Working Title: The Power of the Note
Sub title: Living gratefully/Living compassionately
By Curt Iles
Recently when meeting a former student of mine from my earlier years as a high school teacher, he pulled out his billfold and showed me a dog-eared letter I had written him years ago. The fact that he had kept this short hand-written note reminded me of the power of personal correspondence. This written note sent during a difficult period in his life had still meant something to this student decades later.
When it is all said and done, our success in camp ministry will rise or fall according to our ability to build and maintain healthy relationships with our guests, staff, board, and donors. John Maxwell calls this ability to build relationships, “The Law of Connection.” Maxwell wisely counsels, “You can’t move people to action unless you first move them with emotion. The heart comes before the head.” There are many ways to build relationships by connecting with the hearts of others, and one of the best is the habit of writing short hand-written notes.
In our camps and conference centers we should strive to be on the cutting edge of all communication technology. However, in striving to be “high tech,” we should never neglect the importance of personal communications, or being “high touch.” This “high tech/high touch” balance is essential in our ministries.
In his excellent book, The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell shares about how the explosion of e-mail and computer generated communication has created a need for personal correspondence. He writes, “The fact that anyone can e-mail us for free… creates immunity… and makes us value face to face communications all the more.”
Even in the New Testament we see examples of the power of the handwritten note. The Apostle Paul evidently dictated his letters. At the end of each letter, he would add his personal signature and a closing remark. An example of this is found in the closing words of 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18 (NIV) I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
I communicate primarily through e-mail and the telephone which are quick and efficient ways to stay in touch. However, when I really want to thank someone or express a deep thought or inspiration, I get out a pen, a small card, and an envelope. A note connects with people and the result is many times both a deeper relationship and a cherished item that will re-read over and over.
The time taken to personally encourage and thank others is not time wasted, but rather time invested. Some may say they cannot afford to spend this time. My reply is that they cannot afford not to. Time invested in connecting with others is never wasted.
At Dry Creek Baptist Camp, where I served as the director for the past fourteen years, we learned about the power of concise handwritten notes. During this period the camp went from being deeply in debt to having donor gifts averaging over $200,000 for the past five years. Our staff realizes this is completely due to God’s blessings and the generosity of friends who believe in Dry Creek’s ministry.
However, this wonderful growth in giving correlates to when we began personally signing every donor receipt and memorial gift. The time taken to jot a short note of appreciation on a typed letter is one simple way of saying thanks. In doing this, we are not writing notes to ask for more funds, but to show our appreciation for the giving of our friends and supporters. It is simply common courtesy mixed with gratitude.
The innovative book, Permission Marketing by Seth Godin, is written on this premise: “In business we are seeking to turn strangers into friends, and friends into customers.” Personal communication helps the wise camp leader make this leap from stranger to long time customer/guest/donor. Notes of appreciation shows folks that we value their involvement.
The writer of Proverbs, in chapter 3:27 (NIV) wrote, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.”
When we have the opportunity and words to bless someone, we should not hold back our gratitude, concern, or encouragement.
Another thing our staff observed is how the great men and women God uses nearly always are writers of notes of appreciation. We continued to be amazed at how many well-known busy speakers and musicians found time to write a personal note of thanks to our staff. Sharing these notes at staff meetings, it was very touching to see the reaction of our key staff who work behind the scenes. A quote from Mark Twain comes to mind, “I can live for six weeks on one good compliment.”
One of our favorite speakers, Dr. Bill Thorn, told me of his longtime habit of writing at least three encouraging notes per day. Over the course of a lifetime countless relationships have been built on this discipline he has built into his daily life.
Former president George H. Bush is also known as a great note writer. According to a Readers Digest article, throughout his career Bush has followed up virtually every contact with a cordial response. One surprised person received a warm, calligraphic back pat for lending Bush an umbrella. If a busy president can find time for note writing, any of us can too.
In camp and conference center ministry we are dependent on volunteers. These folks who serve without pay are the lifeblood of any organization. What a great opportunity to show our appreciation with a well-timed concise note of appreciation.
Another group needing our appreciation and gratitude is our staff and co-workers.
One of the keys to staff morale is saying thanks to our workers. Whether it is on a paycheck stub, a card, or note, staff needs to know we appreciate the second mile work they do. These sincere timely notes will let them know you value them and recognize the work they are doing. .
One of the best times to write a note is when someone has had tragedy or sorrow befall them. At Dry Creek we receive many memorial gifts in memory of loved ones. We send a letter of acknowledgement to both the donor and family. It is a privilege to write a short note on the letters, especially to the family member who has lost someone special. Kindness doesn’t have to be expensive. Just letting folks know we care and are praying for them is important…and there is no way to better express this than with a note.
Finally, I personally know about the value of notes. During an intense difficult personal period in my life in 2000, I began to receive cards and notes from friends and churches. I taped these sweet notes of encouragement on the windows of our home’s sun porch. Soon the windows were covered with notes and cards of all sizes, colors, and shapes. I still have those notes in a large manila envelope. Behind each of these notes were affirming words, scriptures, and the ongoing prayers of my friends. I call them “my bundle of prayers” and will cherish them for the rest of my life.
In camp ministry, it is the little things done daily that add up to great things for God’s Kingdom. As Mother Teresa stated, “We can do no extraordinary things, only ordinary things in an extraordinary way.” Making the consistent habit of blessing others by writing notes of appreciation and encouragement will benefit others as well as enrich our own lives. The wise camp leader will ensure that part of their ministry includes the simple, but essential, task of writing notes.