Twenty-odd years ago I received my first email. The following Christmas I got one from my accountant informing me that, in lieu of sending a card, a charitable donation had been made. What a fantastic idea. Email could convey the season’s greetings, with the money saved from physical cards put to better use.
A couple of decades later, though, the idea has somewhat lost its potency. This year I received emails like this from people I do not even know and from various marketing departments. It no longer feels authentic. It just feels convenient; bulk emailing is easier than sending a card. What is worse is that I do not care about their donation, as I am too disconnected from both it and the sender.
The real spirit of the season is in giving and receiving, and we tend to feel better about ourselves when giving. With that in mind, this Christmas I repeated an experiment I carried out two years ago, with a slight modification.
I sent my clients a card but inside was a crisp £10 note with a message asking them to do something that felt right to them. They could keep the money if it seemed appropriate but the inference was to conduct a small act of kindness and see how they felt.
I was not going to dictate what they should do with the money; I wanted to empower them to do something random and something meaningful to them. I also made sure to add a personal note to each of the cards to show the clients they were in my thoughts as I wrote it. I think that is better than some bulk email.
Since doing this, the response has been tremendous and all Christmas I was receiving emails of thanks, along with stories of how this small gift inspired bigger ones. Most importantly, everyone who replied told me how their £10 gift was given to a cause that was meaningful to them.
One lady I know said the money inspired her to raise funds for someone in her community that had experienced difficulties and abuse in her life, and needed £1,000 to replace some missing teeth and help boost her confidence. She raised the money in days.
Another client said the £10 arrived just as he was going to the butchers to order his Christmas meat and inspired him to donate £125 to the Salvation Army Christmas Dinner campaign.
Most people added to the gift, with local charities and causes benefiting, as well as the larger international appeals. Our clients have causes close to their hearts, such as the couple whose daughter has Down’s Syndrome. They wrote to say the £10 would be sent to the Down’s Syndrome Association along with their own donation.
I have loved receiving these messages and I feel as closely connected to my clients as ever. An unexpected spin-off is the number of referrals I have also received over the period. One client referred three people to me. Coincidence? Maybe.
Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning