A Letter-Writing Plan for the New Year

A few years ago, I set a goal of writing one letter a month for the year to friends and family. I didn’t send my first one out until March. Why? Well, first I had to find a stamp. And an envelope. And a piece of paper that wasn’t ripped out of a notebook. And then I had to text the person I was writing to get their address. When I finally dropped it in the mail, I had to wait and wait for them to receive it. Shockingly, snail mail takes MUCH longer than email.

A pen sits atop postage stamps and an envelope.

Was it worth it? Absolutely! Each person I wrote that year expressed such joy and gratitude. My aunt who was going through chemo kept my card in her purse to read when she was at the doctor’s office. A college professor emailed me to say thank you (and to express the irony of emailing her response).

Why am I telling you this story? Because we’re slowly losing the art of writing letters, and I am on a one-woman crusade to educate about the beauty of the mailed letter!

My year of letter writing included quite a few letters to the little girl I sponsor in Guatemala, Bilha. And if I thought sending domestic mail was complicated, sending a letter overseas was even more complicated. Those letters came with all of the obstacles above, plus a few more.

There was the time involved in translation and delivery. Bilha lives in a remote village, so even after my note arrived in Guatemala, it still had to be hand-delivered to her Compassion center.

Then there was the confusing timelines – when did I tell her Merry Christmas? Why was she mentioning Easter in the summer?

Like me, you may have noticed that the child you sponsor is sharing about holidays months after they pass. They’re asking you about your Easter traditions closer to the Fourth of July. The reality is, when you add up the time it takes to mail, translate and deliver letters, months can pass. That’s why we decided we’d start the year off with a handy letter-writing plan to help you understand how to time your letters.

But hear this very clearly: A belated birthday note is better than none! A Christmas greeting received in March will be no less cherished. But if you’d like to work on your timing in 2020, we’d love to help!

An Annual Letter-Writing Plan

A woman sits at a table, writing a letter.

February: Send an Easter greeting and ask how Easter is celebrated in your child’s country.

April: Ask what the weather is like in your child’s country and tell them about summer where you live. Kids are crazy fascinated by the weather! Send alongside some summer pics of your family.

June: Tell your child you’re praying for their school. In many parts of the world, they’ll be preparing for school when they get this letter.

September: Tell your child you’re thankful for him or her! This is a great time to talk about Thanksgiving as a holiday we celebrate to remember all that we’re grateful for.

October: Send your Christmas greeting. And if you’re super on top of things, maybe you have that family Christmas photo to send!

December: Send a Valentine’s greeting, letting your child know they are loved and remembered!

Birthday Time: Don’t forget to try to send your birthday greeting about two months before your sponsored child’s birthday!

I hope this letter-writing plan helps you with some letter-writing ideas for the year! You can write that fist letter of 2020 today – and tell us in the comments what you wrote about so we can learn from your ideas!


26 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Susan January 16, 2021

    Hello, I am just curious to know why my sponsored child would only physically receive a musical greeting card but not a regular greeting card. Does anyone know? I didn’t realize it had to be musical and I purchased a pop-up card that I thought he would love that lays flat but can be popped up and displayed. I’m just confused and would love to know if he would actually get this card from me! Thank you!

    1. Shannon January 19, 2021

      Hi Susan,
      I am so sorry for any confusion. The rules have changed a bit over the years. Currently, you are actually able to send a card that is musical or pop-up and those will both be sent physically. Please know we do this because these two types of cards cannot be scanned in without damaging them and they would not be fully the same if we just sent a copy of them. With that in mind, please do not write in your pop-up card, but rather send it along with a letter. This will help our team when it comes to translation. If you write in the card, we must scan it and then it would have the possibility of being damaged. Thank you so much for your understanding. If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out to our team directly at [email protected]. Thank you so much!

  2. Terri P. April 7, 2020

    It would be wonderful to receive a thank you from our sponsored children for the Christmas gift they receive. We have been sponsors for more than 8 years and sponsor many children, but we have received a thank you only once (and that was many years ago.) We have never been told what was purchased and believe the local Compassion Projects have really dropped the ball on this. Please stop telling sponsors that they will receive any note of appreciation for Christmas gifts. This is simply not true!

