Culture Club: The Art of Gratitude and Those Who Deliver It

by Christoph Ptack, Executive Director, Peninsula Music Festival 

“Thank you!” It’s a common phrase that we all hear, but perhaps it’s not one that we receive nearly enough. Is it overused? Of course not, because these two words are a necessity to navigating our daily lives. When they arrive in the form of a handwritten note, however, their effectiveness is amplified exponentially. A verbal or e-thanks is certainly nothing to be scoffed at, but as with most things in life, it’s the delivery that really seals the deal, right? 

Let’s be honest: A handwritten note is really a gift in and of itself because this method of communication is more of a pleasant surprise nowadays than one of standard practice or protocol. But for those who identify with old-school values or “vintage” as a descriptor (and I proudly count myself among this group), a handwritten note never goes out of style. 

When I first began interviewing with the board of directors last fall, one of my first introductions was to a passionate, loyal and dedicated leader within the organization: Sue Stone. I could instantly tell that her curatorial spirit reached far beyond any meeting agenda, and as the months progressed, I saw I was right. Sue embodies the spirit of the Peninsula Music Festival (PMF) and strives to share a small piece of it with everyone she comes in contact with. 

How does she do it? With a folded note card and a pen. The coveted communication consists of her carefully drawn musical note and the phrase “A PMF note”: clean, simple and classic. Personally, I think it’s the complex simplicity of the gesture and the presentation that people are so drawn to. She sends these notes to all who make a donation, large or small. She sends them to concert sponsors, underwriters and whenever a special thank-you is needed. This is one asset every organization should never be without. I asked Sue to let me in on how it all started, and here’s what she said:

“‘How do we thank our donors?’ I asked nearly 25 years ago at my first Peninsula Music Festival board meeting. Having grown up in a family in which all gifts deserved a personal thank-you note from the receiver, I knew we should do more! At the end of that meeting, I offered to get the cards and to write and mail a thank-you note to every PMF donor. People who support an organization should know that their gifts are needed, appreciated and used wisely! And so began my ‘PMF note-writing life.’ Each year I send about 500, and I feel personally connected to each one. 

“Let me tell you about my friend ‘Mr. Danville.’ His name is Fred, and he lives in Danville, Illinois. He’s been a PMF donor for many years, and when I first saw Danville as his address, I was reminded of my solo train ride from Chicago to Terre Haute, Indiana, when I was 12 years old. The train stopped in Danville, and everyone got off and ate lunch in the train station. Then it was back on the train for Terre Haute and a visit with my grandparents. 

“When I thanked Fred for his PMF donation, I mentioned my memorable trip through his lovely town. He responded by telling me how much that station had meant to him growing up. What a lovely relationship we have! Now, every year when his gift arrives, I am so happy that all is well with Mr. Danville!” 

This is all in a day’s work for our Sue, fostering one more relationship in the name of the Peninsula Music Festival. But most importantly, it’s in the name of gratitude. 

The Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate for the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.

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