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The People Behind the Products: The Power of Handwritten Notes with David Wachs

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“Handwritten notes hold a special place. If utilized effectively, it can be extremely powerful and long-lasting.” -David Wachs

Episode #194

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

Tune in for practical advice on integrating handwritten notes into outreach strategies and scaling genuine connections!

This episode features David Wachs, the founder and CEO of Handwrytten, a pioneering platform reinvigorating the tradition of handwritten notes with innovative, robot-based solutions. Trusted by major meal box services, eCommerce leaders, nonprofits, and professionals, Handwrytten is reshaping how brands and individuals forge meaningful connections through authentic, handwritten communication.

Moreover, David is a frequent speaker on messaging technology, having presented at events such as the Direct Marketing Association, South By Southwest, Advertising Research Foundation, and the National Restaurant Association. His expertise has been recognized on the front page of the Washington Post and in interviews with Direct Marketing News, Crain’s Chicago Business, the American Express OPEN network, AMA’s Marketing News, and Bloomberg Radio. He has also been quoted in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Variety, Startup Nation, and US Banker Magazine.

During today’s conversation, David explores the profound impact of handwritten notes in a digital world inundated with texts and emails. David shares insights on how automated handwritten notes bridge the gap between scalability and personalization, citing examples from nonprofits to businesses. He discusses the tactile and lasting impression of handwritten communication, contrasting it with digital gimmicks and emphasizing its authenticity. Also, David challenges the ROI-focused culture in nonprofit thank-yous, advocating for genuine gratitude as crucial in donor engagement.

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Get to know David Wachs:

David Wachs is the founder and CEO of Handwrytten, a pioneering platform reinvigorating the tradition of handwritten notes with innovative, robot-based solutions. Trusted by major meal box services, eCommerce leaders, nonprofits, and professionals, Handwrytten is reshaping how brands and individuals forge meaningful connections through authentic, handwritten communication.

Moreover, David is a frequent speaker on messaging technology, having presented at events such as the Direct Marketing Association, South By Southwest, Advertising Research Foundation, and the National Restaurant Association. His expertise has been recognized on the front page of the Washington Post and in interviews with Direct Marketing News, Crain’s Chicago Business, the American Express OPEN network, AMA’s Marketing News, and Bloomberg Radio. He has also been quoted in numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Variety, Startup Nation, and US Banker Magazine.

During today’s conversation, David explores the profound impact of handwritten notes in a digital world inundated with texts and emails. David shares insights on how automated handwritten notes bridge the gap between scalability and personalization, citing examples from nonprofits to businesses. He discusses the tactile and lasting impression of handwritten communication, contrasting it with digital gimmicks and emphasizing its authenticity. Also, David challenges the ROI-focused culture in nonprofit thank-yous, advocating for genuine gratitude as crucial in donor engagement.

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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

MALLORY ERICKSON

Episode Transcript

David Wachs  0:00  

Why did this nonprofit send me handwritten and then you take a second to open it. So I feel like there’s that whole experiential about seeing what’s in there feeling it, and then putting it aside and then seeing it again. Like, if I get a text from you, I’ll read it. But then it goes away. I mean, it gets buried within five minutes, but a handwritten note has lasting power.

 

Mallory Erickson  0:25  

Hey, my name is Mallory. And I’m obsessed with helping leaders in the nonprofit space, raise money and run their organizations differently. What the fundraising is a space for real and raw conversations to both challenge and inspire you. Not too long ago, I was in your shoes uncomfortable with fundraising and unsure of my place in this sector. It wasn’t until I started to listen to other experts outside of the fundraising space, that I was able to shift my mindset and ultimately shift the way I show up as a leader. This podcast is my way of blending professional and personal development. So we as a collective inside the nonprofit sector can feel good about the work we are doing. Join me every week as I interview some of the brightest minds in the personal and professional development space to help you fundamentally change the way you lead and fundraise. I hope you enjoy this episode. So let’s dive in. Welcome, everyone. I am excited to be here today with David wax. David, welcome to what the fundraising. Thanks, Mallory excited to be here. Why don’t we start with you just telling everyone a little bit about you and your work? And what brings you to our conversation today?

