How to Write a Ministry Support Letter

Recently a few of us here at TheoMag have been talking about receiving religious ministry support letters from peers. Writing a support letter is something nearly everyone does at some point in their lives, so the study of figuring out how to write said letter is a study of human experience. Support letters written to obtain a support base for ministry operations are even more interesting because of their necessary appeal on a “spiritual level”. Our discussion led me to some conclusions:

First, the vast majority of support letters I have received have lacked in their power to convince me of supporting the author on whatever divine quest the Lord has sent him/her on (the Holy Grail?). This is not necessarily because I am a scrooge, but has more to do with what the letter is appealing to, in many cases a non-existant relationship. For fantastic insights on abusing your network, check out Friendship Embezzlement by Dustin Risner. Second, most of the ministry support letters I have experienced are all alike, almost as if they have been copied from the same source (Q document? Biblical Joke!). With this second conclusion in mind, I have written a tool to help others in writing a ministry support letter. This tool is based solely on my personal experience from both reading and even writing my own support letters. Please enjoy.

The Letter

I start with a salutation that sounds as if it is from an early church father or something I ripped off a present-day “apostle”, and tie it together with a vague familial reference which reminds you that we are family in the same religious faith. This gets you thinking about religious experiences, and hopefully hits a heart string.

“Greetings Brother! How are you my old friend! It’s been too long.”

Next I launch into a “cool” story introducing what unique experiences I have gotten myself involved in. This story catches you up to speed since we haven’t talked in a while, but I will pretend it was just yesterday. There is also a good chance that you don’t remember me at all, so hopefully my informal manner and the story about myself, along with the fact that I am clearly assuming we know each other, convinces you that we do and that you have simply forgotten our meaningful relationship. This story is important because you need to know how unique my circumstances are, and how the WORLD will profit from this work, so pay close attention!

Now that I have hooked you with an emotionally compelling story and my candid manner which convinces you that we are best-ies, I need to share some sad news with you. I intentionally insert an awkward statement conveying the idea that I don’t know how to communicate whats coming next. But I do, I know exactly what I am doing. Convinced you are on the edge of your seat, I explain that the amazing story from the second paragraph was a one-time activity. But, I quickly add, we are planning on doing more of these activities. A consoling comment to make you feel at ease. I then tell you about how we are going to do more of these activities. We have a plan, every piece in place, and all we need is… prayer? Yes, we need you to pray for a list of things, including money. Mostly we need prayer for money, but we also need money. I can’t ask you for money, but I can ask you, my good good friend, to pray that money would magically materialize into our bank accounts. Why would God hear your prayer? Because He is the author of what we are doing, and therefore He will make it happen.

Some more specifics about our prayer requests, especially about our most dire need: money. Exactly how much we need and when we need it. Another appeal for your prayers.

Strategically selected scripture verse encouraging faith, and reminding you that this is a spiritual appeal.

Complementary close with a spiritual feel and a scriptural reference,

My full name

My nickname in parenthesis underneath

Post Script with a personal appeal that you would pray and ask God how you can help.

Wires? An engine? Questionable legality? These are a few of Jacob "Cup" Kobernik's favorite things. A man from the mountains and ocean of the pacific northwest, he is now living abroad in one of America's hottest up-and-coming communities: Chattanooga, TN.

14 Comments

  • Reply February 18, 2012

    Beloved Barger

    Ha…well done Cup. :)

  • Reply February 18, 2012

    Korpi Diem

    Cupboard,

    ABSOLUTELY AMAZING! I can't stress how spot on this is. With missions apart of my portfolio at our church, I get a ton of requests for support from itinerate ministers (church planters, missionaries, etc)…some are absolutely incredible (actually had a guy write a book regarding planting his church)…the vast majority, though, fall within the criteria you just laid out!

    I especially enjoyed the part about pretending like they are a long lost buddy. I actually had someone from CBC defriend me after Tara and I left the pastorate for a while and about a month ago all of a sudden here pops a friend request from this person…and upon accepting it, within a day I had a message in my inbox pretty much down to the letter what you described here. Must have found out I was in charge of missions at a medium-sized church. lol

    The only part I was disheartened you overlooked is where they make assumptive statements which entitle them to come speak at your church as well. ;)

    Awesome article!

