First Time Donors

Coming to a church for the first time is frequently celebrated. People are encouraged to introduce themselves, provide contact information, and are even given coupons for coffee or food. These are good steps whose goal is to encourage the people to return again and again.

Churches can take another step which is to send a thank you note to all first time donors. The first time someone gives to a church is a big deal. It is one thing to come but it is an even bigger step to pull out your wallet and financially support the church. That action should be acknowledged.

Every first time donor should get a thank you note from a church leader – the pastor, the treasurer, or the church administrator. This simple act will take about 3 minutes per card and cost a dollar or two including postage. But the benefits of that expense will be enormous – people will comment about that for a long time and they will be genuinely surprised and grateful.

Take the time to write a thank you note. It is a big deal.

 Lead On!




More Fish Pictures

2014 12-December 23 (585) Vatican; Sistine Chapel

A few decades ago I was visiting my best friend, Charlie, at his work when I heard a story about James Knight, the owner of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, and its flagship, the Miami Herald. Charlie worked for one of their papers, The Keynoter, a weekly tabloid-style paper aimed at residents and tourists in the Florida Keys. Every page has three things: a news story, advertisements, and a picture of a tourist with a trophy fish catch.

The manager of floor told me that one day, there was something unusual about The Keynoter and James Knight saw it. As Mr. Knight was proofing the paper after it came off the press, something caught his eye. Actually, it was the absence of something. He picked up the phone, called the editor, and told him the paper needed “more damn fish pictures.”

Mr. Knight knew that a large portion of the sales of the newspaper was by tourists who bought dozens of copies to take home to show their friends their trophy-sized fish. If there weren’t fish pictures then sales would drop off. Mr. Knight knew his business and he knew the power of images.

I’m not suggesting that churches publish more fish pictures, but I am saying that churches should use images and pictures more and words less. The current best example I can think of to prove the value and power of images is Facebook. We are naturally drawn to read stories and captions where there are pictures. When friends post only words, we skim what is written, but our eyes are drawn to the next post with a picture.

Use images as often as possible. Jesus used word pictures because there weren’t any images for the common person in Gospel days and people could see in their mind’s eye what Jesus was telling. Be imaginative in your use of picture and images. And use lots of them!


Lead On!


Degradation of Civility

I heard this term recently. It’s a good description of what we’ve all seen on social media: someone gives their opinion on a topic and others attack the person for his/her point of view. When we hide behind a computer screen, we feel we can be impersonal and even uncivil if not outright vicious.

  1. Attack the problem, not the person. Attacking a person is not healthy on your part – in fact, it speaks very loudly about who you are, not the other person. Besides, if you are that passionate about an opposing point of view, then surely you should have sound rebuttals.
  2. For Christians only: you must always value the person more than either your point of view or theirs. God loves people, not opinions. Christians don’t get a pass on this – non-Christians may get a pass (depending on their faith-teachings).

Do all you can to respect people even it means you will just barely tolerate their opinions. People can change their point of view but hearing uncivil words and/or even being attacked is downright wrong.


Lead On!



Star Trek & Star Wars

Pick one of those two space sagas – I don’t care which one, choose your favorite. Okay, now, name the seven major (good) characters in each one:

Star Trek

  • Kirk

Star Wars

  • Luke
    Han Solo
    Obi-wan Kenobi

You may not be a fan of one or the other; you may not like either series. There are a few similarities and many, many differences between these two groups of characters but let me focus on one in particular as it applies to churches and their leadership: #6 in each list.

Uhura is more than the sex appeal for Star Trek, she’s the communications officer. She is on the bridge, sitting just behind the captain and ready to carry out his orders but also making suggestions based on her experience and knowledge of language and culture.

C3PO is the golden robot and comic appeal in Star Wars. He is also conversant in “more than 6 million forms of communication.” He talks non-stop to everyone especially his buddy and fellow robot R2D2.

Both are utterly critical to the success of each mission. Uhura and C3PO ensure that the message from the leader is spoken clearly and without misunderstanding (well, C3PO does mess up a few times) so that the story is moved along and that everyone knows what is going on.

Transition: who is the communications person in your church? Are you like most churches, relying on the pastor who is already doing everything else (preparing sermons, marrying, burying, counseling, helping members, leading staff, going to meetings, etc.)? Or are you intentional about using someone who is gifted in this area to take the message from the leadership and craft it in a multitude of forms so that the message is transmitted to everyone in every way possible? That person may not know six million forms of communication, but he or she is probably more knowledgeable than the pastor about how to disseminate the message.

