The power of a handwritten letter

Pen on paper When’s the last time you put pen to paper?

This week I’ve been writing letters to inmates at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va. Forty-two handwritten letters to be exact. And I’m not alone. There are about 45 volunteers on our Kairos prison ministry team, and each of us is writing 42 letters. That’s 1,890 handwritten letters.

We call then Agape letters. Agape is a Greek word for brotherly or Christian love. Agape love is unconditional love. Our letters will be delivered to men who often tell us they never receive any letters at all, not even from family members. So receiving a handwritten note of encouragement with absolutely no strings attached is a very rare occurrence. Now multiply that by 45. It’s powerful.

When I first joined the Kairos team three years ago, my cursive writing skills had atrophied to the point where I could barely write a sentence. My hand cramped up, my lines were slanted, my letters all ran together. It was a mess.

Like many people, I had developed my own style of half printing, half cursive writing that even I couldn’t decipher. Most of my writing was done at a keyboard, not with pen and paper.

But there’s something about a handwritten note. Both the act of writing one and receiving one are heartfelt expressions of our humanity. Sender and receiver are elevated to a higher plane of interaction and connection that transcends normal communication about where to have lunch or when that big project is due.

You put effort and thought into a handwritten note. Holding a pen, paying attention to your letters and carefully choosing your words force you to concentrate. And you treasure a handwritten note when you receive it. My grandmother would send me letters well into her 90s (she lived to be 99) that I held onto for many years.

Writing on the HBR Blog, John Coleman makes a strong case for the lost art of handwritten correspondence, noting that in an age of emails and instant texting, handwritten notes can have a huge impact.

“It may seem nostalgic,” he says, “but I still believe there’s room for the handwritten note in personal and professional communication. They cost something, mean something and have permanence in a way emails and text messages don’t. They let the people in our lives know we appreciate them enough to do something as archaic as pausing for 15 minutes to put pen to paper in an attempt to connect and sustain a relationship with them…perhaps in writing personal notes to our friends and colleagues, we can reach out to others in a way that creates a lasting, positive connection.”

Great leaders, coaches and salespeople know the secret of a handwritten note. In a world obsessed with email open rates, ad impressions and sales conversions, what do you think the open rate is for a handwritten note? I mean a real handwritten note, not a fake one made by marketers to look like a real one.

I would say the open rate for a handwritten letter is 100 percent. 100 percent! Now that’s an awesome rate. Think about it.

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2 Responses to The power of a handwritten letter

  1. Excellent post. I just started writing 42 Agape letters myself the other day.

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