    • Reply February 18, 2012

      Cuppy

      Thanks Todd! I probably didn't think about the section on speaking at churches because I never was in such a position where people asked me for that. But, you nailed that section. People tend to forget how full church schedules are and how many folks want slots to share.

      Being in such a position, I would love to hear your thoughts on a successful support letter approach. As a pastor, what kinds of things speak to you in appeals for ministerial assistance?

  • Reply February 18, 2012

    Dusty Kat

    You nailed it my friend. If one's mission needs money ask straight-forward. Don't play kingdom-chums when the relationship is near extinct. Be real or it's likely I won't take the request seriously.

  • Reply February 18, 2012

    Jeff Sandstrom

    This is interesting idk what to think really. As someone who receives these requests from people I understand the irritation of the sly connections. But as a missionary myself who had to go through this process I struggle with how to present myself to churches and friends alike presenting the opportunity to support without any sense of guilt, christianese, or false friendship.

    • Reply February 18, 2012

      Cuppy

      Jeff, I hear you bro. One thing I thought this piece lacked was examples of what really works in support forming efforts. I poked fun at what we all come up with, but I didn't provide any solutions. In general I would say that a better approach is to divide your potential support team into different tiers, each requiring varied information about what you are doing and how directly you are asking for support. Just my thoughts, however.

      This all brings to the forefront a difficult question: How to ask others for money.

      Considering your experience and your position, I would love it if you shared your thoughts on what makes a successful support letter.

      • February 18, 2012

        Dusty Kat

        I like that idea of tiers Cup. As mentioned, asking for support isn't the issue – it's the relational facade that can come with it. Tact should be the horse that pulls every wagon of supplication :)

      • February 18, 2012

        Beloved Barger

        dusty kat LOVES (using) metaphors and the like. :) (this is not a slam) haha. **heavy emphasis on "loves"**

      • February 18, 2012

        Dusty Kat

        Mr. Barger – Im glad to see your face on here. Its been a long time coming. Embrace the gravatar.

      • April 30, 2012

        Robhereth

        Chi Alpha does a great job bringing these thoughts together into a tactful appeal for support. Even though Sarah and I aren’t XA m’s, we’ve definitely benefitted from their training materials. 

        Here’s a summary of what a missionary should be excellent at:

        Thinking and Theology – missionaries should understand the biblical foundations that give them the privilege of being supported by the local church. A good theology of fundraising will cut down on shame-based requests, or appealing to a relationship that isn’t there. Simply put, if missionaries and their potential supporters ask and give as unto God there will be a lot more grace to go around. Because God is ultimately the author and recipient of all such gifts. Chi Alpha suggests spending a minimum of 20 hours in bible study just to forma biblical paradigm on this issue. 

        Excellence in Organization – Sending a letter before calling. Making notes of conversations. Remembering important fact and dates. Treating people as individuals. Dedication to writing prompt thank you notes. Keeping supporters updated long after the support is sent. All of this helps to foster a healthy relationship with donors that will not only help the missionary in question, but future missionaries down the road. 

        Asking well – be clear about what you are asking for. Requesting money under the guise of prayer both belittles the giver, and devalues prayer for actual spiritual needs. Acknowledge the relationship you actually have, and then make it clear you’d like to grow in that relationship. Firstly it is a privilege to support missionaries and their work. That’s why Sarah and I do it. They help us fulfill the call on our lives to make disciples of all nations. Let’s not forget that Jesus was a master carpenter, and could make a living for himself, but was supported by girls. And that didn’t belittle them; it dignified them. They gave as unto God and Jesus recognized their sacrifice. It’s so important that a missionary can communicate the real need here: God has called them to reach a people that will go to hell otherwise. By partnering with them, a supporter is essentially doing the ministry through them. What a privilege. A missionary should emphasize what the gift will accomplish, and ask simply if a potential donor is in the position to partner with them to make it happen. And respect their answer. 

        Ministering to your team – understand that, if you are supported by donors in your ministry, you are not a lone-ranger. While your supporters may not “call the shots” they are certainly entitled to regular updates, and personal connection (at least once a year). So send your newsletters regularly, and make them descriptive, and insightful, but short! Use pictures (but not too many). Respect your donors’ time, and also their donations by thanking them personally at least once a year. Pray for them, and uplift them when possible. What you are doing for the Lord, you are doing with the help of His body – acknowledge that in how you communicate. 