Churches need to have a clear, consistent, comprehensive, and cohesive communications cohort. The pastor and other leaders must develop the message in a succinct manner. Then, they must work with and trust the communications specialist to send the message out in every way possible to the broadest possible audience.

The audience will see, hear, and read it in multiple ways. Marketing experts say that it takes a person seven views before the person will internalize a message. Communications people love the challenge of finding ways to tell things; most non-communications get weak-kneed at the idea of telling the same thing seven different times.

Even Hollywood recognizes the importance of communications in a leadership group. How much more should the church recognize the importance of communications since the church has the greatest message in the world? How intentional is your church in its communications? And what do you need to do to be more intentional about it?

Lead On!



Saying Thanks!

Here is a link to a good article about thanking your donors. Thanking, explaining, sharing stories, and helping others know what is going on in your church is vital to your church’s finances. People liked to be thanked – please do it often and use as many platforms as you possibly can:

  • Personal letters
  • Articles in the church bulletin
  • Social media
  • Webpage
  • Hallway conversations

If you make this part of your daily attitude, that same attitude of gratitude will flow into your staff and your church members. After all, it is well known that every organization takes on the attitude of the top dog. So, be grateful, tell others thanks, and encourage everyone to follow your lead.

1. Write a Greeting Card, Not a Business Letter
2. Share Recent Progress, However Small
3. Add an Invitation—But Not to Something That Requires Another Donation!
4. Use a More Creative, Personal Opening
5. Include Results-Oriented Photography
6. Record a Video Message
7. Send a Postcard from Behind the Scenes
8. Be Specific about How the Gift Is Being Used
9. Change Who’s Saying Thank You   Lead On! Steve

Gift Letters or Statements of Contribution

Gift letters (also knowing a statements of contribution) have several purposes:

  • To acknowledge and thank donors for their gifts
  • To ensure the church received the gifts and credited them to the correct fund
  • To give members a chance to see how much or how little they’ve given to their church
  • To provide an opportunity to the church to include a letter explaining to donors how their gifts were used and the people whose lives are being changed because of the generosity of the givers
  • To instill confidence by donors in the integrity of the church’s Finance Office so they can see that the staff is handling gifts accurately

Gift letters should have all of the following elements:

  • Name and address of the church or 501(c)(3).
  • Logo of the organization would be great, too.
  • Tax Identification Number of the organization. This is known as a TIN; sometimes it is called an EIN or FEIN (Employer Identification Number or Federal Employer Id Number)
  • Name and address of giver
  • List of checks which includes
    • Date of gift
    • Form of gift – check number, cash, online, or other description of manner of gift
    • Amount of gift
    • Purpose of gift – was it for the ministry budget, building, missions, etc.
  • (Pledge – if you use pledges, they should be on the letter, too)
  • Total of all the gifts by category and grand total
  • Thank you sentence from the Finance Office and who to contact if there are any errors
  • Sentence required by the IRS for tax-deductible gifts. Here is the one I use:
    • For IRS purposes, I must inform you that the gifts contained in this letter are based on intangible religious benefits. You did not receive any goods or services from _____ Church for this contribution. Please keep this letter as documentation of your gift.

Every time you send out gift letters, you should be accomplishing all of the purposes listed above and your giving statements should have all of those elements. Anything less means you’re not getting as much value as you could.

Maximize the impact of your gift letters by including a cover letter which has several additional elements:

  • Paragraph 1 – several sentences thanking people for their generosity (please use that term – it doesn’t have any negative connotations and is viewed very positively by people; people like to be told they were generous)
  • Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 – three brief stories that have happened at your church within the past 3 months where people were changed for the good because of what your church did, events that had an impact on children or youth such as a mission trip or Vacation Bible School, and/or activities that reached the community or world with the Good News of Christ. Tell stories – people remember stories; if parables were good enough for Jesus, they’re good enough for you, too!
  • Paragraph 5 – conclude the letter with another acknowledgement of their gifts and generosity. Also, mention who and how they should contact if there is an error in the giving statement.

Finally, how should you send them: I like sending them out by email because it is free. Society has trained people that email is normal, so use what society has taught people. For people without an email you’ll have to use snail mail. In a few instances, you’ll have to use snail mail for some situations where people’s giving needs to be kept confidential from another person in their home who has access to the family email – those are rare and sensitive, but you need to be aware of those. Snail mail costs about $1 for each letter (postage, envelope, paper, ink, and labor) whereas email costs just the labor (which you have to do anyway).

