The Service Project Support Letter

by admin on March 28, 2011

I have a bit of a debate in my head that’s been bothering me for a long while. The case being: Support letters.

If you haven’t grown up in the church and gone on a missions trip this will all be new. But here is the general idea… mission trips are expensive. REALLY expensive. And most of the trips that kids go on are not possible without help of parents, or other relatives helping out. This is not to say that kids in churches do nothing to raise their own money to go on these trips. Many do fund raising activities such as car washes, bake sales and yard sales to raise the money to travel to the country and the world in order to do service projects.

What bothers me, and has always bothered me, is the idea of “support letters.” I don’t know who started this idea but I absolutely HATE it. Whenever adults or teens are going on a trip, they are often encouraged to write a letter to everyone in our family and friend circle asking for  ” support”. Usually it’s something like this:

Dear Auntie Marge,

I’m going to Africa this summer with my church. While I’m there, I’m going to do __________, __________, and ___________. This is such a tremendous opportunity and a real blessing.

I’d appreciate your prayers for me during this time. Also, if possible a donation for the trip would be lovely, as the price of airfare is really expensive…

Love, Jesse

Okay, perhaps not exactly like that, but very similar. Now is it just me or is that really money grubbing? I often wonder, usually when I’m opening letters from kids from my church, why they send them to ME seeing as we’re not close or really even friendly with one another. I also wonder, would the recipient really be satisfied JUST with prayer?

The other thing that really bothers me is that a lot of these kids go on the trip and NEVER send a thank you note. They receive our donation and best wishes and often we don’t get a thank you or even hear how the trip went.  (It goes without saying that these kids are never sponsored by us ever again.)

When I was in high school I had the unique privilege to travel to Honduras. I’ll never forget the trip- it changed my life forever. But I’ll never forget everything that went on before hand. The original due dates for money had to be moved back because kids did not have their money in on time. They were frantically writing “The letters”.

I found this all amusing because instead of following my Pastor’s advice,  I had refused to send out a single support letter, instead relying on my $6.50 an hour job at the ice cream store and cleaning jobs to pay my way. I worked at all the fundraisers, somehow finding time to balance in work, school and everything else. Since we had to sign up months beforehand, I barely spent money on pleasure items because I was saving for the trip. I was often amazed by how my fellow students had money for CDs and other goodies when I was cutting back. (Actually, I received a little abuse for my “tight fistedness”. I always had spending money growing up, however that stopped once I got my first job. My family is fairly well off, and I admit – unlike many kids I did not have to pay for my first car, or even gas money. However I still rode the bus to school and I only used the car to go to work, which was less than a 5 minute drive away.) Anyway, back to topic, Support Letters were both hoped for and expected from relatives and friends. And in my opinion, kids were far too dependent on them. They seemed to think they were entitled to the money, more so than it being a gift.

On the original day that the money was due, I walked into the pastor’s office and told him that I had the $3000 dollars and that I was prepared to pay him. The pastor was shocked. He asked me if I had received any help from anyone.  I think he was concerned because I had been taking some college courses online during my senior year of high school and he didn’t want me to struggle paying for everything. But as I said before, my family is well off, and my parents were generous to me. They told me that paying for my classes was their contribution of helping me go to Honduras). I’d like to add I was the only one, out of 20 people, who worked and paid ENTIRELY their own way. And it took every penny I had. But so worth it.

Last year I went to Mexico, this time all by myself instead of with a church group. I told people I was going and although I never asked for money, some gave me money anyway. I had one couple who said they felt that God was asking them to give me 10 percent of their daily paycheck every two weeks the whole summer. You’d better believe that when I got back, every person who gave me money received a card and a letter with pictures telling them what I did in Mexico, what I used their money for and thanking them for being so kind.I also did a little presentation at the community center and made Mexican food and set up a slide projector to show pictures of what I did.

And if I may be so bold as to add… one lady from the community liked it so much she asked me to go to her church and do the same presentation and explain to the youth that this would be a beautiful thing for them to do when they come back from trips so that the community of people who had supported them could see what they had done during their time away. Unfortunately, the Pastor did not approve of the idea and it never came about. 0301-11

I share your twitchy perspective on letters from individual church members soliciting money to travel for service or missions projects.    My squeamishness is based on two things:

1)  Typically I barely know them and certainly have not had the privilege of being a prior recipient of their written social pleasantries such as Christmas cards, birthday cards, thank you notes, “how you doing?” or “get well” notes.   Therefore solicitation of support letters are often the first written correspondence I’ve ever received from these persons and I find that a little presumptuous upon the meager social connection we do share. I’m not partial to people using God as their justification of financial presumption upon others.   The moral of this is, if you couldn’t have been bothered to express yourself cordially and graciously among your acquaintances over the years, it’s probably not a good idea to presume they will happily receive a written solicitation for money.

