Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Juggling for Beginners
If you had asked me when I started my sponsorship journey in 2010 if I ever envisioned myself writing to 18 kids, the answer would be "heck no." For one thing, at the time, there was a limit on the number of correspondence kids you could have (three.) For another, I don't think I was confident in my ability to keep up with that many kids. I don't have nearly as many sponsor kids as some other people I know, but to others, even a small-ish number like 6 or 10 might seem a bit out of control! Recently I saw a post on a facebook page for letter writers (sponsors and correspondents) where someone commented something like "how do these people keep up with all these kids?" I thought it might be fun to do a post talking about how I keep myself organized, and offer a few pointers to those who might want to have more kids to write to, but are a little intimidated by it.
It would probably be easy for many people to come up with reasons not to write to so many sponsor kids. Here are a few common concerns I think people have.
If you like to go all out with your letters, sending an entire packet each time you write to your child, then writing to multiple children could definitely get expensive. Stationery, extras like stickers and activity books, and postage all add up pretty quickly. Back when I had 8 sponsor and correspondence kids, a Christmas package with letters, cards, and a small activity book for each child cost almost $10 to mail to Colorado!
There are a few ways to save money while writing to sponsor kids. If you're really strapped for cash, the best thing to do is to send online letters exclusively. The only thing this would cost would be the price of internet connection- and if you don't have a computer or the internet in your home, you can go to your local library. Writing online letters using the letter-writing tool is completely free and easy to do. Compassion takes care of printing the letter for you in Colorado and mailing it from their Global Ministry Center. You can also attach photos to the letters for free- and the kids absolutely adore receiving pictures.
What are some other ways to save money? If you like sending birthday cards to your kids, check out boxed cards. Individual cards are about $0.50 at their cheapest, but you can get a box of a dozen cards for around $4-5. My local Christian bookstore often runs specials where you can get a box of cards for free with each boxed card purchase. They also have get well cards, cards for encouragement, and others that would be great to send. I also buy inexpensive Christmas cards in post-holiday sales and save them for the following year- cards that were already cheap are even cheaper! Compassion has a neat program where we can send Christmas cards to be distributed to the children who don't have sponsors, so I always buy as many Christmas cards as I can!
Sending additional gifts to our children (anything that isn't a letter) is not a requirement, but it sure is lots of fun. If you want to send extras with your letters, don't feel like you have to spend a lot of money. The kids don't care. I love finding deals on items to send to my kids. Keep your eye on clearance sections and "dollar spots"- these are absolute treasure troves. Party stores and party supply aisles in big box chains can also provide some fun things to send, such as small notebooks or coloring books normally used as party favors. If you are a coupon code hunter like I am, it might be worth checking out websites like Oriental Trading when they're offering free shipping. You can buy items in larger quantities (such as dozens and half dozens) for great prices per piece, and have them delivered to your door. They also have a great clearance section! And don't underestimate the value of small things like post cards and photographs. I can select photos to print online and have them ready to pick up from my local pharmacy within minutes- and they always have coupon codes as well. I am the kind of person who definitely doesn't have any extra money to spend on lots of gifts for my kids, but because I'm really careful about my spending and I keep my eyes peeled for great bargains, I am able to send at least something, whether it's simple like a postcard or sticker sheet, or something more elaborate like a journal or activity book, with just about every handwritten letter I send.
Finally, there's the postage issue. Of course, if you're sending extra items, you can't do that through a computer. My recommendation would be to get a hold of some USPS Priority Mail flat-rate envelopes. These are just magical. No matter how much you cram in there, or where you live in the United States, it's just $5.95 to send one. And as a bonus, they're guaranteed to arrive in Colorado in 2 days, they carry $50 in insurance, and they come with free tracking! This is a great price compared to what it would cost me to send the same sized envelope, either first class (which would be slower) or priority (which goes by weight.) You don't even have to go to the post office to pick one up- you can order a quantity of envelopes on-line for free, and just fill them up as you go. Take them to the post office to pay for the postage, and they'll be on their way!
How do we keep track of all these kids? Surely it must be pretty crazy trying to keep track of so many letters, incoming and outgoing. What if someone gets forgotten?
There really is no one good solution. We all have different systems! I know some folks who write really often, and some who write quarterly. I know of one lady who has many, many more correspondence kids than I ever will, because she wants to do her part to make sure that all the kids receive letters. Some folks do an introduction letter, then just reply to the letters they receive, and maybe write for important holidays and birthdays. Some people have a system- they'll write to all their girls on even numbered months and all their boys on odd numbered months. It can take some tinkering, but eventually you'll find a method that works for you.
Personally, I try to write my kids twice a month with printed or hand-written letters (I do them all at once) and then I respond to any letters I receive with the online letter-writing tool. That way I don't have to worry about remembering what they wrote about by the time I'm ready to write letters again!
There are some other organizational tips I've picked up since I began sponsoring. At first, I kept all my letters from my kids in a box. After a while, I was running out of room in the box, and I had too many kids! Then I tried dividing the letters up by child and putting them in binders. But I had way too many binders. Finally, I've settled on organizing my letters by when they're received. For example, I took all the 2013 letters out of my kids' binders and put them in their own binder. I made tabbed dividers for each child I received letters from that year. Now I just have a few binders, rather than more than a dozen (one for 2010-2011, and one each for the years since then.) I'm also planning on making a binder for my kids' info- just having a little info sheet in there for each of them. Michelle at Blogging from the Boonies posted one she made a while back, and I've found it to be really helpful! Click here to check it out.