    1. Mackenzie April 7, 2020

      Hi Terri! I am really sorry for the disappointment this has caused you. We certainly want to steward your donations well, and I am so sorry for any confusion about the Christmas gifts. When you give a birthday, general or family gift, these gifts are given only to your sponsored child, or their family, to be used for what they need most at that time.

      The following guidelines apply to these types of gifts:
      For gifts of less than or equal to $20: Your child may (but is not required to) acknowledge the gift in their next letter.
      For gifts of $21 – $59: Your child will acknowledge the gift in a special thank you letter
      For gifts of $60 or more: Your child will acknowledge the gift in a special thank you letter, and a photo of the child with the purchased gift items will be included.

      Christmas gifts are received and distributed differently than these gift types in that all Christmas donations are combined and then divided evenly among every child in the program. We do this because we want every child to receive a gift and to be included in a special Christmas celebration at their church-based center. Your sponsored child will be told that this gift is from you. However, they have the option to send you a special thank you letter for this particular gift since every child receives a Christmas gift.

      You certainly should have received more than one thank you letter for the family gifts, birthday gifts and general gifts you have sent to your sponsor children. If you have not received thank you letters for these gifts and it has been six months since you gave your gift, please send us an email at [email protected]. Please let us know in your email which children you have missing thank you letters from. We would be happy to look further into your account and make sure you receive thank you letters for your donations!

  3. Vivian and Bill Matheson April 4, 2020

    I noticed while reading through the comments on the blog that sponsors can expect to receive pictures or a description of what was done with the gifts they sent. We have sent money over the last year for birthday and Christmas gifts and one other gift. we have received thank yous from Compassion but have not been told what has been done with the money we sent. Is there any way to find out what specifically done with our gifts? We sponsor 2 little girls in Ecuador and would love to find out what the children received.

    And we have not received updated pictures of the girls. They re a year older now and we would love to see what they look like now.

    Thank you so much for your help. We love what you guy are doing all over the world to help children come to know Jesus and how much He loves them.

    1. Christina April 6, 2020

      Hello Vivian and Bill! Thank you so much for blessing Narcisa and Azucena with your love and support! Please know that your generous gifts are always an extra blessing! When you give your child a Christmas gift, this option donates to the Christmas Gift Fund. All Christmas donations are combined and then divided evenly among every child in our program. With this fund, we purchase a meaningful gift specifically for each child and help purchase gifts for children who are not yet sponsored or whose sponsors are not able to give. We do this because we want every child to receive a gift and to be included in a special Christmas celebration at their church-based center. What matters the most is that your child will know that the gift they receive is from you – making it even more special. Regrettably, you will not receive a picture for this specific type of gift only. However, most children will thank their sponsor in their next letter, but they are not required to.

      You may also give directly to your child by choosing to give a Child Gift, Birthday Gift, or Family Gift. When your child and their family receive this gift, a Compassion staff member will assist them in purchasing a gift for your child. Of course, you may make recommendations on how you would like the money to be used. However, the use of the gift is ultimately up to the family, so if they have an immediate need, they may use the gift to help meet that need. For gifts of $21 or more, you can expect to receive a thank you letter from your about six months after the gift is given, letting you know what was purchased. If the gift amount is $60 or more, you will also receive a photo of what was purchased.

      I see that you gave Narcisa a $25 family gift in December of 2018. She sent you a cute thank you letter that was received in February of 2019 stating that she purchased clothes with your gift funds. I also see you give her a $30 birthday gift in May of 2019. She sent you a thank you letter that was received in September of 2019. Sadly, she simply states thank you for the gift instead of telling you what she purchased. Please rest assured that I have asked our Ecuador National Office to look into what Narcisa received, and we will follow up with you as soon as we receive a response.