2) I believe that if a person believes God wants him/her to go to XX and serve there, God will provide the means for that person to go without the need to beg for financial support among the family and friends.  Often that “means” is a healthy constitution and time to work to achieve what you believe your goal is with a little sacrifice thrown in.    My church sends out yearly service teams to an orphanage in Mexico for medical check ups, construction and repair projects, etc. and sponsors corporate church fundraising such as a huge yard sale, bake sales, car washes, etc to fund it.   How much each service worker donates of his/her own time to help at these functions determines how much of the pool of collected money is allotted to them to fund their trip.   No work, no money.

One clever way to raise funds was to solicit donation pledges from area businesses for every hour of work a person did at a local charity….in other words, a young person would work three or four hours a weekend volunteering at a local charity cleaning, stacking, organizing, etc and the money they would have earned per hour of work went into their fund for their service project travel.  It’s a great bang for the buck, a double whammy of benefit both locally and globally and encourages the mindset that something worth having is worth working for.

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis March 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

I too dislike this practise. If missionary work is important enough for you to do, it should be important enough to you to personally fund. Maybe that means you won’t get to go where you want when you want, but it’s supposed to be about the work anyway. Isn’t it? If I donate money for a mission it’s for food and medical supplies, not plane tickets for someone else’s exotic trip.

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BeachMum March 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

It gets worse as one gets older.

My sister-in-law went on a mission to Israel last year. She is an adult, with two children, a home of her own, two cars, etc.

The trip was highly subsidized by the group organizing the trip, but it still cost around $1,000. About a month before the trip, she called me to say that the trip was suddenly costing more because of the rise in gasoline prices. Then she had the gaul to ask me (and, apparently, other relatives) if I could help sponsor her so she could make this trip.

Um, no. I pay for my vacations and assume that other adults would do the same. What I found even more gauling was that she called her mother (whom DH and I help support) to ask her for a donation. Her mother solicited her friends and sent SIL some money.

SIL had a great time in Israel and said that it was life-changing. However, I still believe that one should be able to pay for one’s own vacations, even when they are spiritually enlightening.

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Meghan March 28, 2011 at 9:27 am

A lot of people think that the mission work is enough. That they are making the sacrifice to go help, and therefore those who won’t be going should fund the trip. It’s a very entitled thought process, I saw it a lot when I was in high school among the various Christian youth groups.

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K March 28, 2011 at 9:28 am

On my planet, if you can’t afford something, you don’t do it. Sad but true.

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Magicdomino March 28, 2011 at 9:30 am

A couple of years ago, one of my nieces was trying to raise money for a mission trip. On the one hand, I’m a big supporter of international travel, and she is from a big family living in a rural area. Odds are, she will not be going outside the US with her family, and may not go any farther than Spring Break in Cancun on her own. On the other hand, I’m not religious and therefore am not entirely comfortable with mission trips, and I’ve never actually met this kid (technically, she is a step-niece). It didn’t help that she was raising money by holding raffles of various hand-made items that, while very nice, were not my style. (If it is relevant, the items were made and donated by other people.) I was tempted to send a check, with the request that she send me a postcard from Small Third World Country. As it turned out, procrastination solved the problem. I haven’t had any more requests from that family.

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Lizajane March 28, 2011 at 9:46 am

I don’t mind these letters. If I don’t want to give, I don’t. I know some older people actually enjoy helping to fund mission trips because they are no longer able to make them themselves.

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kammy March 28, 2011 at 9:47 am

The youth group at my church goes on mission trips each year. We did fundraisers and they still do. Another thing we do is help out church members by helping the clean thier house, watching thier kids, or doing something to help them and then they go to the youth leader and pay something towards the trip. You never find out how much money is given if any is given at all, in case the person can’t give money. I always wrote thank you notes, thanking the person for helping me to strengthen my resolve to get closer to God and to serve him through helping others.

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Giles March 28, 2011 at 9:49 am

We did this in our synagogue when I was a preteen. We went on a non-denominational trip to Haiti. In addition to traditional fundraising, our rabbi asked the whole congregation if they’d like to chip in and that it would be appreciated, but wasn’t at all rude or pushy about it. We still got a lot of money and a while my parents paid a bit, kids who weren’t as well off paid little or nothing.

We did, as a group, write thank you notes to each and every member of our synagogue who donated so much as a dollar. It took a LONG time, but we also got a lot of letters back thanking us for our thank you notes. It was also a great trip, even though it was anything but a vacation.

