Inside Tithe.ly: Meet Barn Sweetman, Co-Founder of Tithe.ly
Get to know Barn Sweetman, the master architect of digital church giving.
November 27, 2019
There are four specific questions every compelling story answers.
February 8, 2019
Many years ago, before I was a creative arts pastor, I got my start in creative ministry as “the video guy.”
At the time, that meant I mostly created highlight videos from camps or mission trips.
Honestly, it didn’t take a whole lot of skill to do what I was doing. I would just film moments happening on the trips, edit out the bad stuff, keep the good stuff, throw in some music, and call it a day.
One time the pastor I was working with asked for help making testimony videos.
As the video guy, this was my role. However, there was one small issue… I knew how to hit record, make things look decent in the camera, and make highlight videos. I didn’t have the first clue how to tell a story.
Nobody ever taught me anything about that. No one taught me what makes some stories memorable and other stories forgettable.
What I had to learn and discover the hard way is that effective storytelling isn’t as simple as hitting the record button. It’s more than just picking out the right camera or buying the right editing software. It’s about tapping into the power of storytelling.
It took me a while to learn that the effectiveness of your video is far more dependent on how you’re crafting the story than it is on what equipment you use or budget you have. If it was all about the budget and equipment, you would think films like Battleship with its estimated $220 million budget would have been the best movie of the year. But it turns out, if the story isn’t compelling, it doesn’t matter how great the equipment or budget is.
Stories play a crucial role in our churches today, just as they have since the beginning of church. It was Jesus’ chosen method of teaching as we see in Scripture with his parables.
If we can become better storytellers—whether through video, written copy, social media, or other mediums—we’ll have an opportunity to communicate more effectively for our churches.
I define story as “the journey and response of a character facing a conflict.” Sometimes, the character is a person. That story may sound like a man, whose life was falling apart with drug and alcohol abuse, taking a bold step to keep his life and family together.
There are times where the “character” may be your church. As an example, our church is adopting a new village in Guatemala. That story would look like the journey of our church transforming a village in Guatemala that is mired in poverty and lacks clean water.
Other times the “character” is broad and the goal is that the audience puts themselves in the story as the protagonist. For example, that may look like a person who thinks they have nothing to offer God but still has the opportunity to serve and use their gifts.
Every story is different. But at the end of the day, stories tell the journey and response of a character facing conflict.
Now that we have the concept of what a story is, there are four specific questions I believe every effective story answers.
What’s the conflict or problem the character is trying to solve?
Conflict is simply the struggle between two opposing forces. That might be an internal conflict or an external conflict.
Without conflict, you don’t have a story worth telling. Think about what kind of story Star Wars would be if Luke Skywalker never dealt with his past and never faced Darth Vader. Think about what kind of story Shawshank Redemption would be if Andy Dufresne never ended up in jail for crimes he didn’t commit.
Conflict shapes who we are as people and is the key to relating to our audience.
As you identify the story you want to tell, first identify the conflict in the story.
For the internal or external conflict in the story, what was or what could be the solution? What’s going to fix the problem the character is facing?
Here’s the cool thing: We serve a God who is in the solution business. We have the Bible that lays out the very Word of God, which provides a path for us. In the stories we share, we can point to Jesus as the solution.
This was groundbreaking for me, because it changed what I looked for in the type of stories we were sharing as a church. Instead of just focusing on the most sensational stories, I began searching for the simple but relatable stories of people who were facing a conflict and found a solution in something we had to offer as a church.
After you identify the conflict in the story, find the solution—whatever that is. Without it, your story won’t connect.
There are barriers between the conflict and the solution. These barriers are the things that so often hold us back from reaching the solution to the conflict. Those barriers might be things like fear, anxiety, hopelessness, or doubt.
When you speak to the barriers in the story, you have the opportunity to create a “that’s me” moment with your viewer, because you can speak to the very barriers your audience faces in their own lives.
Sometimes we need another character, a guide, or an external force for us to overcome those barriers and seek the solution.
When you find the call to action in the story, you identify the thing that compelled someone to change and overcome the barriers they face.
It’s critical for us as the church to zero in on this because the answer to what compelled someone to change is often the same next step others need to take in their own lives.
I found that as I focused on identifying the clear conflict, solution, barriers, and call to action in the story, the impact and reach of the stories we were telling became greater than ever before.
By answering those questions, you have the building blocks for telling meaningful stories that can inspire your audience.
We’re all storytellers.
What story will you tell?
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Phil Bowdle. Phil is a creative arts pastor and the author of Rethink Communication: A Playbook to Clarify and Communicate Everything in Your Church. Learn more about Phil at PhilBowdle.com.
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:
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.
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.
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]!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.
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.