 

David Wachs  1:33  

Sure. So I’m David wax. I’m the founder and CEO of handwritten, we’ve been around for almost 10 years now. I believe we’re the largest provider of what we do, which is automated handwritten notes. And we do that by building and operating a fleet of 175 robots and our facility in Phoenix, Arizona. And then we also leased them out throughout the world, we have some in Australia and throughout the United States. Prior to this, just to give you a little framework or a little context for me. Prior to this, I ran a text messaging company. So we were sending texts on behalf of retailers, a few nonprofits, real estate agents and everybody else. And what I realized is we were kind of part of the noise. You know, we were sending over a million texts a day on behalf of Abercrombie and Fitch alone. And I realized with everybody getting all these texts and emails and tweets and slacks and teams and everything else, it’s all just becoming noise, and people aren’t reading it anymore. But when I went by people’s desks, and I saw handwritten notes on display on the bookshelf behind them, or stuck to their refrigerators, or whatever else, I realized, maybe there’s a way of making handwritten notes scalable, and that’s, that’s why I started this.

 

Mallory Erickson  2:50  

And tell me about the power of a handwritten note or a note that appears to be handwritten, like talk to me about what that does. From like an experience perspective. You

 

David Wachs  3:01  

know, 

 

David Wachs  3:01  

everything has moved so digital that we’re ignoring, like four of the five senses, you know, we’re ignoring the tactile feel of a handwritten note, like the notes we provide, or just in general, not even what we provide. But you know, there’s there’s a toothy texture on a vellum paper. There’s actually as cheesy as it sounds, I like to say there’s an unboxing experience when you, you know, why did this nonprofits and mahendran and then you take a second to open it. So I feel like there’s that whole experiential about seeing what’s in there feeling it, and then putting it aside and then seeing it again, like, 

 

David Wachs  3:38  

if I get a text from you, I’ll read it, but then it goes away. I mean, it gets buried within five minutes, but a handwritten note has lasting power. I’ll give you an example outside of the nonprofit space. In Pennsylvania, we work with a piano tuner, he only needs to be in your house once a year to tune your piano. So he comes to your house tunes your piano, sends you a handwritten note through our service, and then doesn’t need to tune your pan again for you guys, when he returns to your house a year later. Often, he says, you know, strikingly often, that handwritten note is still on display on their piano. So not only is it open, not only is it read, but it’s put on display on probably their most prized possession in their fancy room. And you can’t buy that real estate as a marketer or you know, whatever, you can’t buy that real estate. So handwritten notes hold a special place that’s really, you know, if utilized effectively can be extremely powerful and long lasting. None of my text messages would have gotten printed, you know, printed out and I promise you that but if they’re unique and just you know, there’s a study by impacts research I found online that said, you know, read donation rates in the nonprofit space are sub 50%. And why are they sub 50%? It’s because People don’t feel thanked. And this could be a couple reasons it could be you weren’t thing you didn’t think them Shame on you, number one, or maybe you did thank them, but it went to their fan box, or, you know, they’re so busy deleting their emails because they receive 140 emails a day. They don’t even take the time to read it. They’re just deleting it. So they don’t feel thanked because they skipped over thinking it was spam, or they just, you know, keeping their inbox clean mode, or they don’t feel thanked because they felt it was fully automated. And you know, so yes, they got a note from you. But it came straight from Blackbaud, two seconds after they place the donation. What do you do? I mean, they knew that nobody actually thanked them there too. But when they get a handwritten note, and we can get into the whole phony discussion, I’m sure. But when you get a handwritten note, at least they feel thanked to some degree. And we could talk about how, you know, phony or not phony it is and how to how we respond to that in our company.