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Christy March 28, 2011 at 9:52 am

I have to agree. I did a similar mission trip when I was in college – two months in southeast Asia. I did not send any letters or ask for help from individuals, however I did send letters to my home church and my grandparents church, asking for support. I attended the church in my hometown my whole life (in fact I returned after college & am a member now), and went to my grandparents whenever we visited. I didn’t, and still don’t, feel that this was inappropriate due to the fact that I had a relationship with both churches and they have a budget for missions. They contributed generously about half my costs, and a couple of individuals, one whom I had never met, sent some small donations as well. I paid for the remainder myself as well as the travel gear – we lived out of camping backpacks for the time. After the trip, I wrote up a long letter, detailing the work we had done & thanking them for making it possible and sent a letter with photos to each contributor. I also thanked some of the church leaders personally the next time I was at that congregation.

Many of my friends did similar trips and some even have entered the missionary field since college. To my knowledge, they did not send letters to individuals either. Being a missionary or doing a mission trip is a personal choice, and just like any personal choice, does not obiligate others to financially support it.

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SHOEGAL March 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

I don’t know – if my nephew or neices asked me for money to help fund a “mission trip” I would probably do it. I’m close to them and being a loving aunt – generally want to help. I am regularly solicited to buy X, Y or Z – to help fund school activities. I don’t really see how this is any different. However, if random church going kid solicited me with a support letter – nah . . . not so willing especially since – hey, I don’t know you. So we share the same church, in my book – not a close enough association. I wouldn’t be at all receptive to a grown woman asking me to help fund a mission trip – it reeks of vacation – I don’t care what you do there. If you want to do it – then you pay for it.

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DGS March 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

I second K: “On my planet, if you can’t afford something, you don’t do it. Sad but true”.

That being said, I find it particularly abhorrent when people solicit for their mission trips from people who are not even of the same religion. I am Jewish, as is my family, but our family friends’ children/grandchildren/cousins have send us letters (and even better, mass emails) asking us to support them on their mission trips to Africa/South or Central America/Israel, etc. First of all, I would find a mission trip to Israel particularly offensive based on my religious beliefs. Second of all, while I respect one’s belief and passion for traveling on a mission trip abroad, I have absolutely no desire to support that endeavor financially, as my religious beliefs and personal convictions discourage proselytizing and conversion. So while you are welcome to practice what you believe, you will not do so on my dollar. My husband’s and my response have always been a curt but pleasant, “We are afraid that will not be possible, however, we do wish you all the best and send you wishes for a wonderful experience and a safe journey abroad and back”.

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zimi61 March 28, 2011 at 10:14 am

My mother received a similarly motivated request from a very religiously influenced cousin of mine. However, it was not for the purpose of a mission trip. She sent out monetary support request letters to everyone she could contact (many of which I heard came from her mother’s business contacts) to assist her in helping her do God’s work in her new home which she needed assistance in putting together a down payment for.

Having recently purchased my own home before her, I was a little appalled, though not surprised by her behavior. Apparently she was able to put together a healthy down payment. I don’t know what it did to her mother’s business contacts, but based on the fact that she was able to get some money from people, it didn’t seem to affect her religious community or her mother’s business that much.

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Ashley March 28, 2011 at 10:38 am

My parents actually received one of those letters recently from the son of a neighbor. We are close with these neighbors, my mother babysat both of their sons when they were younger, all the mothers go hang out with each other from time to time, we borrowed sugar, etc. We were all still surprised when the letter turned up in my parents mailbox, for two reasons. A) As close as we may be with them, monetary gifts had never been exchanged. The closest either of our families had gotten to that was “If you lend me X Product now, you can use our Y Product when you need it”. B) Religion was never a topic that had come up between us. My family is not a member of any church, let alone the church that the neighbors attended. I am not bashing religions here, you are all welcome to believe what you like, I just always feel a bit odd about being asked for donations that involve a church or faith I do not belong to.

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Gloria Shiner March 28, 2011 at 10:39 am

It isn’t just church activities. I’m involved with another youth group and there are frequently requests for helping with “worthy” activities. For the most part this doesn’t bother me. However, when I receive a request from a 16-year-old who has her own Escalade, I’m not terriby receptive.

A girl in another family is always going on these trips and making requests for funding. The mom always emphasizes the family’s financial status and how they just can’t afford to pay for the trips, especially since Dad has been unemployed for a year. Of course, Mom doesn’t work because she is too busy accompanying 17-year-old daughter everywhere. And Daughter has a new formal dress for every occasion – homecoming, prom, banquet, boyfriend’s prom, etc. etc. And after making numerous funding requests last year, Daughter showed up at County Fair with two brand-new, head-to-toe horse show outfits. Yep, really made me want to contribute!

