5 Tips for Writing Letters that Inspire Generosity
By Ken Sloane
I have a confession to make: I donate and support organizations beyond my local church. I know all too well we are living through some tough days for The United Methodist Church. It is hard to find one of our churches that doesn’t have some anxiety about the future, both in terms of membership and in terms of financial support for local mission and ministry. The local United Methodist church that my wife and I attend does need my financial support to undergird great ministries for the congregation and community, and they get the largest part of our giving by far.
One organization I support is Thistle Farms, based in my adopted city of Nashville, Tennessee. They articulate their mission this way on their website: “For 25 years, Thistle Farms has lit a pathway of healing and hope for women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction.” It would take too long for me to list all the wonderful ways they live out this mission. I encourage you to check out their website and learn more about their awesome work. I pledged and scheduled a recurring monthly gift to them. I’m not a large donor but a small consistent donor, and it brings me joy!
The joy comes from the letters I receive – at least one a quarter! It’s not a newsletter, not an email, but an actual mailed letter. While most of what arrives in my mailbox is junk mail or bills (which I’ve already opted to get electronically), finding an envelope from Thistle Farms is exciting. I don’t have every mailing I’ve received, but I do have three that you can download and examine by clicking on the box below. They always make me want to give more!
DOWNLOAD Example Letters (PDF)
Here’s what I think we can learn from these letters:
1. A MAILED LETTER IS SOMETHING SPECIAL.
Email is a wonderful thing; it has opened all kinds of possibilities for communicating quickly with individuals and large groups of people. Most of us, though, are overloaded with emails. Best of all, the abundance of email has elevated the place of a snail mail letter, personally addressed. Because it stands out, it probably will get opened. Someone cared enough to put a stamp on it. We can’t afford to do it with all communications, and if we could, it wouldn’t be special.
2. THERE’S POWER IN PICTURES OF PEOPLE.
Each letter I get from Thistle Farms includes at least one picture. Not pictures of their building, their offices, or their candle-making facilities (which are impressive). They are pictures of the women who were rescued and had their lives transformed by the ministry of Thistle Farms. Smiling, happy people.
3. LEAD WITH A STORY OF IMPACT.
Every letter includes a story of a woman who has been part of their program and is living a fuller, happier life because of the mission of Thistle Farms! They talk about earning GEDs, landing jobs, and finding and furnishing apartments, and I never see statistics. I would love to change the world, but honestly, I’m perfectly content to know I helped change one person’s story.
4. TELL A PERSONAL TESTIMONY OF A TRANSFORMED LIFE.
Throughout the history of the Christian church, personal testimony has been a powerful tool. The Bible is a library of testimonies of the power and love of God, and the redemption that came through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – all told in the words of those who experienced it. Each letter I receive tells a story in the words of someone who found illumination for the pathway, away from darkness and despair to light and joy!
5. A THANK-YOU IS REASON ENOUGH.
If you’ve had a chance to download and read the three letters from Thistle Farms, you may have noticed that something is conspicuously missing. In none of them am I asked to give more. Please hear me: I think “the ask” is very important. I know that once I was asked to become a monthly supporter of this important work. I am so impressed that my friends – maybe I could call them my “heroes” at Thistle Farms – think that thanking me for my ongoing support is reason enough to invest in a putting together a lovely letter. And they do this on stationery, enclosed in an envelope addressed to me, and include color pictures, a story of a transformed life and a testimony from one who is on the road to wholeness (and maybe holiness) because I gave.
You know what? Whenever I get one of these thank-you letters, I want to give a little more, and I do. It’s like magic. Except it’s not that complicated. It is good stewardship of donors.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
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