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Outreach Strategies and Donor Communication with Communication Specialist, David Wachs
Handwritten communication is one of the most underutilized forms of donor outreach. It has 3 times the open rate than standard open rates and nearly 23X the response rates.
A serial entrepreneur, David Wach‘s latest venture, Handwrytten, is bringing back the lost art of letter writing through scalable, robot-based solutions that write your notes in pen. Developed as a platform, Handwrytten lets you send notes from your CRM system, such as Salesforce, the web site, apps, or through custom integration. Used by major meal boxes, eCommerce giants, nonprofits, and professionals, Handwrytten is changing the way brands and people connect.
Prior to his current initiatives, David founded Cellit, a mobile marketing platform and mobile agency. Under David’s leadership, Cellit became a leading player in the mobile marketing space and invented the concept of mobile customer relationship management (Mobile CRM). Cellit developed one of the most robust and widely used mobile marketing platforms in the world, delivering millions of SMS and MMS messages to consumers daily. Cellit was sold to HelloWord (f/k/a ePrize) in January of 2012.
David is also a frequent speaker on marketing technology and has presented for the Direct Marketing Association, South By Southwest, Advertising Research Foundation, and the National Restaurant Association. David has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Variety, Washington Post, and many more.
Both Handwrytten and Cellit were on Inc. Magazine’s Inc 500 list of fastest-growing companies. David now also writes for Inc. Magazine with his column “Stepping Away from the Day to Day”.
For more information, go to: https://www.handwrytten.com
Read the Interview Transcript
Hugh Ballou: We started The Nonprofit Exchange about seven and a half years ago to bring really good skills and wisdom and experience and methodologies from the business community to nonprofit leaders, who are running a tax-exempt business, so they can learn about good sound business principles.
In 32 years of working with all kinds of organizations, a whole lot of community-based charities, entrepreneurs, mid-cap corporations, churches, synagogues, it’s never once failed to come up that communication was a problem. We are not going to cover all the bases of communication today. We are going to talk about some personal avenues of communication and an under-utilized way of staying in touch with your tribe, growing your tribe, keeping your tribe engaged, and some other things, maybe even expanding our tribe. Our tribe are people who support us, appreciate what we’re doing, and could support us more if they just knew what we needed.
My guest today is coming in from Phoenix, Arizona, David Wachs. David is going to talk to us specifically about handwritten, but the overall methodology and subject matter of communications. David, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. Tell people a little bit about who you are and why you do what you do.
David Wachs: Thank you so much for having me, Hugh. I have been in the communications space for the better part of my career, starting in 2004 when I started a text messaging company. With that, we were sending millions of text messages a day to retail consumers, people who would walk into Abercrombie & Fitch, Toys R Us, Sam’s Club, and all those places. I sold that company in 2012. Worked for the new owners for two years.
What happened between 2004 and 2014 is I realized I was part of the problem. Text messaging is great. It is a tremendous way to get in the pockets of your consumer literally, and they read it right away. It can also be annoyance. Even if they read it right away, it’s forgotten right away. Then the day after leaving that company, I started my current initiative, Handwrytten, thinking, “What is personal?” Now the average office worker gets 140 emails per day. They spend 24% of their time managing their inbox. Email is now a chore. It’s a task on their to-do that they have to spend a quarter of their time doing. Then you add in text messages. I was guilty of that. You add in Slack and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and all these other electronic forms of communication. Eventually it all becomes noise. What I wanted to do is figure out how to add handwritten notes to the available channels in a scalable way.
When I sold the last company, I wanted to write all of my employees and customers a handwritten note. When I walk into my employees’ offices or my own office, every time I received a handwritten note, I saw that not only were they read, but they were kept and treasured. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I were to send my employees one and my clients one?” I sat down with the best intention, and 10 in, I was done. My hand cramped. I was out of stamps and paper. It was hard work. I thought, “What could we do to automate handwritten notes?” I am happy to talk about that, but really what I am here to do is talk about the benefits of multi-channel communication and how handwritten notes can be a benefit to that multi-channel communication of multiple touchpoints. Long answer.
