When I served as pastor of a large church that supported two dozen missionaries, I was always a cheerleader for missionaries. It was my pleasure to read their missionary support letters (for 21 years), and so I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Normally I write “in the positive,” but just for clarity, this blog will address the top five mistakes or “things that I found ineffective and sometimes annoying.” If you recognize any of these, it’s okay- nobody’s perfect. And maybe now you can avoid these Missionary support letter mistakes and thus increase their effectiveness.
#1 Painful Lead Paragraph.
“Oh goodness, it is April already, and we’ve been so busy we haven’t written to our partners since January….” That may sound gracious to the writer, but here’s how I read that opening: “We hate writing you; it’s a lot of trouble, but we have to do it, and we can’t put it off any longer.” Really? Honestly, if you hadn’t mentioned not writing since January, I would not have noticed or cared.
Truth be told: I actually kept a folder with a collection of missionary newsletters with these openings, and I would show them to missionaries and beg them to STRIKE this out and put in something interesting. Most likely, in order to get their letter going, they had just typed out the first thing that came to mind, but this is why God invented why word processors — so you can go back later and EDIT your first draft.
Opening lines should be positive and tell something about what God has been doing in your field – big story, little story, or one little statement like: “it’s been a busy month while we made the rounds of several churches dropping off supplies for flood relief.”
#2 Sounds like a Christmas Letter to Grandma.
If the bulk of the letter is all about the family, the kids’ achievements of late, the trip to the beach, or to a conference, those belong in the letter to your relatives. Nothing wrong with any of those – I am glad you took some time off – but that’s not the information I’m looking for in your letter. No, your donors want to know, “what has God been doing with the funds we sent you.”
Tell us about ministry – progress, struggles, victories, setbacks, and happenings. You can tell the truth – good or bad- but keep it in perspective. (And you may want two separate mailing lists – one for supporters and another for family and close friends. Yes, you are allowed to have two lists, each tailored for that audience.
I have actually seen letters where the “missions report” is found way down in the last paragraph. Journalists have a term for that – it’s called “Burying the Lead Story.”
#3 Poor Perspective.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Artists will say that everything has a form, but it is perspective that gives it beauty and realism on canvas. So it is appropriate to share difficulties and challenges (and ask for prayer), but these can be stated from the perspective of God’s Goodness. I have seen letters that were completely devoid of gratitude (for even the smallest things) and were focused entirely on heavy problems.
One suggestion: never write a support letter on a day you are feeling bad. Just make some notes, take some rest, and come back another time when your heart is full. Yes, your work can be hard, but a “checkup from the neck up” can pull things back into perspective.
#4 Vague Financial Requests.
Most missionaries are allowed to ask for “project” funds as well as support funds, and giving to a project (something with an end goal that can be reached and celebrated) is a great way for new donors to dip their toes in the water…
This very week, I received one that said, “Pray for us to find a way to buy winter coats for our 40 pastors and evangelists in the region.” Okay, but what? I haven’t the foggiest about what a winter coat costs in south Asia. Better wording: “We have 40 wonderful pastors and evangelists – but to be trekking around in winter, they need winter coats. These are $30 each- a total of $1,200 would provide all of them. Any amount you can send is helpful.” (That is a request that will bear fruit).
And at least in that month’s letter, be sure to include who to make the check payable to and where to mail it (and how to give via online). Remember, sometimes your e-letters get printed and handed out to prayer groups, friends, etc. Oh yes, our church made copies and put ‘em on a bulletin board in the foyer. For sure, everything you mail to anyone should contain your basic contact information. This is called “make it easy on the donor.”
#5 Not Ministering to your Mailing List.
Hey, these supporters are not just “supporting you,” but the truth is, they are actually part of the people group that YOU support and minister to– yes, you are serving them by enlisting them as partners in this vital mission for God. You must see them as people to whom you minister!
So somewhere in EVERY newsletter should be a mini-devotional, maybe a whole column or at least a short story in a paragraph or two. Minister TO your mailing list!
A “devotional” message (or teaching) usually focuses on “what God does for us,” whereas “consecrative” messages focus on what we do for God. We get plenty of those messages on Sundays, so let your devotional remind us of “what God does for us.”
So stir in a narrative (like a very short story or a long anecdote) that reminds people of God’s faithfulness, his grace, his provision, his mercy, or his peace. You can thus feed and “bless” your readers – remember, while statistics “tell,” it’s the stories that “sell,” according to writers. Let me see if I can give you an example from my own mission days of such a mini-devotional.
Coming back from a long and wearisome trip, I was killing time in Honolulu’s busy airport, bummed that I couldn’t spend some days here, but had to rush home. Wandering around I stumbled into a Japanese garden between two concourses. “This looks like a place where Adam walked with God,” I thought.
Then goosebumps – I felt I had left the terminal and entered some kind of holy place. Shoes came off! I plopped down on a bench, took in all the plants and waterfalls, just sat and breathed while 50 pounds of stress just melted off my back.” Later, on the plane, I realized, “God has lots of these places; it’s up to me to slow down and see them and take off my shoes.”
‘Earth’s crammed with heaven,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “Every bush aflame with God. But only those see it who take off their shoes. The rest sit ‘round and pick blackberries.”
So this month, may you find time to dump those shoes and be barefoot in a garden.
Then you can get up and write that newsletter with a fresh mind and spirit.
WANT MORE INFO ON MISSIONARY SUPPORT LETTERS AND FUNDRAISING STRATEGIES?
Learn more about mission support services to get the most out of your fundraising efforts. And, if you’re looking for more resources on gaining missionary support, download your FREE fundraising starter kit today!