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Xtina March 28, 2011 at 10:47 am

@Zimi61—now THAT request is unbelievable, to solicit donations for a down payment on a house. I cannot think of a single instance in which an individual would not be responsible for purchasing their own home.

I have received many a solicitation letter from my husband’s cousin’s family; let’s see—there was the time that they felt led to open their own seminary (and none of them is educated or accredited), there was the time that one of them felt God was calling him to go do (vague) missions work in Africa, and the time one of them was trying to build some sort of building. None of these things ever came to pass and the rest of the family knows all too well how many crazy schemes this branch of the family tries to dream up.

Anyway—while I am certainly willing to give to support missions work (where it is clearly spelled out what my money will be buying), it is more appropriate that the group or individual looking to raise money find their own ways to do that—be it through fundraising events, sales of a product or service, or something of that nature. I see nothing wrong with a general announcement being made to the church that such-and-such is going to do x missions work and any donations or opportunities/ideas for fundraising would be appreciated, but targeted letters asking for cash are in bad taste. Agree with others—you want to take the trip, then *you* work for the money.

There have been instances in our church of people deciding to go full-time into the missions field, and targeted “pledge letters” being sent to anyone and everyone asking for ONGOING support (i.e. a monthly payment indefinitely) to support that person or in some cases, an entire family, in their new country. This seems grossly inappropriate to me. If that is going to be your full-time job, then you need to find a way to support yourself and your family other than begging for money.

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Eisa March 28, 2011 at 10:54 am

I would not mind a support letter–IF I actually knew the person soliciting and it wasn’t as expressed in the OP, when that’s the first correspondence/contact you’ve ever really had with that person. If we’re friends or we’re close at all, then I don’t mind…well, also as long as you send out thank you notes after you come back. I can’t imagine ever having the nerve to solicit money for a trip and then not thanking those who generously donated money to me. If it weren’t for those people, you wouldn’t have *had* a trip [unless, of course, you got the money through work or some other way].

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rljrdn March 28, 2011 at 10:59 am

I did this last year for the mission trip I went on. Although I could fully afford paying for the entire thing myself, I do believe it gives people an opportunity to participate in mission work even if they can’t go. It can be very rewarding to know you helped someone help others.
A few thoughts though:
1. You must write a thank-you note AND follow up with a letter on how the trip went and include pictures. This makes the sponsors feel part of the experience instead of write and check and forget it.
2. Only ask from those who you personally have a realationship with, not the whole church, and not from friends/family who don’t share your beliefs.

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Hal March 28, 2011 at 11:09 am

I have learned after many years of making what I call “Embarrassed into it” donations to both adults and children to say no to them all. I also have stopped making any excuse as to why I don’t donate. Some actually think they have right to know why I say no. They do not have any right to an explanation. I have learned to smile and stare. It works. I cannot be held responsible for what I do not say. And, this way, I needn’t lie, either.

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Chocobo March 28, 2011 at 11:13 am

I agree that the best way to do this kind of thing, if money is requested at all, is to hold a special collection from the congregation at church/synagogue/etc. for all involved. That gives people the opportunity to opt-in without being singled out awkwardly.

Similarly to what others have said, I would not feel comfortable supporting a mission trip, as active conversion is not a part of my belief system. On top of that, those who feel called to help others aren’t entitled to a free ride — in my opinion, it’s made pretty clear many times in the gospels that doing the right thing often takes a lot of personal sacrifice and difficult choices. Without going into serious theological debate over it, I am reminded of the passage of the poor widow, who donates only two pieces of copper to the temple, but in truth has given more than the rich men who donated more money, but less of themselves.

It seems to me that OP’s donation of time, money, effort, and personal sacrifice means much more — to her and to the people she helped — than those who do good work only through the sacrifice of others.

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Marlene March 28, 2011 at 11:27 am

While I myself am not religious, I have a deep respect for people who are called by their religion to put their own lives on hold for the sake of helping others and try to support non-denominational groups when I can. YMMV, but soliciting donations to fund an entire mission trip, especially under the guise that your contribution is the physical act of going on said trip, cheapens the spirit of charity work. One of the reasons it is so meaningful is because it *is* a self sacrifice. Sending out generic letters to people with whom you are barely acquaintances in expectation of money is uncouth in and of itself, but the larger offense to me wanting to go on a mission but being unwilling to make the sacrifices which make that mission meaningful.

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JAMH March 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

I hate those types of letters.