Hugh: Thank you for that. That was a great answer. These are not advertisements for business, but we do encourage you to check out your website, Handwrytten.com. it’s a beautiful website, and it’s informative about David and what he does.
Our audience is nonprofit leaders and clergy. I gotta tell you, it’s very frustrating when people talk about communication as if it’s an it. They talk about it but don’t do anything about it, principally because people misunderstand it. They don’t think about what the specific messages could be. What are the occasions that we need to have touchpoints with each other?
At SynerVision, we teach that leadership has a basis in relationship. As a second to that, communication has a basis in relationship. It’s a form of relationship. I remember when I got my first fax machine. That was magical. Email was double magical. Then we got texting. We never took anything away although we don’t fax as much.
Back to the personal communication. We are still human beings, and we have relationships with one another. Where do we start when we start thinking about how to build communication systems for our enterprises?
David: There are some frameworks you should consider. I call it the four C’s: Contact, who you need to reach out to; Cadence, Content, and Channel. The channel is the hard one to remember because the sound is different. With those four C’s, who are you contacting, how frequently are you contacting them, what are you sending them information on, and through what channel? Ideally, different consumers like to receive information in different ways.
Different content should be received in different ways. For instance, a bill or a renewal notice to up your donation is best served with an email with a link to click. A weekly or monthly update on what is happening in the organization, maybe that is best served with an email or a printed piece. But then come the holidays, and it’s time to thank your donors. Maybe that is best served with a handwritten note. If there is some last minute event you want to get the word out on, perhaps that is best served as a text message, push notification, tweet, or something else. You really need to consider the four C’s: content, contact, communication, and channel. There is room in all that for these different channels of communication.
A great place to start is email. It’s an easy way to build up your list. If you can then get home addresses, you can extend that to print and handwritten notes. Then you have everything. What you really need to do as an organization is think about it holistically. Also build a preference center, which can be quite difficult. There aren’t too many providers out there that provide email, text, and handwritten notes all at once. You have to go to different providers for each one. To build that preference center so the user can tell you exactly how often they want to be communicated to or from what channel can be a difficult task. I think that should be the end goal of any organization is really capture how your tribe wants to communicate.
Hugh: Yes. Tribe is the global thing. In the nonprofit world, I talk more about supporters. There are people who are interested, but the people who actually step up with their time, talent, and money are called supporters. It’s really important. You hit on some key things in that short narrative. The frequency is really critical. The specific message, and to whom are you sending it. the right message to the right person in the right frequency. There is a rhythm to this. I can tell you I’m triple average because I get 3x that 140 emails a day. Even when I opt out, it’s still a problem. It’s already gone through two robust spam filters. Texting is getting worse. It’s not as personal.
I served churches from small to mega churches for 40 years as music director. I determined that 10% of my job was music. The rest of it, the 90%, made the music possible. Part of that was establishing effective communication programs. When you have 22 ensembles, 200 events a week, and are on TV every day, you have to coordinate things if people need to know where to be and what they’re supposed to do.
In addition to that kind of communication, which we mostly did by email back then, I would make it a point every day. I had some nice stationery printed up with the music ministry. I would write a note to somebody who had done something I could appreciate them doing to affirm something about them. You would’ve thought I sent them a gold certificate. I got a thank you note for sending a thank you note. That process I found to continue building relationship. I just would do one a day to somebody. Very rarely did I duplicate.
I wrestle on this. How often do we send out communications with people? How do we ask people how often? Do they really know how often? We’re the ones with updates we want to share with people. How do you come to this frequency?