        That’s a short overview. This includes a bit more than just what makes a good support letter, but hopefully this will help some of you the way it has helped me. Blessings in Jesus – Robbie

  • Reply February 19, 2012

    Jare Bear

    What if those seeking funds for ministry sent out commercial white papers or a ministry/business plan accompanied by a cover letter. The primary document representing their ministry intention should include an executive summary to show respect for potential supporter's/investor's time.

    Is this too "businessy"? Or could this be an avenue for those seeking support to better represent themselves and the ministry opportunity God has called them to?

  • Reply February 21, 2012

    Pear-man

    Shalom Brethren! How are you all! Geez, seems like forever we were all at CBC!

    I bet you, like I, never would've thought that back in college I would be a missionary! But now I am! Crazy right? We get to serve and reach the 3rd largest un-reached people group in the world! The American student! Specifically, Jr/Sr High School Campuses across Indiana!

    Anyways, lets cut the crap. We're missionaries, we don't barter or trade Navajo Blankets or Turquoise Jewelry. We use hard, cold, American greenbacks. Money. Cash-money. In the worlds of that ol' Negro non-spiritual…Gin and Juice by Snoop Dogg, "I've got my mind on my money and my money on my mind".

    But seriously. We're doing great. Reaching students for Christ by getting to where they live, work and play…their world…their schools. We can't do it without a little help from our friends. No matter how vague the acquaintance or archaic the relationship! So, if you want to pray about partnering with us, FANTASTIC. If you don't want to pray about it, but want to partner with us anyways..even MORE FANTASTIC! I recommend praying (and even talking to your spouse if you have one) before committing to helping us impact the lives of students.

    Why are you still reading this? Contact me already!

    Ephesians 6:16 KJV

    Best Regards,

    Josh Pearman

    (The Pear-man)

    PS. This really was meant to be sarcastic, but, like Jeff, we are missionaries too, and keeping in line with Cup's exegesis of a proper letter, I would be ill afforded not to beg you to support us monthly. ;)

  • Reply February 22, 2012

    Special K

    Jacob, I might be stepping into an area you may not wish to discuss on a public forum, but I've got a question for you (and others that want to chime in). This week alone I've gotten multiple fundraising requests through Facebook messages. They're mass emails and I'm embarrassed for these people because it's obviously not the right way to go about raising support.

    However, I wonder if the reason some of these interactions feel awkward is not only relate to delivery, but to the underlying question of whether certain things are justifiable support raising material. For example, I hear regularly that people feel that the Lord has called them to go on a short term missions trip. They have known that the Lord would bring this opportunity for some time and everything aligned so perfectly, this must be a God ordained trip that I would do well to endorse with my cash. I want to write these people back and ask why, if they knew a God-ordained invitation was coming, they continued to spend their money at Starbucks instead of saving it for this very occasion. In most circumstances, people save their money for the extra activities they want to do. If I want to go on a European vacation, I have to scrimp and save. If I want to go on a European missions trip, I can raise the money from other people.

    Before anyone gets too riled up, let me qualify this statement and say that I am not referring to full time missionaries in the field. In fact, I think the endless short-term trips can potentially sap resources from people who are committed to a missionary lifestyle. Secondly, I will always say yes to a teenager who wants money to go on a trip. I think those experiences are invaluable in the formative, adolescent years and I don't know their family's financial situation. I would never want a dependent to be held back for financial reasons.

    My question is whether it is always appropriate to raise support or if there are circumstances under which it is not. I would guess that many people would feel obligated to give when eternal souls are allegedly at stake. Besides, I can't write someone back and say that God didn't divinely request their participation in that particular mission. Do you think pastors should direct their congregations in this sphere? Perhaps if someone can't afford a sudden opportunity, they should hold off for a while, work hard to earn as much as they can, and then ask their loved ones for a subsidy once they have invested the sweat equity.

    • Reply February 22, 2012

      Dusty Kat

      "If I want to go on a European vacation, I have to scrimp and save. If I want to go on a European missions trip, I can raise the money from other people."

      "Perhaps if someone can’t afford a sudden opportunity, they should hold off for a while, work hard to earn as much as they can, and then ask their loved ones for a subsidy once they have invested the sweat equity."

      Will Bailey your fired. Special K your hired.

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