 

Mallory Erickson  5:57  

Yeah, I want to talk about that in a moment. And I really appreciate though a number of the things that you just said, like that piece, I hadn’t really considered that the like the fact that something that is handwritten, and tactile and physical in our space likely gets revisited multiple times, sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident, my husband and I have like recycling wars in our house where I’m like, if that’s been on the counter for, you know, four days, I’m taking care of it, but but like, but it doesn’t it we are interacting with it so much more. And then I love that like actually unboxing example, because there is something it’s like experiential around the opening that like wandering the anticipation, though, the feeling of it. And I think that is that is really it creates a deeper connection to whatever’s on that page, then a text message and that piece around the thank you in the email, gosh, I hope fundraisers here that even if they are only sending digital thank yous, because like, put a lag on it. I gave a bunch of donations at the end of the year. And it’s like, I would get three immediate emails, oftentimes from the organization, I will get the tax receipt email that like actual transaction email, I would get. And sometimes actually, those were two separate ones, then I would get can you match this email that was like auto triggered, and then I would get the Thank you. But all of them came in the same minute. And so obviously, I didn’t read them, I was so overwhelmed with the volume of email coming in right away. And so I love this piece around the way that it can sort of like operationalize and support, you know, with some like time and space, so that the gratitude feels much more real, which hopefully it is hopefully it’s not just creating some sort of like fake experience, but that that gratitude is real and lasting and ongoing. And here’s a way to like help you be able to deliver that. So let’s talk about the phony piece, because I wasn’t going to use that word. But I do expect that some nonprofits are like did is are we tricking our donors with this? Like? Are we tricking them? By delivering something that appears like we wrote it, but we really didn’t write it? So how do you have you think about that?

 

David Wachs  8:14  

Well, first of all, at least the nonprofit is doing something different to get your attention. And so they’ve taken a moment to think about how am I going to get in front of this donor, in a non lazy way of just through an email blast or whatever. So there’s that. And what I would say is, I mean, I don’t want to hear I don’t know if this is a video podcast or not. But this one I cannot tell was written by a robot. So physically, if you look at it, you will never know if it’s a short note, we’re able to make the font bigger. And you cannot tell it’s written by a robot. Because we vary the characters, we vary the line spacing, we vary the left margin, and then we ever so slightly warped the text so that it’s not fully on a straight line. That said, that doesn’t get to the disingenuous part. And to that, I’d say, what we’re doing is nothing new. If you are trying to send out a 5000 handwritten notes around the holiday, and you hire a bunch of interns or you bribe a bunch of interns with a pizza party to write those notes. Is that any more real? I mean, these kids, they’re just there for the pizza. I guess they’re helping out but they’re basically mimicking your words to get your message across in their handwriting. And then your involving risk, you know, is that note going up pizza grease on it? Is it going to be written in legible handwriting, the first note will look good, but the 50th won’t and then even getting out of the nonprofit space. Let’s go back to madmen days. If you wrote in, you know, in 1960s, the CEO of Pan Am or something with a complaint letter and they write you back and it’d be signed by the CEO but I’m willing to bet you dollars to donuts that wasn’t actually signed. And by the CEO or, you know, people get the Christmas card of Donald Trump or Joe Biden or you know, pick your aisle. And they know that the President didn’t sign that Christmas card, but they still put it on their mantle, you know. So it’s just something different. And it’s nothing novel. It’s just a different way of scaling outreach. You know, instead of getting a bunch of teenagers with greasy pizza hands to do it, you get a robot that can run 24/7. And stay consistent. And it’s about that consistency of outreach and speed of outreach. That’s kind of where we play. I,

 