David: With email, email is probably the one you can, for lack of a better term, spam to because if they don’t want to read it, they’ll delete it. No harm, no foul. Email, you could do one to two times a month. Text messages, that is a high alert item for most organizations. When I was doing text messaging for my clients, it was sales. It wasn’t really nonprofits. But we did a lot of sales or event reminders, high profile or high importance, urgent notices. You have to respect you are getting them in their pocket.
Handwritten notes aren’t right for everything. For one, they’re expensive because you typically write that note on a nice, printed piece of stationery. Any book mail printing you do, it would be more than that because you have to take a nicer piece of print and write on it. It’s expensive for one. If you do it too frequently, it will lose that wow effect. Once a quarter to once a year would be a good framework for handwritten notes. We work with nonprofits that send a thank you note after a large donation, an anniversary of a donation. We work with the Canadian counterpart of a U.S. megachurch, and we are expanding into Australia and the AEMA. It’s donations, birthdays, holiday cards. There are personal touchpoints. For another nonprofit, we include with the handwritten note a donor envelope so they can return that back. During big drives, they are working with us in sending out those notes.
Handwritten notes are the least. Below that, regular print mail, which you could do monthly if you like. Email, you could do biweekly or monthly. Texting is urgent, ad hoc notifications. That is how I’d split it up.
Hugh: That’s great. Part of our methodology at SynerVision is to encourage people. You have different demographics. Let’s segment the demographics. I’m a boomer. It’s interesting. We have a class in Dallas listening in who are forming questions for you. Their teacher is a famous philanthropist and teacher of philanthropy, and he has done a lot with teaching youth about philanthropy. It was led by millennials. The old guy was doing the technology. There is an assumption because I am a boomer that I don’t do technology. That’s wrong. Most boomers have a different profile than I do. It’s good to acknowledge that.
Messaging. Texting is probably more effective with millennials. Their schedule isn’t two weeks out; it’s two minutes out. There is a different methodology or protocol. I value this highly. It’s something I think is crucial. We need to cut through all the noise and get the critical message to the person that matters. Talk about the demographics or psychographics of different generations or locations. Is there a difference in the kind of culture you’re sending it to with the generations?
David: Absolutely. It’s unique time. To your point, the older generations are just as good as the younger generations at technology thanks to Apple. It’s making everything so darn easy these days, so it’s accessible to everybody.
I don’t know every consumer, but if you are going more rural, you might want to tend toward printed handwritten notes. More urban, you could go more digital. We work with some hospitals that are technically nonprofits. They are trying to get their patients in to use their Medicare benefits for their once-a-year routine checkups. They can send them a printed letter, and that printed letter won’t get read because it looks like a piece of junk mail. They can try to email them, and they don’t check emails. Handwritten notes cut through the clutter for that demographic. Other demographics, email and text. If you are tending very young, stick to text and social media channels.
It’s hard to pin for any one consumer these days. That’s why I recommend creating a preference center so people can choose their own and provide feedback on how they like to be communicated to. If you can’t create a preference center, perhaps send out a survey. Say, “We want to stay in touch with you. What channels do you prefer?” Base it off that.
Hugh: George Bernard Shaw was known for his direct, pithy quotes. He says, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has actually taken place.” We’re talking about the topic of communication. It’s like the topic of leadership. If you Google it, you get millions and millions of results. It’s interesting. In a digital world, I have a computer. I am going to print a document. I am sending it to the printer. The printer says, “I got it.” If it doesn’t have ink, it sends another notice. We don’t do that in real life. There is no handshake, “I got it.” There is no affirmation that communication has been received. What are some of the biggest illusions or faults in our perception of communication?
David: I think one of the things that people are now doing is they are discounting all communication as being automated. The most sincere email, they know that whole process can be automated, so nobody typed up that email and sent it. That is probably a really big one.
People making this assumption and then sending the rude follow-up, “Oh, you didn’t respond to my email. Checking back in.” There are email systems like PersistIQ and Reply.io that send automated email chains. If you don’t respond, it sends another one saying, “Making sure you read my last email.” It’s disrespectful. I know it’s a canned email that is coming out. Then they are reminding me to read their spam. They are spamming me twice.
