Seven Steps to Sending Your Letter Step 4: Snails Bring Extra Goodies!

In each of our letters of love thus far, we have shared extra goodies that can be sent according to Compassion’s mailing guidelines. In this, our fourth step to sending your letter, let us expand on ways to choose and purchase these extra gifts.

 

Choosing based on Theme

 

You may have noticed as you browsed our letters of love that each letter is based on a particular theme for the corresponding month. I have created an electronic document detailing each month’s letter theme, and listing each child’s name with the extra goodies being sent. Items may range based on each particular child’s age, interests, and so forth, but this allows for organization and future recollection of what has and has not been sent. This also helps when reading and replying to a child’s letter, as they respond to and thank us for specific topics or extra-included items. Moreover, my wallet thanks me for the strategic planning, as I can usually make one bulk purchase annually from each retailer. Thanks to the advice gleaned from other wonderful Compassion sponsors, we have found several specific online retailers to be very beneficial in our goodie search.

Please note: No affiliate links or official endorsements are being provided. These are simply our own personal experiences.

 

ChristianBook.com

 

This site has a variety of themed coloring books, stickers, bookmarks, postcards, bilingual English-Spanish flashcards and card games, printer paper, and much more. Items are very reasonably priced, with most items in my wish list ranging from $1.50-$7.50. Many items come in sets, allowing for sharing among children’s letters. Shipping, packaging, and delivery have always been exceptional.

 

Dover Publications

 

The most popular section of Dover’s site for us has been their Little Activity Books. These small and inexpensive books are fastened together with staples, making it easy to separate and distribute pages among children’s letters. Books come in a variety of themes, in such forms as stickers, bookmarks, paper dolls, and coloring pages. As with ChristianBook.com, shipping, packaging, and delivery of our Dover orders have always been exceptional.

 

Oriental Trading

 

Oriental Trading has been a great source for stickers and make-your-own sticker scenes, bookmarks, and more. Caution: Make sure that any non-paper attachments such as ribbons are removed prior to sending, in order to comply with Compassion’s mailing guidelines. If we recommend any items for which attachment removal is necessary, we will note this in the corresponding post whenever possible. One thing that we love about Oriental Trading is that for prices ranging from $4.00-$10.00, we can get anywhere from 12-48 items in a set, depending on the item(s) being purchased. This allows for not only easy distribution among sponsored children, but also saving extras for future use.

 

Rose Publishing

 

As one resource for answering the frequently asked question of what to send to older sponsored teens, Rose Publishing’s pamphlets on a variety of Biblical and Christian topics are worth considering. Please be aware of cultural appropriateness, and know that all titles are in English with some available in Spanish as well. While pamphlets are inexpensive at just $3.99 each, a neat feature of this site is their free weekly emails for downloadable E-Charts, providing samplings of some of the pamphlets. Discount emails are also sent, allowing bulk purchases for minimal cost. While we have downloaded and sent some of the free E-Charts, we have yet to purchase anything in hard copy from Rose Publishing. We would appreciate any feedback from those who have done so.

 

Choosing based on your child

 

As you correspond with your sponsored child(ren), you will learn their hobbies, favorite school subjects, favorite sports, and so forth. Additionally, some items you choose may be based on gender or age. It is possible to send specific goodies to a child based on a combination of your letter theme and that child’s personal interests. Here is a post by a fellow Compassion blogger with a document containing numerous links of interest to aid you in your goodie search.

 

Organizing your goodies

 

At the moment, all of our extra goodies fit in one storage bin, with a smaller box inside to hold smaller items such as the Dover Little Activity books, bookmarks, and stickers. I have labeled the Dover Little Activity books in Braille by attaching an index card with the title to the inside of the cover, as the covers will not be sent. I am known to use small zip lock bags or envelopes for goodie sets, and a Brailed index card is attached to or inserted in the envelope or bag for reference. Until our collection grows too large, I also have extra photo and printer paper, and labeling and mailing supplies stored inside our Compassion bin.

Let us not get too ahead of ourselves. We will discuss labels, photos, and printers next Saturday in the fifth step to sending your letter.

Seven Steps to Sending Your Letter Step 3: The Basics of Being a Snail

A while back, we began a series of seven steps to sending a letter to your Compassion International sponsored child. Each Saturday in November, we will continue and finish this series in anticipation of a 2014 full of monthly themed letter writing topics you are welcome to use and share. If you are in need of letter writing topics before January, read step one of this series for some ideas and to learn about the letter-writing schedule we use. Continue to step two to find a detailed walk-through of Compassion’s online letter writing tool with a bonus topic included!

