“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to fearlesschurchfundraising.com.
My letters are too long.
There. I said it.
Just too long.
I am working on it. Really I am. But there is so little time to edit – and edit – and edit them down to the essential. So I just tend sometimes to vomit all my thoughts onto a page like some nineteenth century lunatic writing from prison, trying to make my case.
Sometimes, when I am at my best (ok, not often, but enough) I can write a good letter. I can boil it down to what the recipient needs to know. And no more.
When I do that in a letter or an article, there is some modicum of success. I have raised more than $50 million in my vocation as a fundraiser. I have grey hair. I am tired. I have written a lot of letters. And one does not raise $50 million with terrible letters. But still. I could improve. A lot.
Carrie Newcomer is a singer/songwriter of folk music. She is a favorite of mine. In one of her songs she says “…bless the words between us. And bless us between the words.” Those lines of poetry make my legs go weak. Jesus came as the “word” not the “idea.” Words are important. They can bless. They can curse. They can heal. They can wound. And, perhaps worse in fundraising…they can bore. I mean bore a recipient to death!
It is mid-summer and there are a lot of clergy sharpening their pencils to write the obligatory “Well, I guess it’s that time of year again.” Stewardship letters. Please. Don’t.
Believe me when I tell you that your donors and pledgers do not care what you think about stewardship. They do not care what you think about what Jesus said about money. They do not care what YOU THINK about the non-profit issue you are tackling (if you are a non-profit leader.) They do not care what you think about money or advertising or the economy or sabbath, or the President or materialism. They do not care (at all) about the legacy you want to leave behind you. And they care even less about your Bishop’s legacy. THEY DO NOT CARE.
What they DO care about is one thing. It has only ever been one thing. And it is this: (drum roll…)
What does your church or institution do which Jesus would recognize as essential mission?
That is the one thing.
Look at everything you do. One at a time. And pretend Jesus is sitting there with you, looking over your shoulder. Let Jesus see everything you do – every hour of your day. Every line item in your budget. Every call you make. Every item in your church calendar. Ask yourself: “Does the Jesus I read about in scriptures and the Jesus with whom I commune in my prayer – did that Jesus speak passionately about me or us doing these things? Is what we are doing on Jesus’ to-do list”?
And we do actually HAVE a list – lists of what Jesus said were really important things to do are IN our scriptures. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the imprisoned. Comfort the suffering. Preach without self-concern…. It’s not even a very long list of stuff to do.
Write your letter if you must. (A video would be better.) But if you must foist words and words and words on people (like I do) then please edit and proof them. Especially if they are part of an effort to raise money. Long letters are a form of narcissism
Write one page and make sure 25-50% of the page has no writing on it. Then HAND write (ink…pen…) the three sentences next to your signature that will connect you to your donor…INDIVIDUALLY! Don’t try to trick us with small fonts (your donors are over 65 and can no longer see well) and don’t try to shrink the margins, or use scanned signatures, or abbreviate the spaces considered acceptable in letters. Leave white space. About 300-600 words is about all you need.
And when you write that 600 words, make them about the things Jesus told us to do because it that, and that alone, that your donors will invest their philanthropy.