I have an even worse instance with these letters. Years ago, when I was in either 11th or 12th grade we got a letter from MO, and it wasn’t from my grandparents. Well we open it and low and behold it’s one of these donation letters from a friend I’d had in elementary school and junior high. In the years between 8th grade and the letter she had gone back to being home schooled, and then her family had moved. This was the first time I had heard from her in a few years, and it was a letter to my mom asking for money for a mishions trip. Needless to say no money was sent. Mom agreed that if she couldn’t keep in contact for the minor stuff then there was no way we were going to send any money to her. Fast forward about 5 years or so. I’m home for the summer from grad school, and we get another letter. This time from a name none of us recongizes. Well, it gets opened and guess what, it’s from the same girl, now married, once again asking for donations for a church related trip. Yah. I don’t think very highly of this girl any more. Back when we were school friends I thought she was nice enough, and got a bit of a raw deal in being the oldest of 9 kids, but she couldn’t even spring for a stamp every few months to write, or even attempt to tell her old school friends that they were moving? This whole idea still bugs me.

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elicat March 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

When I was growing up, the juniors and seniors of our high school would go to a country depending upon the language they studied (French language to France, Spanish to Spain, and so forth). Some of the these trips were partially funded by sales of candy or garden seeds, but I delivered newspapers for several years to save up for my trip (which was $3,000 back then–we went to a country I didn’t mention above). Maybe I am being naive, but I don’t think any of my classmates sent out “support letters” (even though this was not a mission trip but a trip for the purpose of using the foreign language you were learning).

I will say that the teenagers in my church are expected to put on presentations of their mission trips and to write or talk about the experience. Come to think about it, we had to do that for our language class, too!

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Wink-n-Smile March 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm

In my church, it is standard procedure to teach your children to start saving for their missions, as soon as they start making money. You get three piggy banks. One is for tithing (10%), one is for mission fund (however much you decide to save regularly), and the other is for personal savings. Generally, 10% for each works out well, and leaves the kids with 70% to actually spend.

Of course, when they’re 5 years old, and just get coins they find in the parking lot, it can be difficult to divide a nickel that way. But the conscientious parents find a way, nonetheless.

Then, when the kids are old enough for a mission, they’ve already earned and saved enough money to fund it, themselves.

These support letters are unheard of in our church. However, when a convert who has not saved up for a mission wants to go on a mission, contributions MIGHT be solicited ONCE from the pulpit. I’ve never witnessed this, but I have heard of it happening. It’s that rare. Otherwise, word of m0uth (“Sister Kelly wants to go on a mission. You know, she wasn’t raised in the church, so she didn’t have savings for it. I’m going to give a donation.”) tends to get the job done. We also have a general mission fund, to which we can contribute. We don’t know who gets the money, but it goes to top-off the savings of those where were not able to meet the entire expense, themselves.

These missions are long – 18 months to 2 years – and expensive – all living, travel, clothes, transportation expenses, and they’re very hard work, from 6 am to 10 pm, with one afternoon off a week, to take care of personal business, such as laundry and shopping for groceries. Hence, when the word of mouth campaign goes around, people are much more willing to donate, knowing that it is NOT a vacation. Also, it is for young adults, not children or teenagers.

Nevertheless, if you had the chance to save, you’re expected to pay your own way. That’s part of the process – sacrificing time AND money, to serve the Lord and your fellow man. Long-term savings for a mission goal is considered to be just another part of living a righteous life, and we don’t make a big deal about it.

These letters are unheard of in my church community. When someone gets one from a friend/relative in another church community, it is generally tittered at – “Those poor dears – they never learned to save for their missions. What were their parents thinking?” and next thing you know, someone is mentioning from the pulpit our responsibility to make sure our children are saving for their own missions. Whether or not a donation is given in response to the letter depends on the individual relationships.

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Louise March 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I think if you have a close relationship with relatives, friends, church members, etc., it’s OK to send a letter. If you get a donation, you should send a thank-you note or thank the donor profusely in person, just as you would for any other gift. It’s rude to hit up everyone in your, your parents’ and your grandparents’ address books. I don’t belong to a church and would toss any such letter that came my way.

I find the intersection of religion and etiquette very intriguing, and I don’t believe it’s OK to be rude in the name of your religious beliefs. It’s rude to solicit money and not thank the donor. It’s rude to solicit money from total strangers with whom you have zero relationship. Heck, I think it’s rude to try to convert people period, and you don’t get a pass from me for saying it’s to save souls and strengthen your relationship with *fill in the blank.*

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Wink-n-Smile March 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm

@rljrdn:

I agree, if you’re part of a church culture where saving from childhood to fund your ONE mission is NOT expected, then soliciting from friends/relatives, with whom you keep in touch regularly, and then sharing the experience afterward, *may be* appropriate.