Mallory Erickson  10:37  

it’s interesting. Like, I can imagine myself as the fundraiser being like, oh, but this makes me uncomfortable. And now as like a consultant, what I really see and like, appreciate and understand is that things like this help nonprofit leaders and fundraisers do the uniquely human stuff, because they have the time to do that, and not rewriting all the thank you cards that have pizza grease on them, right like that there are these parts of fundraising that are the deeper human connection, the next level of human connection, that there’s never going to be a robot to do that, right. And so but what allows us what creates the space and the capacity for for us to be able to do that, and this creates something in the middle that I think feels like warmer, I don’t know, that’s like the right word to use. But there’s something about it that feels like warmer than that email that you would send out, that would ultimately be the same thing, right? It’s like we’re doing the automated thing. And I would say, like, I got one once where the person actually acknowledged that they had not had written it, but I loved it, it was like a little p s, and was like, we’re so grateful for this support, you know, of a service to help us deliver cards to you, like the gratitude. And here is direct from our hearts, like, yeah, or something like that. And it was like, it was so lovely. And it like so just for nonprofits, like you also don’t have to hide it. Like you can still make it your own, in whatever way feels the best for you. But nothing should hold you back from finding tools that help you improve your experiences and your relationships. And you don’t want to sort of like take yourself out at the knees, because you’re so afraid of like operationalizing certain things.

 

David Wachs  12:27  

100% Like right now we’re working with a food bank, and they’re sending out 70,000 Valentine’s Day cards. There’s no way they could send out somebody $1,000 times a cards without our service. And you know, everybody is always looking for gimmicks, maybe not nonprofits. But I had a company approached us they were trying to get us to use their search engine business or whatever. And they sent me this like card, it came in a FedEx and when I opened it, it was kind of thick, I opened it, there was a screen in it. And then on that screen played a video. And I was like all I could think about is a How much does this cost them? Because they’re clearly going to make a lot of money off me if it cost them a fort. You know, this thing is expensive, right? And I was more distracted by the gizmo of it than the message. I didn’t even watch the stupid video. The video was like corporate blather. So you know, and I thought gee, had they just sent me a handwritten note, I probably would have read that at least, I might not use their service. But I’d sit through reading a 500 character now. So it’s about you know, to your point scaling? And will you always hand write a letter to your top donors? 100%? You know, you should, but what about everybody in the middle, you know, they just are everybody in the middle and lower, they deserve that connection to to some degree. And, and this is just differentiating yourself, you know, the least used inbox is now the one at the end of everybody’s driveway. So you know, how do you differentiate yourself? You’re gonna go into the digital pile with 140 emails a day and 50 texts and everything else are you gonna go into the pile where they get one to three handwritten notes a month, so you can really at least get read and notice that way. So yeah, so that’s kind of the whole idea.

 

Mallory Erickson  14:14  

Okay. So this brings us to a interesting piece of this, which is the tracking sort of of it all and the belief in the return on investment. And I think one of the reasons why nonprofits stick with digital, even when it’s in this very overcrowded, oversaturated space is because they feel like they can get some feedback, even if that feedback is very negative about how that communication is doing. Where as they’re sort of, especially, especially communications that don’t have a call to action in them. They have a hard time kind of like quote unquote, justifying the investment without understanding the the ROI or the engagement. How do you sort of come up with Getting Started, what would you say to that if a nonprofit was saying that to you?

 

David Wachs  15:03  

So from a, we deal in a couple spaces, one is prospecting, you know, like trying to find new donors or new clients or anything? I’d say that’s a different story. But as far as thanking donors, I’d say, if you’re asking, what’s the ROI on a thank you, you’re kind of asking the wrong question. You know, there’s a trillion nonprofits out there, I don’t know the exact number, but you probably do. And for them, for people to take the time, and choose you over every other nonprofit, and put their hard earned dollars with you deserves a genuine Thank you. And whether it’s a handwritten note, or picking up the phone, hopefully, something more than sending an email, I think just has to be done. And you know, I end up with handwritten notes sitting on my desk. And over time, those notes, generate returns, because I’ll call them I’ll follow up with them. I’ll think about them. So I don’t think it’s a straight path. I think, as a culture, we’re way too attuned on this kind of Cartesian. If this, then that type, you know, I do this, I get that, what’s my ROI? What’s my ROI, but you should really be thinking about GE, and I think nonprofits understand this, they gave me their hard earned treasure, I need to return that with a thank you period, full stop, nothing more. And but I mean, if you’re really interested in this, you could always a B test over a period and say, Okay, here’s the 50% that get a handwritten note. Here’s the 50% that don’t, let’s see their donation rates over the next six months. How does that compare? And we’re maybe send out a survey, I forget the term the, you know, a survey to see if they’re willing to refer the nonprofit to others and compare those that received the handwritten note from those that didn’t on our website, handwritten.com. With why you can request the consumer outreach survey, which is not specific to nonprofit, but we did a survey of 2000 Blind consumers. And we asked them if they feel appreciated by brands. And by and large, they said, No. And we said, what would make you feel appreciated phone calls, texts, emails, and handwritten notes were the number one way, or notes were the number one way and then we showed him pictures of two envelopes? One handwritten, one printed, which one do you prefer? And they liked the handwritten ones. So I think there’s data you can collect that way, you know, not direct research, but kind of indirect research on running surveys. And then also in a B testing. But I think, overall, when people ask me that question, it says a lot more about society than anything else. I mean, we’re talking about, you know, on the high end, a $3 piece, sending a handwritten note cup for a $50,000 car purchase or a $500 donation. What is it? It’s just the right thing to do? That’s, that’s kind of where I’m at. You know what I mean, though, yes. And yes, the absolute right thing to do is Mallory for you to sit down and write that person have a thank you. But when you can’t do that, at least you’re doing some? Yeah, it’s

