special person.
What about you?
It might not be Letters of Note, but my nightstand drawer has a few special thank you letters from friends. Some are 20 years old.
But there they stay because reading them reminds me that people I care about – people whose opinions matter – thought well of me.
And isn’t that the point?
Aim high – try to create a thank you letter your donor will save.
More on thank you letters:
A request for my readers:
For the next two weeks, I’ll be bringing you guest posts on topics slightly outside the usual. I hope you’ll find the variety interesting.
Would you let me know what you think?
Photo thanks to Dustin Lee