Viewpoint: How to Write a Thank-you Note

Photo by Flickr/papermonkey (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Any Friend who contributes to the meeting does so in response to a dream that grew out of good memories. Whether the giver is 25 or 85, whether the check is for $5 or $500,000, our job is not to pass judgment on the amount. We shouldn’t try to determine whether this person is a skinflint or the proverbial widow who gives her mite out of love and not largesse. When we thank a donor, they should feel they’ve been seen as an individual who is valued. They should be reminded of the good memories and the shared dream. It doesn’t all have to be done with words: a card with an evocative photo of a much-loved old meetinghouse can help recall memories. Words help, though sometimes they come more or less easily.

An easy place to start a thank-you note is to recall a shared memory that puts the giver in a positive light both as a person and as a valued member of the group. For instance:

I cherish the memory of the first time I saw you. You came to annual session to ask for your little worship group to join the yearly meeting. An older Friend ranted loudly at some length about “the lunatic fringe that thinks they’re Quakers because they sit in silence once a week.” All eyes turned to you. I’d not have blamed you a bit if you’d run screaming out of the business session. But you repeated your request very gently and matter-of-factly: “The lunatic fringe in our town would like to join the yearly meeting.” We laughed—your combination of humor and humility and persistence delighted us. We knew at once we needed you in our yearly meeting.

Then thank the giver for helping advance the shared vision:

Thank you for helping the yearly meeting build better sleeping spaces for our Friends with disabilities.

Writing a note isn’t as easy when you don’t know the giver personally—or maybe do know them, but really don’t like them. The answer is the same: Do your homework and find some kind-hearted, wise Friend you know and respect, and ask them for a positive memory of the giver, such as:

Friend So-and-So loves to tell the story of the time you spent an entire hot and sticky work weekend cheerfully grubbing out a monster stump, when many Friends preferred tasks like sorting old minute books with a glass of iced tea at hand.

And if you really don’t like the donor, sit in silence for a while. Everyone has some redeeming qualities. Maybe he or she once helped the meeting move through a hard spot:

I remember always the business meeting when we decided to take on a mortgage to build the new meetinghouse. None of us had anything but widow’s mites to offer! We didn’t want anybody mad at us, so we were all very hesitant to speak our minds. But you said—I still remember every word—”Yes, we should take out the mortgage. Yes, it’s scary, but it’ll work out.” You changed the whole mood of the discussion. And you were right. It did work out. We paid off the mortgage in record time, and now here we are in our beautiful worship space, thanks to you, and you’re still helping us as we gather our resources to put in a commercial kitchen.

There. Now don’t you feel better? Not only did you write that pile of thank-you notes, but you like all your Friends so much more, too.

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