I think you have to be sensitive to the onslaught of email and print and keep stuff short. When I was in college 25 years ago, they said, “Write your email so you don’t have to scroll it.” That’s even more true today. If you can keep it to a single paragraph. Especially with handwritten notes. We have people sending notes that are troves long. We say, “No, keep it to 500 characters or less. Make it simple.” The length of the note is almost as important as the content. People are so busy. For one, they are used to the Twitter generation of 280 characters or less. It started out as 140. Now, we’re so strapped for time that if I were to send you the most genuine handwritten note, and it went more than one page, you’d consider it a homework assignment. Keep everything very short, to the point, concise.
Get your message across with handwritten notes. We’re doing sincere thanks. Getting to your point, communication these days is what’s in it for me? We work with businesses and nonprofits. The question is, “What is the ROI on a handwritten note?” My response to them is, “You’re missing the point.” With most handwritten communication, it’s to express pure gratitude. It’s not for a return. I say, “Send a handwritten note. Say thank you. Full stop. Don’t expect anything in return. If you expect anything in return, it’s insincere. It’s not gratitude; it’s transactional.” As a society, not so much communication-wise, but as a society, we have become entitled. That entitlement could come, “Why didn’t you read my email I sent you?” It could be, “Of course you donated to me. I don’t need to thank you for choosing my nonprofit out of the tens of thousands of nonprofits you could have donated to.” I think there is a real lack of gratitude in our society. That comes across in every form of communication.
With the younger generation, there is this trend towards completely ignoring faults in themselves and bouncing that back on the other person. If I were a business or a nonprofit, and I screwed up, and Hugh, you told me, “Hey, you screwed up. You put the wrong donation amount and debited my account too much.” My response, which I find when I deal with the younger generation is, “Oh, you must have sent me the wrong information.” They bounce it back to you instead of owning and accepting fault and having a little bit of humility. This is another topic altogether. With that gratitude, you also have to have some humility and accept fault. Sometimes accept fault even if it’s not your fault. That creates customers and donors for life if you own the situation.
This is going back 50 years. When my grandmother was younger, she made a brisket. We’re Jewish; it’s a big thing. She bought a brisket from the grocery store. She made it. It didn’t taste right. She brought the whole cooked brisket with the onions and the gravy back to the grocery store, and they took it back. These days, nobody would do that. There is not that notion of, “The customer is always right.” It’s always, “You screwed this up. You owe me this business.” There is no humility or gratitude. In this culture, we really have to reinstill that in all forms of communication.
Hugh: We’ll test that when we go to Bob’s class with the young leaders in Dallas. I don’t think they own that space. I would say old male boomers don’t want to be told they’re wrong. There is a demographic of, “It’s not my fault, man.”
There is a bunch of stuff in what you talked about. How do we continue building relationship? People will read your stuff and listen to you and respond to you if there is that trust piece. Trust builds trust. We overlook the obvious. The obvious is, you’re right. We can’t measure ROI on gratitude. If we can, it’s measurable 10 years later when people say, “When you reached out to me, that made a big difference.” The point was we were grateful for your donation because it allowed us to do something, which we should tell them.
There is another George Bernard Shaw quote which comes to mind when he wrote his friend this long letter. He said, “I’m sorry it’s such a long letter. I didn’t have time to shorten it.” We want to whine. We’re too busy, we’re overworked, I don’t have time to do this, so I am going to send them the whole thing and make them dig through it. Wrong! They are going to put it aside. It’s going to be filed in that round file. It’s going to be an afterthought if anything.
I encourage nonprofit leaders to have regular communication with their boards of directors. Once a year, we need to send them a personal note. It’s not about the work of the nonprofit. It’s some personal communication of gratitude because they are giving their time, talent, and money. They are not giving it to you, but they are making your work better because that is a genuine place I could see sending a handwritten note to would be terrific.
