Leadership

The Counterfeit Win: When Losses Are Disguised As Wins

From the "Life-Giving Leader," Tyler Reagin talks about counterfeit wins, and how your church or organization need to uncloak them to create a healthy culture.

The Counterfeit Win: When Losses Are Disguised As Wins
by

The first time I heard about the counterfeit win, I thought it might be one of the most powerful leadership concepts I’d ever heard. I was right. This is mission-critical for teams that don’t want to stop with success; they want to flourish.

Here’s the principle: a good product with a bad process is a counterfeit win.

That’s it. It’s short and to the point, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you just had a punched-in-the-gut moment.

You might be experiencing counterfeit wins every time you go to work. You will feel it when you are part of this type of success. At the moment the results come in or the project is completed or the contract is signed or a new client raves about your team’s work, it feels like a win. But when you think back to the process involved in getting there, you know inside it was pretty terrible. The means to accomplish the end wasn’t something you’d want to tell a friend about.

Why process is essential to (true) success

Let’s say you’re on a church staff. You’re having great success with new visitors. The Sunday services seem off-the-charts good. The church is growing in many areas, more kids show up than you have space for, young adults want to be involved and serve, and giving has reached higher levels than ever before. All things are a go.

Except for one little problem.

The team is unhealthy. Everyone needs to take Mondays off. Not to recover from being tired, but because no one wants to be in the same room with each other on Monday. The stress over the weekend was so high that on Mondays staff members are ready to hide in a dark room. The team culture is toxic. Areas are in silos, isolated, because there is no connection or healthy relationships. Teams work together only because they have to, not because they want to.

Meanwhile, the target market loves what your team is doing. On weekends they experience your “product,” and the next weekend they come back for more. It’s the best they have seen. Given the response to what you’re doing, how could you not be winning? The audience is growing, and anyone serving on any church staff would count this as a huge success, right?

But to you it feels as if you’re losing. That’s why it’s counterfeit. It feels like one thing to those outside your organization or team and something totally different to those involved behind the scenes, to those who are in the process. When there is a deep discrepancy between experience for some and reality for others, the counterfeit win is fully alive. And it’s not just that you and other staff members can see behind the curtain. It’s because counterfeit wins are not sustainable. Staff members will leave, and new staff will arrive and then leave. The ones who stay will burn out and lose their effectiveness. Some of them will become even more toxic and will poison what remains.

Leaders fight for a healthy process

Some or all of this is likely to take place, and then the whole thing will hit a tipping point—a point of no return, the place where the wins cease. You’ve probably either seen this from a distance or you’ve experienced it yourself.

Leaders fight for a healthy process. As a matter of fact, they will settle for nothing less. They want not only an amazing product but also the ability to enjoy creating it with their team!

I don’t know any business leader who likes high turnover. Unless it’s a leader who turns over staff like crazy as he or she keeps looking for people who can just get it done, no matter the cost.

I’m talking about that. I’m referring to a team that is committed to the mission but is disturbed by the way the mission is accomplished. This is the opposite of life-giving leadership. Life-giving leaders have life-giving teams, and they retain staff much longer than their counterparts. One of the most frequent questions asked by leaders in business, ministry, and the nonprofit world alike is this: How do you find and keep good talent? The answer is simple: Make your workplace life-giving. Make it irresistible. You have the title. You get to create the culture.

Leaders, we can’t settle for counterfeit wins. Often when we make short-term decisions instead of investing in long-term play, such as culture and team building, we end up losing. It might provide a quick and easy win, but it will not benefit you in the long run.

It feels good to get that off my chest. Now let’s look at three ways to avoid counterfeit wins and create life-giving teams.

Editor's note: Excerpted from The Life-Giving Leader: Learning to Lead from Your Truest Self. Copyright © 2018 by Tyler Reagin. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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The Counterfeit Win: When Losses Are Disguised As Wins