January 29, 2013

Ah thank-you notes. As Tom says, a great thank-you note is the start of the donor’s journey.

The other day, Tom and I received a thank-you note for a gift we made to the Foster Libraries. Tom and I live in a small town in rural Rhode Island. Curiously, we have two libraries in our town: Foster Center Library and Tyler Free Library. Old homey type buildings that have books and DVDs. And, host Halloween parties and workshops and programs for kids. Our libraries are gathering places for our community.

So Tom and I receive a thank-you note from the Board president. And enclosed in the envelope is a story, a memory by one of our townfolk, Eva Szosz.

I started to read Eva’s story. Then I rushed into the kitchen where Tom was cooking dinner. And I read it aloud to him.

Tom and I stared at each other. We smiled. And simultaneously we said, “We have to get permission to use this marvelous story. We have to use it in our workshops and in our e-newsletters and…well, just everywhere.”

Here is a very special memory. Thank you Eva. Thank you for capturing how I feel about libraries. Thank you for writing such a moving and memorable story.

 Library, Memory by Eva Szosz

“When I was young, my mother drove my brothers and me down roads lined with fewer houses than there are today, past woods and pastures and my elementary school, until we reached the little red library and opened the door to find, in the very best Narnian tradition, that its inside was larger than its outside.

“Every shelf was packed with books of every size and color: fat books, thin books, blue and red and yellow and orange, each one containing a world between its covers. I would hold the books to my nose to catch the odors of printing ink and paper; I smoothed the glossy illustrations with my fingers; the pages riffled under my thumb.

“Here I could read anything, learn everything! I could take a stack of books~ as many as I could carry, was my mother’s rule~ home for two whole weeks, to be mine, to read as often as I liked, to devour or abandon as I pleased! The library, small and undistinguished as it might have appeared to someone from New York or Chicago, or even Cleveland, was a treasure house, a stronghold of delight.

“In these hard times, the library is more than ever important to us. Libraries are a place of abundance in times of scarcity. The library is a symbol and a reassurance that hard times will pass, that things will get better; that hope is not dead. In these days of instant communication and paradoxical isolation, the library has taken on the role of village elder, a storehouse of shared wisdom and shared humanity.

“The library contains the records of our inventiveness in the face of adversity, our compassion in the face of cruelty, our gravest mistakes and our most unlikely triumphs. Libraries have been passed to us from men and women and children of all nations, now long dead, as we will pass them on to those who come after us. This is what we have to give: the knowledge and experiences of our lives, the imagining of a future that we ourselves won’t see. It is why people have painted caves and carved words in stone and hidden books in barns. It is the most important thing.

“The library is a gift from the past to the future. We only hold it in trust.”

Isn’t that a marvelous and memorable story? Wouldn’t you be happy to receive a story like that in response to a gift you give?

What stories do you tell your donors? Do you collect stories from your beneficiaries and clients? Do you collect donor stories? Do you share them with new board member and new staff? Do you use these stories in your annual report and donor newsletter and solicitation letters? Will you share a story like this with me, one of your donors?

Please say “yes.” Please do it. Imagine the special box or special drawer of donor and client stories in your organization. You go there when you’re new and excited. You there when you’re tired and disheartened. You just go there. To the story place. Over and over. Like to a library.

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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