Our other supporters. We need to give them an update on what is happening. The board knows what’s happening. We have a bunch of supporters who don’t know what is happening. Maybe quarterly, “Hey, here’s what happened in the last quarter. You made it better.” As a summary, maybe a QR code or link they could go if they want to know more about it.
Then there is the donors. They deserve to know that you’ve been good stewards of the dollars. I don’t think they want to hear about it every day. Once a quarter is probably a good rhythm because you will do an annual campaign. If you stay in touch with them, they are more likely to continue as donors if you say, “Here’s what we’ve done with your money” in a summary form. I’m sure we could put 500 characters. You have to get down to what you want to say, and you need to crystallize it.
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You’ve got a niche that is so underserved. People don’t even think about this. They think about how busy they are when if they actually stayed in touch with people, you might attract more energy that would help take some things off your plate and build your leadership skills. David, is it all right if we take some audience questions?
David: Of course.
Hugh: Let’s go to Dallas, Texas. Bob Hopkins is the author of Philanthropy Misunderstood, and he is one of our most regular followers. Bob, are you in your classroom today and do you have some questions?
Bob Hopkins: Yes, I’m with eight very bright students. We are taking my course, Human Communications. This is so timely, David. I have asked these students to write to their tribe, which I call a circle of influence. This is McKenna.
McKenna: I was wondering if you could tell me the psychological difference in receiving a letter versus a text, especially in the category of military members and missionaries.
David: Yeah. We automate handwritten notes. Handwritten notes are the last bastion of communication that most people don’t think can be automated. Whether you automate it or you don’t, when you send a handwritten note or give one, because it really is a gift, what you are giving is your time. What I mean by that is when you send a handwritten note, the perceived value is that you the sender sat down for five minutes, thought about you, and wrote out the note. You didn’t just upload into a spreadsheet and send an email or text. It’s the last form of communication that still feels like it requires an investment of time.
As I got on with Hugh here, the first thing I did was it took me a good 30 seconds to shut down everything: my email, Teams, Slack, my phones. Nobody has concentrated time anymore. When you write a handwritten note, you have to have that time, and you cannot get interrupted. If you get interrupted, you screw up the note and have to start all over again usually. Versus a text to military.
With the handwritten note, the other thing is the physicality. Just knowing that your loved one touched that piece means a lot. The stamp, the texture of the cardstock or paper or envelope, it is “touching.” People get that. I really think the gift is the time. You can always insert something with that handwritten note, such as a gift card, a return envelope. We work with Team Rubicon, a military nonprofit, and they include patches. Those are all great and good, but really the gift is the note itself because that is what symbolizes the thoughtfulness and time. Does that answer the question?
Bob: That was good. I enjoyed that. This is Carmen.
Carmen: Hello, my name is Carmen. I remember years ago when we didn’t have a phone, I have a comment and question. I remember I used to write a lot. When I received a letter from my mom because I am from Bolivia, so for them to send me a letter took almost two months to get in my hands. I remember when I opened it, I was so excited and happy. In that time, we don’t have a phone, and we don’t know how to communicate.
My question is now that technology has blown up so fast, when it changes, I don’t see people writing letters. I wish we could do that. When did it disappear? How did we let it disappear, this beautiful habit of writing? We don’t write either. I stopped writing.
David: I think it’s our fault. Our, meaning any 20+ something-year-old. In schools, they don’t teach cursive anymore, which I find crazy, at least in the United States. There is a return to it though. It’s more in the high end perhaps. These high end pens. There is afficionados and magazines about high-end pens. There is that luxe high-end printed letter press stationery that people like. That’s very niche. What went from everyday has become special and niche. I don’t know how that happened. I think email is certainly probably the culprit. Maybe 20 years ago, we started making that transition.