You must certainly show proper gratitude, and give an accounting of where the money went, so certainly, a follow-up report is required. And yes, for those of us who cannot go on a mission, donating to help someone else do so can be uplifting. I’ve known plenty of shut-ins who would donate regularly to such causes, because it made them feel a part of it.

I prefer, though, to avoid the solictation, and instead ask the Lord to guide your friends/family into spontanteous generosity, in order to share in your service. Stick to fund-raisers, spread the word, and you’ll be surprised how many individual donations you get from those who genuinely wish you well. They’ll usually come right out and ask if you need help. Such spontaneous donations really ARE a way for them to share the sacrificial service, and blessings to both.

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--Lia March 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm

Someone help me get a better picture of what these trips are like.
When a high school student goes on a church sponsored mission trip, what does a typical day consist of?
What are the students actually doing?
Where do they sleep.
How are the meals taken care of?
What are the responsibilities of the adults who go along?
Who does the organizing?
Who, besides the young people who go, benefits, and in what way?

I’d never heard of either the trips or the fundraising letters, so I’m trying to get a better idea if they’re an excuse for travel and party in another country (nothing wrong with that if you’re honest about what you’re doing) or if they’re actual volunteer opportunities where the people in the other country need the services offered.

Part of my questions come from another quarter altogether. A friend of a friend is Japanese and currently living in Tokyo. When she learned that my friend’s neighbor worked for the Red Cross and might be sent to Japan, she was somewhere between puzzled and livid. They don’t need non-Japanese speaking people in Japan. That’s just one more mouth to feed, one more person’s human waste to dispose of. They need fresh water and sewer systems in areas where those were wiped out. They need housing. They especially need money. They have all the man-power they could want. They don’t need people pretending to help who are nothing more than tourists gawking at a tragedy.

Thus I wonder about the mission trips. Are they actually doing anyone any good? I’m trying to figure out what expertise high school students might have that would benefit people. I can understand sending doctors to places where there are none, but high school students? What are they doing?

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admin March 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Lia,

I can’t speak for others but this is our family’s experience serving at an orphanage in Mexico.

What does a typical day consist of? Rising early, devotions, breakfast, then hard labor for many hours. Everyone in my family has gone but my son goes every year and does everything from welding to tiling, painting, digging ditches, ripping out bathrooms and remodeling them, roofing. Eldest daughter taught sewing to the teenaged girls one year. One year husband set up the computer lab. They come home from that one week just wiped out. It is not a vacation.
Where do they sleep? In a dormitory especially set aside for service groups.
How are meals taken care of? The group purchases their own food, and a team prepares it.
Responsibilities of adults who go along? Organizing, leadership and they pitch right in and do the work, too.
Who benefits? The children and staff of the orphanage. These groups come with their own purchased building materials so it’s renovations and repairs to the facility that does not cost the orphanage in materials or labor or food.

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Kat March 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm

“Money grubbing” seems like a harsh term for this, since the proceeds don’t go to the letter writer directly, but to a worthy cause. Why is this so different from asking people to sponsor you on a charity walk? I’m not saying I totally approve, but I definitely think there’s a bit of overreacting going on here. My impression of this practice is that it’s a bit tacky, but not selfish or entitled.

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Leslie March 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

I personally have no problem with these letters. If I feel called to donate, I do, and if I don’t feel like I can at that time, I just pray for them. At our church, the Youth always do a presentation about their trip when they return, and they usually cook local dishes for the parish as a thank you, but then I usually do get personal thank you notes from the kids I help my sponsoring.

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Phoebe161 March 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I believe a good mission trip (one where the kids actually do something worthwhile) is good for kids–gets them out of the “me-me-me” syndrome and see how the rest of the world lives. But not good for learning creative ways to panhandle money.

Several years ago, my FIL passed away. While waiting for the funeral home to pick up his body, my MIL expressed a desire for no flowers at the funeral. I suggested that, in lieu of flowers, people could make donations to a charity in FIL’s name. MIL liked that idea, and came up with a suitable charity. SIL (a grown woman) then put on a crying act, and requested, instead of this particular charity, that she would be allowed to ask certain people to donate money to her church so she could go another mission trip! My jaw almost hit the floor. And MIL agreed! I heard SIL tell a few people at the service about this “alternate donation method,” but I have no idea if anyone donated to this “cause.” Tacky, tacky, tacky. How egocentric can one get?