      You sent Azucena a $25 family gift in December of 2018 as well. Her thank you letter was received in February of 2019, and it looks like she was also able to purchase some clothes! That’s wonderful! I see you also sent Azucena a $30 birthday gift in September of 2019. Her thank you letter that was received in January of 2020, sadly, did not mention what she purchased either. I have asked our Ecuador National Office to look into this for you as well, and we’ll follow up with you once we have an answer about this gift, too. Since you give Azucena a $50 family gift in February of 2020, you may expect to receive a thank you letter no later than August 12, 2020. Please let us know if you do not, and we’ll be happy to send an inquiry.

      Child photos and profiles are updated once every 24-26 months. Since both of your girl’s photos and profiles were updated in August of 2018, you may look forward to receiving updates around August to October of this year.

      Considering everything happening with COVID-19, we do kindly ask for your grace, understanding, and patience with the estimated time frames I have provided above regarding your letters and updates. If you would like to stay up to date on how your children are affected and what Compassion is doing about the novel Coronavirus, please visit https://www.compassion.com/crisis/covid-19.htm. Please know that your continued support, love, and faithful prayers are greatly appreciated. God bless you.

  4. Amelia March 2, 2020

    Hi Becky, thank you for this timeline! I had another question about letter writing for you. Our family’s sponsor children are in Togo. We chose them because we also speak French. We would like to write them directly in their correspondence language. Is that ok?

    1. Christina March 3, 2020

      Hi Amelia! That’s so great that you speak French and wish to write letters to your kiddo in French! Please keep in mind that there are many different idioms and dialects within certain regions which increase the difficulty when translating letters. Our wonderful local translators are well versed in the many language dialects where we work, so they are able to translate letters to and from your kiddo while maintaining the emotion and intent as much as possible. For this reason, we do require an English translation to accompany any letters written in another letter. Therefore, if you choose to write your letters in French, please also include the English translation with it. If you’d like to learn more about letter-writing, I encourage you to visit cintl.us/letter-faq. Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Have a blessed day!

  5. Leslie Ward February 5, 2020

    Thank you for this blog info. so helpful!

  6. Sarah February 1, 2020

    This is a great reference to have for letter writing! My parents began sponsoring a little girl a few months ago and we began sponsoring our little guy in December and just began sponsoring our little princess a few days ago.
    I do have a question about what can physically be sent? If I send stickers or something physically in the mail, do they get the actual envelope and items in the envelope or do they get copies of what I’ve sent? I’ve seen some great ideas of things to send but have been a bit confused about whether they get the actual items, letters, stickers, etc. or photocopies.
    Thanks so much!

    1. Sierra February 3, 2020

      Oh Sarah, thank you so much for your partnership with Compassion and for all you do for your sponsored kiddos! We scan everything we possibly can to save time and money; however, something like stickers would lose its value if we scanned it instead of sent the physical item. Out of what you can send your child, we will physically send stickers, pop-up cards, and musical cards. Everything else will be scanned and sent. 🙂

  7. Becky Dresselhaus January 24, 2020

    This was very helpful, but I am stilled confused as to the difference between writing a letter on line and one that is sent through the mail. Do you mean the letters you send to Colorado to be forwarded on need to been sent by the dates you suggest? If the letter is sent via on line, it seems it would be much shorter. I have stopped sending physical letters and pages to my child in Brazil as I thought Compassion preferred the on-line page through the web site.

    1. Mackenzie January 24, 2020

      Hi Becky! I am so sorry for the confusion about the letter writing process. When you send a letter by mail, it will take about an extra week to two weeks for us to manually process it in Colorado Springs. Once we process it, we then send it electronically to our national office in your child’s country, where it is then translated.

      However, if you send your letter online, it goes straight through our system to the translation office.

      The time it takes to translate the letter depends on how quickly the translators can process and translate all the letters that go through their office. The letter is then mailed to your child’s Compassion center, which can vary quite a bit depending on how remote your child’s center is. That’s why we recommend sending letters for holidays about two months before the holiday itself.

      I hope this helps, but please let us know if you have questions!

