“In my experience, the global workers who failed in the field because of lack of support were those who failed to appropriately respond to their supporters in promptness and with gratitude.” –Ernest Wilson, a 50-year veteran of global work in Angola.
We all know supporters are essential to our ministry. But, keeping in touch with them takes time—a precious commodity these days. So, why connect with supporters at all? The largest percentage of donors said that they keep on giving because of thank-you’s from the global worker. A great percentage of donors who stop giving do so because they think the global worker does not care about them. Written thank-you’s are the most effective way most of us have to maintain our financial support base.
If you are writing regularly and giving current items of news, donors are more likely to stay interested and pray for you. A deeper reason to say “Thank you” is that you are genuinely grateful for their support, and you want to show it. When gratitude is not expressed, it is not really gratitude–at least not in the perception of the giver. You minister to those who support you as well as those to whom you go. Keeping in touch with supporters is part of the global workers job description. It is not a distraction or option but a part of the main event. It may also be one of the only ways a young global working mom, busy with children, can contribute to the ministry at this season of her life.
We remember the one leper who came back to thank Jesus, after ten were healed. That percentage probably still holds. Be one of the 10%. He got more space in Scripture and attention from Christ than the other nine combined. My personal goal is to handwrite a personal thank-you note to every donor every time that person gives. It appears that this has helped us sustain a consistently adequate support level for 27 years. If you cannot meet face to face or speak by phone, and most of us can’t, handwritten letters rank as the next most effective form of communication.
If your support list is too long, plan to write half of them each month, or a third each month and rotate through your supporters. Mass-produced prayer letters are much less effective. Handwritten letters are personally creative in a world of mass production.
- Say thank you. Keep it simple.
- If possible, tell the person how you used the money, especially if it met a need and/or furthered your ministry. You might say, “We bought tires for our jeep in order to reach villages over the mountain.”
- Keep it short, especially if you keep in regular touch. You don’t have to write more than a few lines to be effective.
- Be specific. If you can, tell of one person touched, as an example, rather than speak of groups.
- Write one letter to a friend; copy most of it, then change it to personalize it for the next receiver.
- Send a photo occasionally, ideally of you and someone from your host country; be sure to get close-ups of your faces.
When/If you do send out a newsletter, keep it to one page or less, with lots of space so it isn’t jammed on the page. Give a summary of news and prayer requests in a first, short paragraph and then tell the story of one person or event from your ministry. Use the marvellous editing features on your computer to personalize. Say “Dear Sue,” rather than “Dear Supporters.” If possible, insert a personal line to Sue in the first paragraph (best) or part way through (i.e. “Wish we could share a mocha like we did last time I saw you.”). Add a specific thank you in your own handwriting. Your personal note may be the only thing they read.
All of us have a few supporters who actually do want to know more. For them you could add a longer version of events and prayer requests.
Helpful hints for handwriting thank-you’s:
- If possible in your living/work quarters, keep stationery supplies handy in a basket in any room where you are likely to sit: by your favorite chair, for example.
- Pre-address and stamp all envelopes at once, before you start writing.
- Pick a day or half day a week, a day a month, an hour a day, or any regular time that fits into your schedule when you can plan to write notes to supporters.
- Keep a packet of small thank-you cards with you in your purse or car, to write while waiting for appointments, picking up children, etc.
- If someone gives one large gift per year, write to them several times through the course of the year, telling how their giving is being used.
- For first-time gifts, and for special gifts outside that donor’s usual pattern, such as a very large gift, a 24-hour turn-around time for the thank-you note is an excellent goal. First-time donors are relieved to hear from you, not just your head office, that you got the gift. It reassures them that they did it right, and that it works to get donations to you.
- If someone stops giving, continue to write to them on occasion. Your relationship is not based merely on their giving. And they can still pray.
We often use the excuse that we are too busy to write thank-you notes to supporters because we have to find a pen, paper, envelope, address, a stamp, and take it to the post office, etc. Our supporters found time to do these things: get the checkbook out, write the check, find an envelope or the return envelope from your organization and a stamp, and get it in the mail. At the very least they set up an automatic donation withdrawal through the bank. We have time to say thank you. If we are too busy to do that, then we are too busy.
Give to supporters. At Christmas, give a gift to your supporters, if possible. Try to give something that reminds them of the people group you serve. A pictorial book, magazine or calendar of the country in which you serve or a craft item made by the people, would be excellent. It also reminds us as global workers that giving is not a one way street.
E-mail is a communication blessing and here are some tips on using it well:
- Keep e-mails short. A 3/4 page e-mail is a long one.
- Never forward anything. Exceptions: when someone requests the item, or for close family and personal friends — at your own risk.
- Photos: less is more. Photos tie up many computer systems, are slow to send and download. If you send photos, send them in singles or small groups in separate e-mails.
- Generally speaking, e-mail is more acceptable among younger people rather than older ones. If there is the slightest doubt about e-mailing your thanks to your donor, handwrite a letter. For people 40 and older, a handwritten note is a winner. Hardly anyone handwrites notes anymore, which makes you all the more special. Most people over 30 have good memories of getting letters in the mail.
- Even if you communicate primarily by e-mail, send a handwritten letter once in awhile. Don’t cut yourself off from non-wired supporters.