Don’t put them to sleep.

Here they come!  Support letters asking for prayer and/or financial support. For over 30 years I encouraged would-be missionaries to write them.  But now I am starting to receive them.  Heck! We all receive them…sometimes one a week.  They seem to come in endless supply from friends, family, and other relatives. Appeals for support for mission trips all tend to read the same, too:

  • We have felt God’s call to go to  ________________ and do _______________.
  • We need your prayers because we will be doing ____________
  • We also need your financial support for______________, if you can.
  • Will you partner/help/support/give?

You know that there’s a good and sincere heart behind each of these letters, but—honestly—most of them are all boring. Anybody who receives them knows exactly what they are before they read the first few words and the contents rarely spark any new interest. Zzzzzzz……

But what if we could re-think this entire well-worn process?  Is there another way to do it?  Yes, there is!  There are many new ways to do write that important letter and help others help you do this good work.

I’ve compiled seven practical tips for writing an appeal letter for a summer mission program that will generate real interest. Above all else, though, make sure you have a clear sense of your purpose. That is, after all, why it’s called a mission trip. When you have reflected deeply on your own passion for this work, it will come through more vividly to your readers.

1.  Be Personal: Send a GREAT PICTURE

Really!  How hard can that be?  If the recipient of your letter is a friend or a family member, they will think twice about ignoring YOUR picture.  Include a recent snapshot. It can be copied onto the page, or inserted separately, but give your reader something to hold onto. Like a Christmas card, friends and family will hold onto the letter and give it more attention if it offers them a nice photo of you.

Take a look at the images on the right. They DRAW you in. They make you smile. Each face is so intriguing.  Who is going to NOT read a letter from any of these people?

2. Get Personal

The person you are writing is a friend or a member of your family. Is a Form Letter really the way to go? This is important to do right at the top to let the recipient know that you actually care about them. They aren’t getting just a photocopy.

But it’s also important to let them know that you know what they’re up to. Letters to friends and family are about dialogue, so don’t be too one-sided. For example, if Phil and Margaret have moved to Denver, don’t start your letter with “I hope you’re doing well…” Again, boring.  And what if they are not doing well? And did you know that they have moved? Or retired? 

Try instead: “Phil and Margaret, I am so eager to catch up with you. But in the meantime, “Welcome to Denver”! I cannot imagine what your new life must be like… But let’s not lose touch.”

3. Why are YOU doing this work?

Your personal discernment of God’s call is deeply meaningful to you but doesn’t make an emotional connection with those who weren’t with you to experience it. I think you need to say more about the call that you have to do this work. Consider some of these questions: 

  • What has led you to answer this call at this particular moment in your life?
  • What are the specific needs of the community you are going to serve and why do you feel uniquely drawn or equipped to go there?
  • How are you feeling personally as you approach this trip?
  • What will change because you went on this trip (in this community and in you)?

4. Ask for a generalized specific amount

What?  A ‘generalized specific’ amount?  What is that?  Well, let me first say that you will need to make it work for you and the recipients of your letter.  But here is the idea.

People need ballparks. They need to know that there is a level that fits them. So they need to read real numbers, but also see enough wiggle room to discern what they should give. It’s a tough thing to articulate, but here’s an example:

I would appreciate any support you are willing to offer. I’ve received gifts from $10 to $250, and each gift involves sacrifice—from the price of a meal to a month’s savings. 

or this:

I’d ask you to pray about how much you can give, talk it over with your spouse/family, and make it a joint effort. I have had families decide to give up one meal the week that I am on the mission field and put that money toward their support gift. What would that be in your situation?

Another approach is more personal, offering your own investment as a barometer for others. For example:

Fran and I could not ask you to give if we ourselves were not ready to invest personally. We prayed hard about how much of our own money would go toward this work. We considered it independently of our involvement and the support of our church. We simply asked what we would invest to see this work done for the sake of the Gospel. We came together and agreed to give $300. Perhaps you both might consider that same process.

5. Follow up with a phone call

Discover a New Way to Think About Stewardship, Generosity, and Discipleship. Click to order.

This is the tough part for many, who struggle with a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) conversation about money. But let them know in your letter that you’d like to call them within a few days. Keep it simple: “I am sending this out so that you have it in your hand, but I’d really like to call you to talk about it next week. It will be good to catch up.” They will be expecting your call and it will ease the awkwardness about bringing up the subject. 

And then call. Yes…go ahead. Sit down and punch the numbers into your mobile phone and call. (You might text them an hour ahead of time.) When they answer, talk. Speak to your friend or your family member. Ask them about Denver or the Broncos or the last time you saw them. When it comes times to talk about the letter you sent, a very simple question will guide your words. How can I honor our friendship and this person’s role in my life?

How’s this:

“Bob, I mailed you a letter last week and wondered if we might talk about it?”  Or this, “Bob, did you get a chance to pray about the work that I am going to do this summer? I’d love your support.”

6. Do NOT email it

E-mail is everywhere, which means it is annoying to everyone. Ugh. People don’t connect or correspond using email—they inform, they demand, they cajole. It sets a badgering tone before they’ve even gotten past the subject line. And, as we all know from experience, most will not look beyond the subject line before hitting ‘delete.’

Use a first class stamp and hand address the envelope. They will be sure to open it.

7. Make giving easy

You are already asking enough from people. Make sure that anyone who wants to give you money has a clear and simple way to do it. You can always enclose a return envelope for checks, but you may also want to provide an online option. Of course, because this is a paper letter, you can’t give a hyperlink, so make sure that any online giving link is presented as an easy-to-type URL. Sites like Bit.ly can create shortened URLs, but I prefer Tiny URL, which gives you the option to customize your URL.

Make it clear to your reader where the URL will take them. Try to include as few steps as possible. Example:

I’ve enclosed an envelope if you’d like to send a check. Or, if you prefer, you can give online through my Go Fund Me page by visiting www.tinyurl.com/fundchris.

There you have it. A short, no-brainer list for you to think about. But the idea is simple. DO NOT BE BORING. If you really believe in the work you are going to do…then it ought to be exciting to you. Make it seem that way for the people you are trying to reach.

For more on writing appeal letters, check out the side-by-side comparison.