Health and Growth

Culture Trumps Competency, Every Time: 3 Ways to Tie Compensation to Culture

William Vanderbloemen shares three practical ways we tie compensation to culture.

Culture Trumps Competency, Every Time: 3 Ways to Tie Compensation to Culture

One of the most challenging questions about building an irresistible culture at your organization is how to make it sustainable and scalable. What do you do to make it stand out and cause team members to perk up and pay attention?

There are many practical ways to do this - everything from celebrating examples of culture lived out on your team, to physical displays like putting them on the wall of your conference room.

But the thing that really gets the attention of most people? It’s money.

When you tie living out your organization’s cultural values to a paycheck, people pay attention. It’s a tangible way to communicate the seriousness of your organization’s culture. That’s when culture gets real.

This might sound like an uncomfortable concept, especially in ministry - and in a way, it is. Talking about money has long been a really personal subject, and a lot of people have been trained to see it as directly tied to performance. 

Performance and ministry are also hard subjects to reconcile. How do you measure an employee's’ performance when his or her goals are tied to discipleship and evangelism? Furthermore, how do you tie compensation to goals related to something only the Holy Spirit can do?

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It’s tough, which is why tying culture to compensation can work so well. It motivates your employees in a fresh way, but still with a way to quantifiably measure results. It creates an atmosphere of accountability for living out cultural values, and it helps you identify key culture problems.

If you compensate people based solely on hitting their numbers or other goals, you could be encouraging great results but with bad behavior. On our team, we recognized we could offset this potential issue by making culture a key part of compensation.

Here are three practical ways we tie compensation to culture:

#1. We have crystal clear cultural values.

Our cultural values are established and communicated to everyone. 

In fact, each employee has a plaque on their desk with all nine core values. Every time they look at it, they’re reminded of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. 

If you don’t have cultural values in place, you won’t have anything solid to measure culture against. What you end up with instead is unclear measurements against unclear values. If you’re going to tie compensation to how well someone lives up to your values, you have to first make sure they’re clear on what the measuring stick is.

#2. We tell our stories regularly about how our values are lived out.

Telling a story about how a peer lived out culture is a vital part of creating motivation and accountability, which are incredibly important structural pieces to shifting to a culture-driven compensation methodology.

Without motivation, your people won’t live up to the culture. Without accountability, they won’t continue to live up to the culture.

Related: 4 Ways to Build a Culture of Generosity in Your Church

An employee should be able to tell a story that illustrates how he or she lived out the values of the organization. An individual’s reflection of those values through those stories should be measured and documented throughout the year, not just in an annual review.

Have someone from your team regularly contribute a “core values spotlight” during staff meetings, highlighting a way that they saw a part of the culture being lived out. Establish a way for employees to call it out in each other - one small way we do this is through an app where employees can award each other “culture badges” that are collectable on their profile.

This sets in motion a year-long process of infusing culture into everyday tasks and work—culture permeates into everything you do.

Additionally, if you have someone who is doing just enough good work to not get fired but something is still off - having a rhythm around talking about culture and highlighting it will also highlight where potential trouble spots are with employees who aren’t a good culture fit. This will help you identify problems well before they become major issues.

#3. We have a structure for staff performance reviews that points back to culture.

At the end of the year, whether or not an employee has lived up to the culture well or not is no surprise. There’s something to look back on. Think of it like a savings account—you’re regularly putting something in, so later, when you want to buy something, you have something to spend. 

When you regularly think about culture, you live it out. You’re putting something of value in, and knowing you’re doing it affects how you do your work. When you have multiple reviews—perhaps in April, September, and the end of the year—you’re checking on your progress. If something needs to change or improve, an employee knows well before their conversation with their manager about compensation. Doing this builds up a measurable record, and it ensures everyone is on the same page well before the end of the year.

Over to you

The roadmap to creating an irresistible workplace isn’t necessarily easy to follow, and you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is. That means tying compensation to culture. Culture trumps competency, and it trumps performance. 

Goals will ebb and flow—some seasons will be great, and others not so much. But cultural performance doesn’t depend on anything but your own actions in relation to the values of the organization so that your team can reach the full potential God has called it to be.

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by William Vanderbloemen. William is the founder & CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries build great teams and build winning cultures. The following article is adapted from his book Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an Irresistible Workplace.

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]!
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.


Culture Trumps Competency, Every Time: 3 Ways to Tie Compensation to Culture