 

As we have said in the previous posts of this series, please remember that we are located in the United States and International Compassion offices may have different rules and guidelines to follow. Please also keep in mind that everything we suggest here, while it works for our Compassion family and current situation, may not work for your Compassion family or situation. We are not official Compassion International employees, but we do all we can to ensure that our information is accurate to the best of our knowledge.

 

Today, let’s begin our discussion of sending snail mail packages!

 

While writing a letter online is certainly convenient and fun, the ability to send letters in the mail and include extra paper gifts is just as exciting for the sponsor as it is for the sponsored child—I promise! You know you are a child sponsor when you go to the store and do a happy dance while trying not to scream in sheer delight at finding that perfect paper gift for $1.00 or less! You may even purchase more than necessary and laugh at yourself a year or more later when that item is still well stocked! Warning: This can get dangerously addictive, so please do not blame me! 😉

 

Compassion has mailing guidelines we need to follow

 

As you review the above guidelines, keep in mind the following additional tips that may aid you in your package-sending process.

 

Tip: Make sure your and your sponsored child’s numbers are on everything you send

 

We will discuss an efficient way to label the items you mail in a future installment of this series, but for now, here is what you need to know. To ensure timely processing and accurate delivery, your sponsor number and your sponsored child’s number should be clearly written on every item sent in your package, including the letter itself. If you are unsure of how to obtain these numbers, view your online account or contact Compassion’s global ministry center at: (800) 336-7676.

 

Tip: Clearing up confusion about size restrictions

 

As mentioned above, Compassion has a list of items we can and cannot send, and there are size limits on the items being included in our packages. While there is some confusion as to whether the entire package or each individual item must meet the size restrictions, we have been told by Compassion staff in response to multiple inquiries that each item in the package can be no more than ¼” thick and with dimensions no larger than 8 1/2’” x 11”. The mailing envelope in which you send your items can be larger, but we will discuss mailing itself in a future post of the series later this month.

 

Tip: How to send books and booklets while still meeting guidelines

 

As noted in the above link, we are no longer able to send books and booklets. This is due to the increased possibility of these items being stolen while in transit to our child, because the books and/or booklets are worth monetary value. In order to send books and booklets, de-bind the book or booklet and send a few pages at a time. Additionally, you can remove the cover if it is a small booklet and staple the pages together if not already otherwise attached. Please note: Books should be in a language your child can read, as letters and cards are the only items translated as far as we understand.

 

Tip: Ask before sending to avoid mailing delay and possible extra cost for Compassion

 

If you are unsure if a particular item will go through according to Compassion’s mailing guidelines, please ask before sending it as part of your letter package. Sending items you are unsure about may delay an entire shipment of sponsor letters in the child’s country for months, and Compassion may incur additional costs associated with working to get the letters to the sponsored children.

 

Do you have any tips or questions about Compassion’s mailing guidelines?

 

Please feel free to ask your questions or share your tips in the comments. If we are unable to answer any questions, we will be sure to find the answer or point you in the right direction. If you have tips or questions regarding other aspects of sending letters to our sponsored children, please keep them in mind for the corresponding post in the series or comment on a previously appropriate post. This will help us to stay organized and provide the most effective series possible for you and your fellow readers.

 

What’s next in the series?

 

Please join us next Saturday for step four of this series! We will discuss theming, outlining, and scheduling letters. We will also share cost-effective tips for choosing extra paper gifts, and organizing them for easy access.

Seven steps to sending your letter step 2: Writing your letter online

In our first post of this series entitled, “Seven Steps to Sending your letter”, we discussed the schedule we personally use for writing and sending letters to our Compassion children and shared resources with topics you can write about. This is the second post in which we answer the question, “How do I write my sponsored child?” More accurately, we discuss writing our sponsored children via Compassion’s online letter writing system. Andy and I tend to use the online letter writing system for shorter reply letters, monthly update letters, and quick notes of encouragement that may be specific to one child.

 

“One Word”

 

Some of you may know of “One Word”, and you may even participate in this wonderful movement. While I had read about this for a few years, 2013 is the first year I’ll be participating. If you have never heard of “One Word”, check out these posts from Compassion International’s blog to see how lives are being changed by the simple act of choosing just one word to focus on for the year.

My word for 2013 is “faith”. While this stretches way beyond our sponsorship and advocacy through Compassion, Andy and I are believing for some very specific things within the context of our involvement with Compassion as well. There are things Andy and I are praying and believing God for in the lives of some of our Compassion children, we believe that our advocacy will expand this year, and we also believe that we will be in the Dominican Republic in November.