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ashley March 28, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Hm I’ve never even heard of support letters before. They sound kind of tacky to me unless they are sent to close relatives or friends and followed by a thank you note afterwards. I don’t think theres anything wrong with asking for donations, but if its just a vague and brief letter asking for money, thats a no-no xD. Kudos to the OP for raising up her own funds for her trip; I bet that took a lot of work and discipline to do.

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Elizabeth March 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I cannot agree with rljrdn:
“Although I could fully afford paying for the entire thing myself, I do believe it gives people an opportunity to participate in mission work even if they can’t go. ”

Asking for assistance and admitting you can pay for it yourself under the guise of allowing me to participate in mission work? I’m writing a check and supposed to say ‘thank you’ for letting me participate? Perhaps I’ll write a check and participate in the charity of my choice (not your’s).

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Bint March 28, 2011 at 2:51 pm

This reminds me of people who ask for donations to fund their charity trip somewhere exotic – as one friend did – riiiiight. So I’m paying towards your airfare first. And our donations cover your accommodation. She had to raise about £1,000 before the charity saw anything. I thought she should have paid her own airfare so anything raised would have gone straight to that charity. I didn’t donate.

Second anyone outside the church being approached as massively inappropriate! I don’t support conversion or proselytizing and would make this very clear if I got a begging letter.

To not thank those who donated is disgraceful.

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Athena Carson March 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Quite a few people have pointed out that they are under no obligation to support someone else’s “vacation.” Well, they are right for the wrong reasons – wrong because a mission trip is no where close to a vacation, but right because they have no obligation to support ANYONE’S choice of activity, be it a wedding, baby shower …. or mission trip.

Chocobo already mentioned the best way to handle this, which is what we do in my church and archdiocese – have a special collection. No one is put on the spot, but if anyone chooses to give, they certainly can. The admin points out that they believe God will provide the means if it is His will; well, sometimes that means comes in the form of donations.

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Allie March 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm

There are two things that bother me about this practice: first, its passive-aggressiveness and second its self-righteousness. When I was younger and financially strapped, I did ask my dad’s sister, who had no children of her own, for the money to make the down payment on my braces. She didn’t live in the same city, so I had to ask her by phone, but at least I asked her “in person” as opposed to in a form letter that has clearly been sent to as many people as possible to net as many donations as possible. And I believe my request was reasonable. It would have been very difficult for me to come up with the down payment, but I could afford the monthly payments, so I was only asking for a leg up, not that she pay for the whole thing.

If you’re going to ask someone for money, at least do them the courtesy of a phone call rather than a form letter. And don’t try to justify your request by pulling out the old holier-than-thou card. You shouldn’t assume that others will support your goals, no matter how noble you think they are. Personally, although I consider myself a spiritual person, I am very skeptical about organized religion of any kind, and I have a couple of charities that I already support. If I received one of these letters, I would just chuck it out. If someone I know would like my help to pay for something, be it a spiritual pilgrimage, braces or a boob job to help advance their striptease career, I’ll be happy to entertain any reasonable requests made to me in person.

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Luna March 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm

There is a fine line between soliciting money and making people who want to give aware of an avenue in which to give. In this modern era, maybe a Facebook page (or similar) that includes details of the trip with a sidebar about how you can help – if you so choose – would be more appropriate. Facebook even has a section specifically for “causes” that you can support.

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twilight March 28, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I also find these letters very off-putting.

I received one many years back from my DH’s much older cousin. We were in our twenties, just starting out and cousin was nearing 50. This cousin never made any efforts to keep in touch with us, not even reciprocating Christmas cards. He had also reamed me out several years prior when I had not received his RSVP to our wedding and called him to see if he would be attending. He yelled at me for five minutes (we had never met and this was the first we ever spoke) and would just not believe me when I said the invitation must have gotten lost in the mail. He yelled that he was not going and then hung up on me. What a nice “welcome to the family”!

The fundraising letter came several years after that incident and he had never spoken to us before or since. The letter went very quickly into the garbage can but I still cannot believe the nerve of him to solicit us for funds after that.

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Rae March 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I agree to the annoyance of letters asking for money. When the letter of thanks was mentioned, it brought back a memory that I would like to share. I remember when I was a senior in high school, I was getting ready to go on the much anticipated senior trip to Gettysburg, DC, and NYC. The trip was around $12oo if I remember right. As a fundraider, we sold Christmas wreaths. People in my community are very familiar with this trip and fundraiser and most are very happy to support us. I either talked face to face or made a phone call (I owe my Mom credit for dialing the numbers, since I get nervous when making phone calls), which seemed a lot more personable than a letter. I sold enough to cover one of the down payments, plus a little extra. I was very grateful to all that supported me that after the trip, I ended up sending a letter to each person that bought a wreath from me that included my gratitute and some of my adventures(I definitely give credit to my Dad for encouraging me to do this). The people just loved reading it and eventually my letter got published in our local newspaper. I hope that I didn’t sound like I was bragging too much, and for that I apologize, but if I were a parent and my child got to have an experience with the financial help of others, I would definitely encourage them to write a letter of thanks. The ones that I have read by others who have gone on trips are very enjoyable.

