Leadership

John Maxwell's Daily Guide to Becoming a Better Servant Leader

Discover the five simple daily practices John Maxwell follows to become a better servant leader.

John Maxwell's Daily Guide to Becoming a Better Servant Leader
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I spent a total of twenty-six years leading churches as a senior pastor. But when I was a young leader just getting started in my career, my focus wasn’t initially on serving people. It was on doing big things and getting ahead. 

All my training and education assumed a hierarchical approach to leadership. Pastors were educated, ordained, and positioned to sit apart from and “above” their congregations. We were expected to preach messages, give wise counsel, and conduct the ordinances of the church. The models of leadership were all top-down.

But then I went to hear Zig Ziglar speak, and I heard him say, “If you help people get what they want, they will help you get what you want.” What he was really talking about was servant leadership, and that idea rocked my world.

Change of heart

Zig’s comment made me realize something: I was trying to get others to help me, not trying to help them. I realized my attitude toward people wasn’t right. And that knowledge started me on a journey that eventually made me realize that the heart of leadership is based on serving others, not myself. It challenged me to invert the “power pyramid,” putting others at the top and myself at the bottom.

I started to change my leadership focus to empowering others to do what I was doing. And the real clincher came when I read a passage in the Bible as if for the first time. It said, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

This made it clear that my responsibility as a pastor was to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church. From that moment I realized I wasn’t supposed to get the people to help me build my congregation. I was to serve people and help them build God’s church. From that day on, my leadership has always been about serving others, and not about being served by others.

That was forty-five years ago. My thinking about leadership and my approach to it has continued to be shaped by other people in this area. Robert Greenleaf has been an influence. In 1970 he wrote an essay called “The Servant as Leader,” which he later expanded into the book Servant Leadership. Greenleaf wrote:

The servant-leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. . . . The care taken by the servant-first [leader is] to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

Others books, such as Leadership Is an Art by Max De Pree, the former chairman of Herman Miller, and The Soul of the Firm by C. William Pollard, chairman emeritus of ServiceMaster, also assisted me on my journey to becoming a servant leader. But the book that made the greatest impression on me was Eugene Habecker’s The Other Side of Leadership. It convinced me that adding value to others needed to be at the core of my leadership. 

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Eugene for more than thirty years. The words in his book are a description of his life. He said, “The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in so doing will not always be popular, may not impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.”

Inspired by Eugene’s life and his book, I made two decisions: first, I would place the concerns of others above my own, and second, I would love people unconditionally. The first was a matter of the will. The second was a change in attitude. And because I’m a person of faith, I adopted the following words from the Bible and took them to heart as the desire of my life:

Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

As I strive to live this way, I’ve adopted some guidelines that I try to practice daily to become a better servant leader:

  • I Don’t Rely on My Position or Title: I’m grateful for the accomplishments I’ve made, but I don’t rely on them to help me lead. I work to earn respect every day by delivering on what I promise and by serving others.
  • I Choose to Believe in People and Their Potential: I care about people because it’s the right thing to do. But there are also practical reasons for believing in people. I’ve found that the more I believe in people’s potential and the more I serve them, the more their potential increases. That creates a win for everyone.
  • I Try to See Things from the Perspective of Others: It’s possible to lead and serve others well only when you know their minds and hearts. I intentionally connect with people and try to see from their point of view to serve them better.
  • I Work to Create an Environment of Encouragement: Few things are better than being on a team of people who desire to serve one another. When leaders are willing to serve people and encourage others to serve, a spirit of cooperation emerges where it’s “one for all and all for one.” That makes the environment positive and develops a sense of loyalty among team members.
  • I Measure My Success by How Much Value I Add to Others: When you decide to serve others as a leader, the team’s success becomes your success. I remember when I experienced that change in thinking. It felt as though my world immediately expanded. It is true: one is too small a number to achieve greatness. Few things surpass helping your team to win together.

I’m still not where I would like to be when it comes to serving people, but I’m continually striving to get better at it.

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from John Maxwell's new book Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. Used by permission of HarperCollins.

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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John Maxwell's Daily Guide to Becoming a Better Servant Leader