I think it’s tragic, but I think it creates opportunities for high importance communication or high value communication like a birthday, or a solicitation for donation to cherry-pick those opportunities to use this old form of communication as it does stand out. When I receive a handwritten note now, and the average consumer only gets about three a month, I save that as the last piece of mail to open. I have the bills, the bad news. Then I have the dessert. A lot of people do that. I consider handwritten notes almost like little gifts.
People ask us all the time if we can do postcards. Technically we can do postcards, but it’s missing the point. With a postcard, there isn’t that moment of, “Who sent this to me? Let me open it up and look.” Instead, it’s flip it over, read the dirty note on the back that has been destroyed by the postal mechanism. It’s a different channel altogether, I think. By leveraging the fact that nobody is doing it anymore, you stand out. Everybody is pivoting digitally, so you pivot analog. I think that creates opportunities for your communication and your organization.
Hugh: Very good question. While you’re cueing up another question, I want to ask David to talk about how you automate handwritten.
David: When I started this, I wanted to send out handwritten notes. It was too difficult at the time for me to write 10, let alone 100 or 1,000. Now we do 8,000 a day. The way we do it is we build robots. If you come here, we give tours of the facility. I love giving tours. We have a whole area of the office dedicated to building robots. These robots hold real ballpoint pens. It’s a Pilot G2 ballpoint pen that you can buy at Staples. It handwrites the note in the handwriting style of your choice. There is included variation in the handwriting. Two O’s look different. Do you cross two T’s with one crossbar or two? L’s at the beginning of the word are different than those at the end of the word. We do all that variation. We vary the line spacing in the left margin to make it look personal. A lot of people do the smear test. When they receive a note, they will lick the finger and smear the ink. Sure enough, it smears.
All of this has become much more critical in these days of COVID because so many people are still very isolated. When they receive something that is perceived to be handwritten, the impact is greater. We work with an online furniture store, but this is still applicable here. This store sent out handwritten notes to people who purchased their furniture. They had people calling in crying, saying, “Thank you for the note. It made me feel so special.” The crying is more to do with COVID and isolation, but it points to the fact that people are desperate for connection. They don’t feel those emails and text messages connect in the same way as old-fashioned communication.
Hugh: Love it. Thank you. Bob, do you have another question brewing?
Bob: Yes, I do. This is Tori.
Tori: Hi, David. What advice do you have for the younger generation to incorporate handwritten notes more within our lives? Are there any nonprofits you know about that might need our handwritten notes? Maybe a prison ministry or things of that nature.
David: Thank you for the question. Quite frankly, if you can write actual handwritten notes, every organization can benefit. If you can’t write them, we can automate them. There is an opportunity to inject them, not to replace existing communication, unless you are sending some cheesy birthday card that is laser-printed, but to add to your existing communication a handwritten component. That can benefit anyone.
For veterans, we recently duplicated a very heartfelt note that a general had to the troops still stationed in the Middle East. What we did was took that exact note and duplicated it exactly, every stroke, every error, everything, and sent it out to the troops. That is the most similar thing I have done to in prison ministry. Some of those troops probably felt trapped over there, too. I’m probably not answering your question, but I think most organizations could benefit from that real personal touch, which is missing in digital communication.
Hugh: I’m impressed by the maturity of these questions.
David: As am I.
Hugh: The pace of the pack is the pace of the leader, so it’s probably the inspiration of their professor. Bob, we have time for one more.
Bob: I’m going to ask one myself. First of all, I ask students, “Do you know how much a stamp costs?” They have no idea. They start with five cents. The highest they go is 32.
Bob: It’s now gone up to 55 or something like that.
David: 55 and a $1.20 international.
Bob: Wow. I send things internationally. I send my book internationally, and it never arrives. Or it arrives a couple months later. I don’t even trust international mail anymore. Am I wrong?
