L ast week, I entered my office to find a colorful jersey with a note on it lying on my desk. The handwritten note read as follows:

Dear Mr. Berry,

Thank you so much for helping me out this year. Your donation was one of the most gracious things to ever happen to me. This shirt makes you a part of the Bandits. I am also volunteering at the Human Society this summer. Thank you.   Hayden May #34

I picked up the shirt and discovered that it had my name on the back in big white letters. I said out loud, “Nice!”

Fast forward a week and I receive a message with two photos attached of Hayden May, in uniform, posing with two separate tournament champion rings. The note on these photos came from his dad and read: “He wanted me to share some pictures with you to know that you’re sponsoring a winning organization.

The moment I picked up Hayden’s note, I knew I wanted to write something about it. I’ve carried his note with me for the last 10 days thinking about the lessons in this story and smiling each time I read it. This young man has much to teach us about how to engage people. Please allow me to break it down:

  • The story begins with “The Ask.” A little note floating around the office asking for donations for a travel baseball team. One note – nothing awkward or pushy. There was no big list of “sponsorship options” or other efforts to sell. Just a simple “ask.”
  • Next, we step into “The Thank You.” I donated some money to the cause and proceeded to forget about it. Hayden wasn’t going to let me forget about it. His handwritten note demonstrated his appreciation. The team jersey with my name was a special touch.
  • Not only did he thank me and engage me with a relevant artifact, he made an offer to “pay it forward” by volunteering at the Humane Society this summer. His affirmation reassured me that there was a lesson learned in my gift. Very powerful.
  • Finally, he included me in the journey. The fact that he wanted me to know that I helped support a “winning organization” not only brought another smile to my face but tapped into that deep sense within all of us: we want to support successful, meaningful efforts. We all like to win.

As I reread the points above, it occurs to me that these are simple and obvious. The truth of the matter is that most people don’t follow through on the simple and obvious. In our daily give and take with other people, the points above are “softballs” tossed to each of use which should be easy to hit every time. Yet, most don’t hit them. We all work pretty much the same way:

  1. We like to be generous.
  2. We like to be acknowledged.
  3. We like to feel involved.
  4. We like to win.
  5. We like to feel that what we do makes a difference.

This doesn’t just apply to philanthropy. These are lessons in engagement. These are lessons in building relationships. These lessons apply to acts large and small. These are basic rules of human interaction that we all recognize yet most of us don’t take the time to follow through on them. In my experience, the follow up “ball” is dropped about 9 out of 10 times. Hayden May didn’t drop it.

Go forward today and be the exception.