By Harrison Howe
When Politeness Becomes a Requirement
Most everyone at one time or another has been forced to sit down and write a thank-you note, whether it's for a wedding gift, a birthday present from Grandma and Grandpa or even following a job interview. And in most cases, even if the gift or gesture has been greatly appreciated, these notes seem to be approached with some amount of dread and reluctance.
But it's a sure bet that most would write a thank-you note if they were paid for it. In a way, that's the strategy behind a new policy that's being adopted by many colleges and universities across the country: scholarship money is handed over only after the donor has been properly thanked.
While it has long been suggested that scholarship recipients write thank-you notes to benefactors, up to now it's never been an actual requirement. So why the change? Some schools feel that, with tighter budgets and tougher fund-raising efforts, every little bit can help to ensure that donors continue their generosity. If something as simple as a thank-you note could make a favorable difference, then it's certainly worth the effort.
How serious are some schools about thank-you notes? More than you might imagine. While the withholding of expected funds is one way schools might enforce this practice, some grant present funds but withhold future scholarships until the note is sent. And still others, including St. John's University in New York, will actually pull funds that have already been paid from a student's account until the student has complied with the requirement.
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Do Thank-You Notes Make a Difference?
Has the forced practice been successful? Some say yes and some say no. To date, no study has been conducted to determine whether thank-you notes affect the increase of scholarship money or directly result in future donations. But many believe they certainly can't hurt no matter if the letters are the result of a recipient's genuine appreciation or a school-mandated requirement.
It is not unheard-of to have benefactors donate based on a thank-you note. Some are touched by personal stories related in a note and in response will decide to continue donating or make a larger donation. Saskia DeCaires, St. John's University's director of donor relations, told USA Today that she has known donors to say, 'I want to increase my gift this year, I was really moved by Tom's letter.'
Before the mandated change, DeCaires adds, maybe 30 out of 1,000 scholarship recipients would send thank-you notes when solicited to do so. Following the university's practice of withdrawing the funds from a recipient's bank account, the letters have significantly increased.
What's the worst that could come of all this? Students just might develop a good habit and a deeper understanding of philanthropy. To realize that the funds do not come from some nameless entity but from a caring group or individual might lead to them one day returning the favor. And in that way, it can help to ensure that scholarship money continues to assist students for many years to come.
Good news: endowments for colleges and universities, on the decline in the past few years, are finally on the rise once again.