David: It’s very hard. The international first-class stamp, the $1.20, which covers two ounces or something, to certain countries, whether that is Canada, the U.K., or Australia, yeah, you can assume it will get there. But I certainly wouldn’t use it to go to Mexico. in a prior life, when I worked at the text messaging company, my client was Sam’s Club. I went down to Mexico to meet with them. They said they couldn’t use the mail because it wouldn’t arrive. It had nothing to do with the U.S. component or U.S. to country handoff. It was just that domestic last mile piece would never get there. That is certainly something to consider, the state of the country you are sending these notes to. If you are sending them to Bolivia, count your lucky stars if it gets there.
Bob: My last question is I require them to have business cards to hand out. What should we put on the business card? I tell them email address and telephone number. You don’t need to put your address. Now I’m thinking if you don’t put your address, people can’t respond to you with a letter or a note saying, “Thank you very much.” What do you think about that idea?
David: If there is enough real estate on the card, I think handwritten notes are so personal. If someone wants to send you a handwritten note, they can always call you off the number on the card or email you and ask you for your address. That is a good touchpoint and a bond-building opportunity. We will ask for their address, and they will ask why, taken aback. We say, “I want to send you a handwritten note.” The barrier comes right down. “Oh, sure, absolutely.” That can be a conversation creation opportunity.
Of course, for your students who are passing out the business cards, it’s the other end. The recipient of that needs to create that bond and have that opportunity to ask for their address to send a thank you note or a glad we met note. I don’t think it’s totally necessary, especially as handwritten notes are so rare these days. But if you have the real estate, why not?
The other thing is people are so transitory these days that if you print out business cards, those might outlast where you’re living, especially if you’re a student. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to throw your address out there. You will take your email and phone number everywhere you go, but your physical address could change yearly. That would be a reason not to.
Bob: Business cards only cost $9.95 for 250 of them.
David: Right. You can get new ones.
Hugh: Bob, you always bring precious content to this We are going to let you go back to your class. We are going to have a few more questions. Thanks to Bob and the students for being here today.
You keep bringing up pretty big-deal things. You get out a busines card. I have cards from years ago. Sometimes people move three or four times. People like to change their email addresses without doing a forwarding from the last one. That could be a dead end. We have cell phones. We typically take them with us and keep it for longer. I do find that sometimes people want to send you spontaneous mail, and that is always good to get a surprise. I also find, David, that every email I send has my physical address and email and phone number on it. The cards I print have all of that, too. People still say, “What is your address? I want to mail you something.” People don’t pay attention to some of those details anyway. I do think you have a good point. That personal connection that we are talking about is at the root of all communication. You can’t transfer a thought directly from one person to another, but you can build relationships.
David: Not yet.
Hugh: It’s tricky. Let’s talk about the content of your note. Let’s tell them everything. We are entrepreneurs. We are passionate about our church, synagogue, or nonprofit. We put inserts and pile everything in there. We send them this bulging package. That’s not a good idea. What is the essential message? What is the perfect size and type of content that we ought to include in this type of communication?
David: Physically, what we recommend is something small so that immediately they know it’s not a chore. Unless it’s some big surprise and delight moment, we recommend a 5”x7” card or an A2 folded card, which is 4.25”x5.5” when folded. Just a regular greeting card-size card you would find at a Hallmark.
The other question you need to determine at that time is do you want that card branded or unbranded? What I mean by that is do you want it to say, “Thank you,” or do you want it to say, “ABC Church thanks you?” That sends a different message. If I send you a card that just says “thank you” on it, that might almost be more personal than if I were to send you a card that looks like it’s on some corporate stationery. That is a very personal decision to make. Maybe you do some testing and send some on one and send some on another. Here, we do all types of stationery for all people, so we can do it both ways.