  8. Robin Wall January 24, 2020

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I recently sponsored a child in Ecuador (October 2019). I’ve written my sponsored child like 15 times (I have a reminder to write every Friday). I was wondering when do you normally hear from your sponsored child? I haven’t received a letter or anything yet. I also did a general gift and Christmas gift and was told they would send a picture of what they purchased for my sponsor child. I was just wondering how long it takes to hear back. I’ve sent two cards, but mainly have used the online letter writing to send my letters and pictures. My little nieces ask weekly if a letter has come in yet 🙂 I was able to take them to a Compassion Experience and it was life changing for us all. <3 We chose our sponsor child because she was the oldest and they told us she had been there the longest and most people go for the younger children. I'm so thankful for Compassion and having this opportunity to sponsor my first child.

    1. Mackenzie January 24, 2020

      Hi Robin! It is so encouraging to hear how your nieces have joined you in this journey with Elizabeth!

      Because of our reciprocal writing process, your child will write to you every sixty days after they receive a letter from you. If you write to your child consistently (at least once every two months), you may expect to receive letters about six times each year.

      We normally recommend writing about 3-4 letters per year at least. You can certainly write more often than that, but it is totally up to you!

      I show that Elizabeth wrote you a letter in October 2019. This was her introductory letter for you as her new sponsor. Did you receive this letter from her? If not, please let me know, and I can send you another copy of her letter.

      It normally takes a few months for your child to write a thank you letter and to send you a photo of how she used the gift. However, if it has ever been six months since you sent the gift, and you haven’t heard anything, please let us know! We can send a special inquiry to Elizabeth’s Compassion center at that point.

  9. Gina Pearson January 22, 2020

    This is awesome! Thanks so much for the calendar letter writing plan and the comments that followed. The tip about the school year in our children’s respective countries is really great too!

  10. Lynn January 22, 2020

    Thank you for this helpful article. I was confused about the timing of letters I was receiving from the brother and mother of the 7 year old girl I sponsor in Haiti. After I had received 2 or 3 of them, I noticed that the dates they put on the letters were date first, then month and year. That explained the timing. The letters usually took 6 – 8 weeks to arrive. I’ve wondered if letters written online, where it’s easy to include photos, take less time to be received than mailing a letter.

    1. Sierra January 22, 2020

      Hi, Lynn! I’m so glad that you found this post helpful. When you write a letter online, it is sent to and printed out at the National Office in your child’s country right away, rather than taking the extra time to go through the physical postal system and then through our sorting and scanning system at our office here in Colorado Springs. It does save a significant amount of time. 🙂

  11. Missy Voigts January 22, 2020

    I love this guide! I would like to say, though, that it does seem like the amount of time it takes to get a letter to your child depends on the country! My child in the Philippines gets her letters in just two or three weeks, I believe, but my child in Africa can take up to two months!

    1. Sierra January 22, 2020

      Hi, Missy! You do bring up a good point here. There are some countries that take longer to translate letters, due to the workload and the employees that we have working in that country specifically. A letter should never be in translation for more than three months, though; that could be a sign that something is “stuck” in the system. Please let us know if you ever notice that this is the case, and thank you so much for taking the time to write to your children!

  12. Lisa January 22, 2020

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been wondering how long it took to get a letter from me to my sponsored child, Caleb. This will help me make sure that I get the “event” letters there more on time. -Lisa

  13. Nancy Heilman January 22, 2020

    I found this topic super helpful. And I love it when I struggle with something (ie – the timing of our letters to & from our sponsored children) & then there’s a blog about that very thing. Thanks for the tips!


  14. Richard Bellflower January 22, 2020

    Thank you Brandy! This is so helpful. I plan to share this with members of my church who sponsor children.

  15. Sandra January 21, 2020


  16. Beatty Collins January 21, 2020

    Brandy — An excellent idea and good tips. BUT you ought to change the date when you write to your Guatemalan child about “preparing for school”. The Guatemalan school calendar goes from January 15 to October 15. If you send your letter in June, it won’t be received until August when the school year is about over! When I write my Guatemalan child about school, I mail it in October or November so that it reaches her just as the new school year is beginning.

    For other countries, it’s an easy search on Google. Just ask: “when is the school year in [country name]?” and time your letter accordingly.

    1. Sierra January 22, 2020

      Beatty, thank you for sharing this helpful tip!

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