One more tip: I keep a master list of all my kids' names and sponsorship numbers in a convenient location for when I'm writing letters. I just made up a word document and typed each name, number, and birthdate. Then I dragged the names around until I had them organized by birthdate- that way, I could easily check the list and see who has an upcoming birthday. When I get a new child, I can just add them into the list, already in order! I keep a printed copy in my clipboard, which is usually where I work on my letters, but I have it saved on my computer so I can bring it up whenever I need to.
Time, or lack thereof, to write letters is a concern that every sponsor has at one point. I have many friends who have sponsor children, who make comments like "oh, I haven't written to them in forever. I just don't have the time!" While I don't agree with that statement 100%, there are definitely things that you can do to address this issue.
The first and most obvious solution, like with the issue of money, is to write your letters online. Just for the sake of argument, I set up an online stopwatch and timed myself, from start to finish: I opened a new tab, went to Compassion's website, logged in, clicked "write to my child", chose a child, picked a template, wrote a letter, skipped the photos because I don't have any I want to send right now, and hit send. From start to finish, it took me 4 minutes and 48 seconds. If I wanted to, I could have copied that exact text and sent it to all my other kids, just taking a moment to change the names (and change Victor's letter to "stepmother.") Here's the letter I sent:
I hope you and your family are doing well. How are your studies going? I know you are a very good student and always try your hardest. Have you done any music competitions recently?
I want you to know that my family is doing just fine. Everyone is in good health and we are enjoying the weather here. It is bright and sunny most days. We had a fun weekend a few days ago. In my country, Mother's Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. This is a time when we honor mothers and other important women in our lives, like grandmothers and aunts. We went to church that morning, where we gave a gift to Brandon's mom. Then we met my family, plus my aunt, cousin, uncle and grandfather for lunch. My grandmother wasn't able to come with us, because she wasn't feeling well, but later in the day she felt fine. We had a good time spending the morning together. I am very thankful for my mom- she is one of my best friends! And I really love Brandon's mom, too. She has accepted me as her daughter. I know many other countries celebrate mother's day. Does Kenya have a holiday honoring mothers? When does it take place? Mary, I would love to know your mother's name so I can pray for her. My mother's name is Karen, and Brandon's mother's name is Denise.
I hope I get another letter from you soon, Mary! I always love reading your letters. You know I am praying for you every day. Do you have any prayer requests to share with me? I would like to ask you to pray for my mom, because she has been working very hard and has a lot of responsibilities at her job.
I love you so much, Mary! I'm glad we're friends!
Lots of love,
Nothing too complicated, yet very personal and informative. I talked about my family, shared a prayer request, asked questions for Mary to answer, checked in with her and her interests (she loves to sing) and made an attempt to learn more about her life, plus addressed a current event. In less than five minutes! I know people who work full time jobs or have small children who take a lot of time and energy to wrangle. I think that writing letters is one of those things that in your brain, you think "I don't have time for this," but if you really consider it, you do. How many times have you thought "I don't have time to write a letter," but find yourself wasting half an hour or more on facebook? That's one thing I'm really bad about- I'll get on there and wind up spending way more time than I intended. Then I'll see a Buzzfeed quiz and get distracted by that, come back to FB to post my results, and boom, I'm back on facebook, sucked into the vortex for another 20 minutes. It's amazing. We also find ourselves "wasting" time playing games on our phones, binge-watching television programs, and things like that. We have time for things like letter writing- we just don't want to take away time from these other things in our lives. And it's ok. No one says that you need to set aside an hour a week to write a letter. But maybe 4 minutes a month? Just maybe? That way, your child would receive 12 letters a year- much more than many of the other children in their projects. On average, kids will receive fewer than 5 letters from their sponsor each year. A dozen would be like striking gold!
I know many sponsors who write their letters similar to the way I do- I first think of a primary topic (like Mother's Day), and sit down and type up a letter. Then I just change the names and other references for each child. I can get 17 letters together pretty quickly, usually while I'm working on something else. Sometimes, you can leave out a bit of information when writing to a younger child- this makes writing some letters go by a little bit faster. Other times it depends on the specific child you're writing to. Recently I wrote to my kids about our visit to the zoo last week. Many of my kids already know about my friend Ashley and her son Anell, who met us at the zoo. They received letters from me before Anell came home, asking them to pray, and then I sent a letter about the airport party. So in my letter, I told them a little bit about how my buddy is doing- I mentioned that he is getting taller and he is learning more words, little things like that. The youngest kids are fine hearing "My friend Ashley and her son Anell met us at the zoo. Anell is 5 years old. He is so much fun to be around!" And that works well for my newer kids, too, who may not know who Ashley and Anell are. The point is, you can definitely type up a letter and just change the references for each child. It makes things so much simpler. You can also save time by writing to your child when you hear from him or her. If you go ahead and write a letter while it's fresh in your mind, you don't have to go looking for it later on (and you don't get to make the excuse "oh, I'm going to wait until I find that letter so I know for sure what it says.")
I think that these tips work well for any sponsor, whether you have one child or two dozen! Are there any other issues you encounter while writing to multiples? What other pieces of advice could you offer to people who are considering picking up correspondence kids but might be a little intimidated?