The next thing is the content itself. How long of a note do you want to write? We like to keep notes down to 500 characters. We find that fills a card more than enough. 500 characters on an A2 card, that is a full A2 card of writing or a full 5”x7” flat card of writing. Anything more than that, people might get turned off by in this day and age. Frankly, you can get by with less than half of that. You can get by with 200 characters of, “Thank you so much for your donation. It really means a lot to our organization.” Or, “We wanted to share this important bit of information with you.” Keep it very short. To your point, include a QR code or a shortened URL so that people can get more information on the topic.
We in the past have included little pieces of treasure, whether that is a badge or business card or gift card. In the note itself, we can include little calls to action. Maybe a unique code that gets written so that someone has unique access to the event. Or a website or something like that. Discount codes don’t make sense. Providing special access to people who have taken the time to read your note. That can be pre-printed, or that could be handwritten, too. There are many ways to think about how to do that. That is the content side.
We’re doing 8,000-10,000 cards a day. 90% of what we do is thank you and birthday. The other 10% is anniversary of thank you. “Hey, you did this thing last year. We want to thank you again.” The holidays are a blowout. We do a lot of holiday stuff.
With the nonprofits we work for, like Team Rubicon, and they are one of the few nonprofits we can mention. Team Rubicon works with PTSD vets to put them to work at disaster zones. Think of a Red Cross situation but staffing it with vets that have real military experience. What they will send you is a 5”x7” card. On one side, there will be a picture of some vets working at a site. You will see some vets digging trenches to remove flood waters. The other side will be a handwritten note from the director telling you about all the good work that is going from the donation you did. They do those quarterly.
Hugh: That’s a good point. You are letting people know that you are being good stewards, and their money is providing this value. That is a big one.
David: We can logo cards with the header and footer. We do this for organizations of all sizes.
Hugh: Is it hand-stamped?
David: It’s a real stamp. We use these mechanical sealers and stampers to do it. The end result is a stamp in the upper right-hand corner.
Hugh: You can do designs, like a fold over card with a color picture on it?
David: Of course, yep. On the website we mostly show flat cards because it looks better on the website. But yeah, we do a lot of folded.
Hugh: In December, when I get a #10 envelope from a charity, it has a donate letter in it, and it’s boring. The appearance of this, the difference in size, the handwritten address on the front, that does separate it. I put these last because I don’t want to read them. I know they are going to ask for money, but I haven’t heard from them all year. That is the not-so-good communication instead of having something distinctive.
David, this has been helpful today to think about how we could do a better job of staying in touch with the people that care, but they could care more and do more if they knew more and they knew we cared about who they are and their opinion. That is the big takeaway here, to be mindful of who you are talking to and what their preferences are. You talked about the preference center.
David: That is an end state for an organization. It’s figuring out a way to allow users or donors or your tribe to opt in for different forms of communication. And opt out, so you’re not annoying them. You’re providing the right communication at the right cadence, the right content, over the right channel. Those four C’s. We don’t do that. I’m sure organizations are out there that help with that, too. A good CRM or donor management system could assist.
Hugh: It would pay to have a super volunteer or someone on staff, even part-time, to manage that. That is an important area that would really pay for itself over time. We can’t do this and expect results in 10 minutes. This is something to carry on for a year or two to have some benefit that is tangible from it. But that’s not the reason. The reason is to stay in communication and build relationships. I would call it top of mind marketing. We are staying in touch with people so they are aware of who we are and they are aware we haven’t forgotten them.
This has been so helpful. What thought do you want to leave people with today?
David: I would just say when everybody is pivoting toward the digital, remember the recipient really appreciates time and standing out. Sending any sort of handwritten note, written by you, an intern, or whomever else, is a great way to show that dedication to the end recipient and to show an investment in time. People need to consider it. All people talk about now when they talk about marketing is what is our Facebook strategy, our Google Ads strategy? Nobody is thinking about their offline strategy. There is a true opportunity to connect and differentiate through the offline.
Hugh: David, with Handwrytten, thank you for sharing your wisdom, experience, and knowledge with us today.
David: Thank you so much for having me.