5 Tips for Writing a Personal Letter
By: Ilan MannApril 9, 2020
A few years ago, a client of ours – a large charity – goofed up and sent a handwritten thank-you card to a donor, and another to her husband, for the same pledged donation.
Instead of a negative response, they got a grateful phone call from the first-time donor, who told them how much they appreciated being thanked individually, but that the nonprofit organization should feel free to send one tax receipt and one copy of all future communications for the household.
It could have been a humiliating mix-up, except they did a few things right:
First of all, a bit of shameless self-promotion:
If you’re going to send a handwritten card, make sure it is indistinguishable from human handwriting, no matter how closely your recipient looks.
In this case, you can be sure that the recipients looked closely! After all, they had two cards to compare.
This charity used Postalgia, so thanks to our proprietary handwriting variation algorithm, every single character was completely unique and different from the rest. Even if they had sent two cards, identical in content, to both husband and wife, it would have looked like they just copied the same text out by hand twice. Maybe they had a long list of recipients, and accidentally wrote to the husband near the top of the pile, and the wife near the bottom – it happens, even when people really are writing their thank-you or greeting cards by hand!
2. They used first names
This one should be table stakes, but you would be amazed how often marketers send non-variable mail that says “Dear Friend” or “Dear Donor.” They might as well be writing “dear person whose name I don’t care enough to know.”
Lots of mail houses will encourage you to send non-variable mail, because it makes it easier for them to match when they produce it. If they don’t have a fool-proof quality assurance and matching system for making sure that the right letter gets into the right envelope, you need to find a different mail house.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager, Jim Farley, was famous for being able to call 50,000 people by their first name. Surely you can call your donors and customers by theirs, especially when you’re asking them to send thousands of dollars your way.
It’s also one of the ‘nard dog’s secrets to success:
3. They used as many variable details as possible
When people sit down to write a letter, they don’t usually copy it from a text (though sometimes they do – it’s hard to get creative when thanking 150 guests for coming to your wedding, and some brides and grooms find copying from a template helpful).
Our robots save you the hand cramps, so you can divert your energy to getting those creative juices flowing.
When people hand-write cards and letters, they make reference to specific things: “thanks for your generous donation” becomes “thanks for your generous gift of $1750,” and “it was great seeing you” becomes “it was great seeing you at our hospital golf tournament back in March.”
When you’re writing thousands of cards, but you want each one to be personal, these variables can be easily filled in with data from your CRM. That’s how you get from:
It was great seeing you at [Last event attended] in [month].
I just wanted to thank you for your generous gift of [Gift amount]. Without your support, we would have never been able to get [project supported] off the ground.
[Unique Relationship Manager]
“Dear Steve and Sandra,
It was great seeing you at the hospital golf tournament in March.
I just wanted to thank you for your generous gift of $1750. Without your support, we would have never been able to get the new children’s wing off the ground.
4. They kept it short
This is probably the one that our clients struggle with most.
When writing an email, you want to say as much as possible to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
A handwritten note looks strange when it has as many words as an email, for the same reason that a handwritten letter is valued and cherished and appreciated – they take time and effort to write!
You want your message to not only fit on the card in big, bold strokes, but also to look natural; in order to achieve that, you need to keep it as short as if you had written it yourself.
5. They picked the right handwriting style
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of messy handwriting to make it look like you wrote a quick note in a hurry.
If you’re a neat and tidy person, you’ll probably want the straight lines and measured edges that you practiced so hard to master in the 2nd grade.
Make sure that you pick the handwriting that suits you and your message! With Postalgia, you can pick from dozens of handwriting styles, or have your own handwriting and signature digitized for a small one-time fee.