by Ellen Cattadoris
During the first week of November I had a meeting with our Executive Director to discuss the upcoming Christmas mailing. I felt completely uninspired. I was worried about writing a meaningful letter for the generous people who support our organization during Advent and Christmas.
I tried to prepare a draft in advance of the meeting, but everything I put on the page felt vaguely familiar. This was my fifth Christmas letter for Lutheran Music Program and it seemed I’d used up all the “good stuff” for a faith-based music organization to talk about in December. Last year, I asked people about their favorite Christmas carol. The year prior, I wrote about the angel choir in the Gospel of Luke. I’d already addressed Advent and family and the beautiful music that makes Christmas … well, Christmas.
As the meeting approached, my inner skeptic started to take over. Everything I wrote felt inauthentic and I started to think about those horrible statistics — you know what I’m talking about – 98 percent of direct mail ends up tossed aside or thrown in the garbage or lost in the mail or eaten by the dog. No one reads letters anymore, so what’s the point? Why take the time to create a meaningful “ask” – particularly during such a hectic time of year?
By sheer good fortune (or perhaps my tendency toward procrastination) I stumbled on an article in a fundraising magazine during my struggle with writer’s block. In the article, the author describes how his mother sets aside time each week to read correspondence from her favorite charities. He writes that although she is on a limited income and not always able to respond to every request, she does read them. This idea stopped me in my tracks. It reminded me that the best “ask” letters aren’t focused only on receiving. They also give something back to the people who care enough to support charitable organizations.
Now, before you think I’m in some sort of holiday-induced sugar haze, let me explain myself. I understand that we all have goals to meet and budgets to balance. But as development professionals who have the privilege of serving Christian philanthropists, I think it is equally important to remind our supporters why they donate. Our goal is to connect people to mission. To share honest, authentic stories about the good work being accomplished with their gift. To assure donors that their sustaining support changes lives.
Why do we ask? We ask to receive, but we should also ask to share and inform. To let people know how much they are appreciated. We are in the midst of a month that is all about giving. What better time to reach out and thank people for their generosity? To start from a place of gratitude? Yes, it is entirely possible that after all of your agony over comma placement (okay, that might just be me), your carefully crafted letter will end up buried in a snowbank or covered in eggnog. But I promise that the donors who respond (and those who would if they were able) will appreciate your thoughtful update. They will find joy in being thanked by a ministry they care about during a season that reminds us how important it is to share our gifts with others. Merry Christmas!
Ellen Cattadoris is Development Manager at the Lutheran Music Program in Minneapolis, Minn.