Musician Mike Donehey Shares Why (and How) He Writes to the Kids He Sponsors

Mike Donehey, wearing a gray T-shirt and denim jacket, sits at a coffee roasting bar. There is a brick wall behind him.

Most people know Mike Donehey for his singing and songwriting. But the children Mike sponsors know him for another reason: his letters of encouragement.

Mike has been sponsoring children through Compassion since 2000, when he chose his first child at a music festival. Then he and his fellow band members in Tenth Avenue North partnered with Compassion to help even more children living in poverty. While visiting child development centers at local churches in the Dominican Republic and Honduras, Mike has heard firsthand how incredibly meaningful sponsors’ letters are to children.

So even though Mike’s a busy guy, he and his family find time to write to the children they sponsor. Tenth Avenue North played its final show earlier this year after 20 years performing together. But Mike is still working hard at music — pouring his talent and time into his career as a solo artist. He just released a new album called “Flourish” in August. He’s also writing his second book and has a podcast.

“I wrote more songs last year than I’d ever written,” Mike says. “I kind of write songs as therapy a bit. I have a friend who calls them lifeboats — songs are like lifeboats that we construct so that we and other people can cling to them when we need them.”

That analogy is similar to the way many children and alumni describe letters from their sponsors. They’re like lifeboats keeping them from drowning in hopelessness. So whether writing songs or writing letters, Mike realizes he’s throwing a lifeboat to someone who just might be sinking that day.

Young man wearing a blue and yellow patterned shirt with jeans. He is sitting outside his home and is holding a letter from his sponsor.

And Mike reminds himself that he doesn’t have to “write a book” to the children he sponsors. He dashes off short notes to them when he can.

The app has been the greatest saving grace for me in the world,” he says. “[For] two reasons: One, you can go in and you can read the correspondence — the entire history of your letters back and forth. And so that really helps me because I can remember, OK, these are the questions I’ve asked. These are the questions they’ve asked me. These are the things we’ve talked about, these are the things that I’ve asked for prayer about. So it just really helped. … And the second thing is, it’s super easy to include photos.”

And Mike points out that you don’t have to write super frequently to make a difference. In fact, Mike says he feels like a bad letter writer — a common sentiment among sponsors.

“To be honest, I feel like I do a terrible job.”

Mike Donehey holds a baby in Compassion’s Survival Program on a 2012 trip to Honduras
Mike Donehey holds a baby in Compassion’s Survival Program on a 2012 trip to Honduras.

But children in our program say it again and again: Even one letter from their sponsor can be life changing. So Mike hopes that he can be of some encouragement to his fellow sponsors when it comes to letter writing frequency:

“To a lot of people, it feels like pressure. … But the thing of it is, every kid tells me it doesn’t matter: I’d rather have one letter than no letters.

So that’s why (and how) this busy father, husband, musician and author makes time to write to Ariel in Bolivia, Davi in Togo, and Ashley and Jade in the Dominican Republic. He knows the power of words to uplift — even if it’s only a few words at a time.

Why not send a few words of encouragement to the child you sponsor right now?

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