As museums, we have to have thousands of people become long term supporters of our work to sustain and grow. The process for creating long term relationships is a more elaborate discussion for a different day, but for now, I’m going to teach you a quick hack.  The highest ROI museum hack I know is handwritten cards.

As a museum, you are a representative of an ideal within your community.  If you are an art museum, you are also an ambassador for arts as a topic and going concern.  If you are a history museum, you are a knowledge base and advocate for history.  You can make the most of this role with some forward-thinking use of thank you cards.

At the National Quilt Museum, our staff sends out over 2000 handwritten notes a year.  We actively look for opportunities to send cards.  It’s all about openly looking for opportunities to show gratitude.  We start with people that did things directly for the museum.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

We keep up with quilters in the news with Google Alerts and Mention.  If a quilter wins a contest, is mentioned in the media, or anything else newsworthy we send them a card.  I’ve personally sent cards to volunteers that do a great job, vendors that go the extra mile, people that forward information about our exhibits online, people that attend workshops, special guest speakers and presenters, and many more.  I once sent a thank you card to a local restaurant because their food was consistently top-notch.

Why is this such a valuable tool?  First, very few people send handwritten cards any more.  More importantly, people love receiving thank you notes.  According to research printed in the Journal Psychological Science by Amit Kuman, Thank you notes trigger the pleasure centers of the brain and increase well-being for both the sender and the receiver.  The museum sees the benefits of this activity in attendance, donations, advocacy, and positive feedback daily.  I can’t tell you how many people that received have received thank you cards show up as donors in our annual matching campaign.

To implement this program in your museum, create a culture of gratitude.  Give everyone a stack of branded thank you cards and make sure the extras are in an area of the museum that everyone walks past.  When you have meetings, make a point of successes:  Times when a thank you note from the museum led to something reciprocal from a recipient.  There are literally thousands of opportunities.   One museum I know well sends a thank you note to everyone that sends in feedback about their visit even if it was not positive feedback.  Another one thanks everyone that attends a class at the museum.  As Dr. Kuman’s research found, we underestimate how much the recipient will appreciate the gesture.  Even if nothing tangible comes out of it, it is well documented that when we perform acts of kindness we are happier and feel a greater sense of self-worth.

Article by Frank Bennett,

Research from Dr. Amit Kuman at