Lead On!

1Q2012 Statement of Contribution

One quarter of 2012 is almost over so you need to prepare now to send out your first quarterly contribution statement of the year. Some churches send out statements only once a year – let me encourage you to send out statements each quarter plus one more:

  • 1Q2012 – send out in the first 10 days of April
  • 2Q2012 – send out in the first 10 days of July
  • 3Q2012 – send out in the first 10 days of October
  • 4Q2012 – send out the yearly statement by January 31


  • Send out a statement for the first eleven months (January through November) in the first 10 days of December. Why? So that people can see what they’ve given or not given so far in the year.

But let’s get back to 1Q2012!

Sending a statement out in early April makes sense for several reasons:

  • Use this opportunity to send a letter with the statement of contributions explaining to people what their money has been used for. They want to know what the church did with it – so tell them all the good things you’ve been doing and are planning to do. Share with them a couple of compelling stories – that will make all the difference in the world to some readers.
  • At this time of year (tax-filing season in the US), people’s awareness of how much they’ve given or not (and thus able to deduct from their tax return) is heightened. Since many people have just completed their annual tax forms, they’re making promises to themselves to give more away to charity so they can give less to the government. Sending a letter in early April gives them a great reminder to give a check to their church.
  • Easter is typically in early April. Most Christians will come to church on Easter and they’ll usually hear a sermon about God’s gift to us through Christ. They will hear about giving and sacrifice – this letter is a way to encourage them to tangibly respond with their own gifts.
  • Gentle reminders throughout the year of how much people give to their church are good for both the church and the donor. These reminders are not heavy-hitting or guilt-inducing. These letters are simply nudges in reminding people to be financially faithful to their church – and you’re sending these letters to the people who have already “bought in” to the vision of the church, they’re already giving!

So, here’s your homework for this weekend: find two great stories about what has happened in your church these past three months (since Christmas), put them in a letter, and send the letter with the quarterly statement of contributions.

Oh, one very important fact: send your letters with first class postage. Yes, that is a lot more expensive than bulk mail. But realize that the “open rate” (as opposed the “throw in the trash can rate”) of first class stamped envelopes to bulk mail envelopes is something like five to one (don’t quote me on that ratio, but it is way up there). People will open an envelope with first class postage far more often – and you want people to open envelopes to read the letter and the statement of contributions. Okay, back to your homework.

Lead On!

New Year’s Letter

I’ve got a job for the leader of your faith community: write a letter to your congregation about your dreams for 2012. Technically it is not a “New Year’s Resolution” letter but it is a letter about your hopes and vision for the church for the new year. Call it a “New Year Vision Letter.”

What should be in this letter? Well, it should be no more than one page – please don’t get long-winded or else people will stop reading after about two paragraphs (if you’re lucky). Use a 12 point font to make the letter easier to read – don’t cheat by using 8 point font to cram in more words! Make the letter no more than five paragraphs long using the following template:

  1. Intro Paragraph – Write about 2011 and where the congregation has come in the past 12 months and even the years before then. Be brief, be very brief in this synopsis – this is NOT the purpose of your letter; this is just a starting point so that everyone is on the same page.
  2. Next Two or Three Paragraphs – give three concrete (lots of details) ideas of what you want to accomplish in 2012. Flesh out each idea in one paragraph with financial costs, numbers of volunteers needed, dates by which the goals need to be met, and the promise of a party when each goal is reached. (I believe the church doesn’t party enough – we need to celebrate accomplishments more often but that requires knowing where the finish line is in each goal.)
  3. Final Paragraph – a prayer of blessing on each reader and an acknowledgement of the generosity by the family of faith which has permitted the church to do all is has done so far. Being sincerely thankful is very important.

This letter should go out to every person in the church because it will help set the tone for the church in 2012. A good way to send out the letter is to include it in the 2011 statement of contributions which every church mails out to every member (at least to every donor) of the church. Every person will open that letter because they want to see how much they can write off on their taxes – when a letter from the pastor falls out, they’ll read that, too. Who knows, your letter may spark some dialogue with people – it can certainly be a conversation starter with your leadership. I know they want to know what your dreams are and how they can participate in making them happen – to benefit the church and the Kingdom.

Lead On!