 

Bonus topic: Share your one word for 2013 with
your sponsored children!

 

If you are participating in “One Word” for 2013, why not tell your Compassion children about it? You can share your word for 2013 and how the Lord revealed this word to you. You can share Scriptures that remind you of this word and ways in which you want to grow closer to Christ in 2013. Ask your children, “If God gave you one word to live by for 2013, what would that one word be?” Another great question you can ask is, “How would you like to grow closer to the Lord in 2013?” You could even ask your children to share a Scripture that reminds them of the word the Lord would give them. Remember to ask your children to pray for you as you grow closer to Jesus through your word for the year, and be sure to tell them you are praying for them as well.

 

Before logging into the online letter writing system

 

A letter such as this is short enough to be written via Compassion’s online letter writing system. Before I ever log on to Compassion.com, I write out the letter using my Word processing program. Although I could simply write the letter online, I find it very slow and difficult with my screen reading software, because the site saves a draft frequently. This is not Compassion’s fault, as other sites work the same way. Additionally, writing out the letter on my computer first saves me time and the fear of losing my letter in cyberspace. Compassion’s website gives you a time limit of 60 minutes to write your letter before you need to log in again. While your letter should be saved as a draft, technology can be imperfect and unforgiving. For me personally, I know I’m most likely to run over the 60 minute time limit as I work to word my letter just right, look up the perfect Scriptures, read and reread my letter, ETC. I also know there is a character limit on Compassion’s website, so I tend to check my character limit as I write my letter with my word processor. Depending on the awesome template I choose to use on Compassion’s website, I can fit around 2000 characters in our online letters.

 

Logging into the online letter writing system

 

Once I have written and perfected the base letter we will send to all of our children, I go to www.compassion.com and click on “My Account”. I then click on “Write my child” and am asked to log in. If you have not yet created an online account on Compassion International’s website, simply fill out the “Create an account” page to do so. Once I am logged into our online Compassion.com account after clicking on “Write my child”, I am taken to a page where I can compose a letter, view drafts of letters I have not yet finished, see letters I’ve written online, see when we wrote each child an online letter, and view a bit of basic information about each child including their birthday, age, gender, and country.

 

Choosing a child to write to and choosing the letter template

 

Now, I can choose which child I want to write to. In this case, I plan to write to all of our children, so I will simply go down the list and start with Toface, as she is the first child I see on the site. After I have selected the child I want to write to, I am taken to a screen where I can select from a variety of wonderful templates. Compassion recommends templates for each child, but there is also a tab called “more templates” that I can choose from as well. Once I select my desired template, I click “Confirm template selection” and I’m taken to the screen where I can input the text of my letter.

 

Inserting the letter text

 

Since I have already written my letter using my word processor, all I have to do is select all of the text from my document and hit copy. I can then paste it into the textbox in Compassion’s online letter writing system. Once the text has been entered, I can review it to make sure the entire letter fits in the space provided. I am able to see a progress indicator at the end of the letter, and this indicator tells me that I have used 97% of the provided space with this particular letter.

Once the letter text is entered, I go past the progress indicator to hit a button that is *conveniently labeled* as, “Button button”. While this button could use a more useful label in my opinion, common sense would tell me this is the button I want to click. I should point out here that for those of you who are sighted; this button may indeed have a more informative label.

 

Adding photos

 

After I hit the “button button” as my screen reader calls it, I am taken to a screen where I can add up to 3 photos to my online letter. I have never done this step, as this requires cropping images and making sure they are aligned correctly. This requires sighted assistance for those of us who are blind, so Andy and I choose to send photos as part of our snail mail packages instead. So, I will hit “continue” to be taken to the next screen where I can preview and/or print a copy of my letter.

 

Previewing/printing and sending the letter

 

There are two tabs on this page, and they are the “front page” tab and the “back page” tab. The “front page” tab is automatically selected, and here I can see the front page of this letter. I can click the “back page” tab to view the remainder, and if need be I can always click “edit this letter” to correct any mistakes. If you are like me, you have probably already reviewed the letter while it was still in the textbox, but I tend to review it here again as an extra added percaussion. Once I have reviewed the letter, I click the link that says, “Send this letter”. I am then taken to the last screen where I confirm that I do indeed wish to send this letter by clicking “yes”. Once the next screen appears to tell me my letter was successfully submitted, I return to my document to save an offline copy of the letter.