 

Mallory Erickson  18:08  

true. I think, you know, we can’t let perfection be the enemy of good or whatever, that exact quote, yes. Right. Like, and so yes. Would it be great if we could write every you know, ourselves, obviously, that would be very cool. But like, you know, time is a finite resource. And so we do sometimes have to make some hard decisions. And I think doing so with our community’s experience in mind is is really important. Is there any question that I haven’t asked you that I should be asking you about all of this? No,

 

David Wachs  18:40  

I mean, I, you know, I don’t like to go on podcasts or anything. And Hawk my wares, I would say that, you know, we’re here as a resource for your listeners, if they’re interested in learning more about scaling this, but I’d say step one is just send a few handwritten notes by hand and see the value that that adds. And if you’re already doing it, you probably know the value that adds and, and we can just help you scale that. But you know, I unfortunately, teach and don’t do most of the time, I’m trying to get better about doing sending those handwritten notes. But I know firsthand, when I do send handwritten notes, I get emails in return, saying thank you. We’re attending a trade show. And we sent out handwritten notes to a bunch of the attendees and people were Instagramming them, because it is so rare that for people to reach out this way. It’s very rare nowadays. So anybody that’s looking to scale what they’re doing, we’d love to talk to but if you’re not doing it, just pick up a pen and start writing. I

 

Mallory Erickson  19:40  

love that. Yes, thank you so much. And you already shared the website, but if you want to say that again or anywhere else you think folks should go to connect with all of you. Yeah,

 

David Wachs  19:49  

handwritten.com and it spelled a little funny ha en de wrytten.com. And there there’s a bunch of stuff about nonprofits and On the bottom of the page, you can find a link to our YouTube channel. And we have videos showing the robots and videos of using the service. And yeah, we would love to connect and see how we can help you.

 

Mallory Erickson  20:11  

Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today and for sharing more about your work with all of us. I have loved the letters that I have gotten from folks who use your service and so I’m excited for more people to go check it out.

 

David Wachs  20:22  

Thank you Valerie really appreciate it.

 

Mallory Erickson  20:29  

I hope today’s episode inspired or challenge you to think differently. For additional takeaways, tip shownotes and more about our amazing guests and sponsors, head on over to Mallory erickson.com backslash podcast. And if you didn’t know, hosting this podcast isn’t the only thing I do. Every day I coach guide and help fundraisers and leaders just like you inside of my program the power partners formula collective. Inside the program, I share my methods, tools and experiences that have helped me fundraise millions of dollars and feel good about myself in the process. To learn more about how I can help you visit Valerie erickson.com backslash power partners. Last but not least, if you enjoyed this episode, I’d love to encourage you to share it with a friend you know would benefit or leave a review. I’m so grateful for all of you and the good hard work you’re doing to make our world a better place. I can’t wait to see you in the next episode.



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