 

Saving an offline copy of the letter

 

On my external USB thumb drive, I have a folder called “Compassion” and in this folder is another called, “Children”. This folder contains folders for all of our current Compassion children, and in each of their folders is a folder called, “Letters”. This is where I keep the letters we send and receive, and they are divided into “from” and “to” folders. The “From” and “To” folders each have year folders for the years that child has been part of our Compassion family. For instance, Toface joined our Compassion family in 2010. So, there are folders for 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 in both the “from” and “to” folders. Since this online letter was written on January 3, 2013, I will name and save this file as, “Letter to Toface 01-03-2013”, and it will be saved in her “2013” folder in her “to folder”.

 

Writing additional children online

 

Once I have saved the letter I wrote to Toface, I can go back to Compassion’s website that is still open in my internet browser. The screen that is present at this point not only tells me my letter has been successfully sent, but it also gives me the option to “duplicate” the letter or to simply write another letter to the next child. I have personally learned that if I duplicate the letter, I forget to save an external copy on the computer and only end up with the online backup. Therefore, I choose to simply write another letter, and I am taken back to the screen where I choose the child I want to write to. I open another document in my word processor and paste the text of the first letter I wrote in this new document, so I can then customize it for the next child. I repeat the process explained in this post until all of our children have letters on the way.

 

Final thoughts

 

Writing our Compassion children online takes me around 2 hours total, and I find it to be a fun and easy process. I hope this post and the bonus topic help you enjoy writing your Compassion International children via the online letter writing system, and I would love your feedback as well. Do you have any questions about writing sponsored children online? Do you have a process for writing letters online that works well for you that you’d like to share? Would you like to share with us your word for 2013? We look forward to the discussion, and we hope you’ll join us for our next post in this series where we share about the basics of being a snail!

 

Seven Steps to Sending Your Letter step 1: What and When

There are two questions you may be asking in regards to writing letters to your Compassion International children. “How often should I write, and what should I write about?” These are very common questions to ask, and we have asked these questions ourselves.

This post will be the first in a series entitled, “Seven steps to sending your letter”. In this first post, we hope to answer the above questions by sharing what has worked for us and our Compassion family. Subsequent posts will cover the ways you can write your letter, Compassion’s mailing guidelines, extra goodies to include with your letters and how to choose and organize them, the technical details, putting your packages together, and shipping your packages to Compassion International’s Global Ministry Center.

As you read through this series of posts, please keep in mind that we are located in the United States, and although the system we describe here works for us and our situation, we are aware it may not work for you or your particular situation. We will also do our best to answer any questions you’d like to ask, but we do not work for Compassion International and therefore are not the final authority.

Question 1. How often should I write my Compassion International sponsored child(ren)?

This is completely up to you. Many sponsors choose to write their Compassion child(ren) once a month. Depending, we write 1-3 times a month. If we have noteworthy news, we write an update letter, usually towards the end of the month, telling our Compassion children of that month’s events and happenings in our life. This letter is normally a shorter letter and is written using Compassion’s online letter writing system, discussed in further detail in step 2. Sometimes, if a reply letter can be fit into the update letter, we will do so. Other times, we choose to send a reply letter separately in order to reply right away, make it longer than the maximum character limit on Compassion’s website, or to send extra goodies to the child we are replying to.

The other big letter or package we send each month is a themed letter or package, and this too is sent towards the end of the month. This themed letter or package is usually sent via snail mail and includes extra goodies related to the particular topic discussed in that month’s theme letter. We will admit to not being great about sending these packages on a monthly basis, but our goal is to improve in this area in 2013. It is our hope that by sharing theme ideas with you here each month, we will be held more accountable.

Question 2. What topics should I write about?

Again, as with our answer to the first question, this is completely up to you. We will be sharing our own topic ideas throughout 2013. Until then, we would like to point you to some great resources to get your creative juices flowing.

With the many wonderful letter writing ideas given by sponsors, it’s no wonder this is the most active discussion on Compassion’s blog!

Here are 20 great questions to ask yourself about your spiritual life and your sponsored child.

Here are 20 more great questions to ask yourself about your childhood and your life today.

Check out these short and sweet sample letters you are welcome to use.

Do you need to know good topics to include and what topics to avoid?

Michelle from Blogging from the Boonies gives us 101 letter writing ideas.

Michelle has also just recently started a series entitled, “Correspondence Connections”.

Do you have letter writing topics you’d like to share? How often do you write to your sponsored child(ren)? Do you have any questions about the what and when of letter writing? We would love your feedback in the comments, and we look forward to continuing this series!