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Molly March 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I applaud anyone with the fortitude to go on mission trips – I’m a weakling who couldn’t do that kind of labor, and I have no idea how anyone finds that kind of energy. I would gladly see if I could help a friend, family member or their children with a few extra bucks if they were trying to come up with the money to go. But if someone I barely knew sent me a solicitation letter? Or heck, even if someone I knew well or was related to me sent me one, I wouldn’t be inclined to give. If you really want my money? Call me or send a personal letter or email. Otherwise I’ll assume you’re just begging everyone you know for money.

I don’t think it’s a case of divine intervention if a person is unable to go, though. Mission trips are expensive and not every burly and skilled person can afford to go on one. Meanwhile, I could probably find a way to go on one if I really wanted, because of my unspeakably generous mother who would almost certainly try to help me if at all possible, but I’m pretty sure I’d be utterly useless once there!

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sally March 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Wow! This is a new one for me! I’ve always thought the whole mission trip phenomenon sounded a little fishy; but now that I know they don’t even pay for all of it themselves…wow. I’m sort of speechless.

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Sarah Jane March 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Kat makes a good point. Ditto on the similarities to asking for donations for a charity walk, etc.

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Noel March 28, 2011 at 7:20 pm

The blanket mass mailings of these letters certainly is a bit tacky but it is slightly ameliorated by the fact that this is supposed to be for the benefit of those less fortunate, assuming the mission’s goal is to aid those less fortunate. In the secular world of non-profit there is no room for shame when it comes to fund raising. If you want to succeed and make a difference you sometime have to be pushy. I’m on numerous mailing lists for all manner of non-profits and I support the ones I want and ignore the others or ask them to take me off their mailing list.

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Catherine March 28, 2011 at 7:36 pm

My sophomore year of college, I participated in an alternative spring break program to New Orleans to help build houses after Hurricane Katrina. When we all signed up for the trip, we were assured that there would be “many opportunities” to fund-raise the $3000 per person price tag. I was unpleasantly surprised to find that, besides selling raffle tickets, the rest of this “fundraising” was supposed to be writing to friends/relatives to ask for money. A lot of people got a ton of money this way – some even funded their entire cost – but it’s unfair and unrealistic to assume that everyone is able to write such letters. My own family situation made it impossible for me to ask anyone for money (it’s complicated, but involves divorce, estrangement, and sizable loans) – long story short, I was in no position to be asking any of my family for money to fund my spring break trip, however good the cause was.

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kristine March 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I received 2 solicitations in my mailbox for charity walk donations this spring. One from a neighbor 3 houses down our short dead end street, and one 4 houses down. We have lived here for 4 years, and have been routinely snubbed as we rent instead of owning. (We do not fit the negative renter stereotypes- we drastically improve the property- and both of us are mild-mannered school teachers.) Both letters I received were the first communication of an kind from either neighbor- after all this time. You can bet they went into the trash. Unbelievable! I would never introduce my self with a hand out for money instead of a hand out for a handshake.

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Pinkwildrose March 28, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I’m often not a fan of the fundraising letter, such as when I recieved one from the child of a relative of mine who literally makes five times what I do and could have easily funded his kid’s trip himself. However, the practice has become so common that it’s almost considered part of the mission trip process.

And it’s getting worse. I have a professional background in grant proposal writing, and I do some pro bono work in this area for a local third-world development agency. I’m happy to do this work, as I’m helping bring in grants to build schools and medical facilities in a country where this is desperately needed. However, I almost quit completely a few weeks ago, when some volunteers tried to tell me that I had to work the cost of their airfare and accommodations into the overall project budget for which I was trying to get the grant! So now, people don’t only think that they should not have to pay for their own mission trips, but that others should do the fundraising for them!

It made me very angry because, 1) these women assumed that, rather than doing their own fundraising work, or (shock of shocks), forego this year’s Caribbean cruise to pay for their own trips, they were entitled to the fruits of my skills and my labour, and 2) if I approached an international development granting agency asking for money to buy plane tickets for middle-aged soccer moms, they’d laugh in my face, and the professional credibility of the development organization I serve as well as my own, would be shot.

I, too, intend on doing some work overseas for the organization, but I am working night shifts and wearing my sister’s cast-offs so I can save the money myself. Yes, I’ll be doing good work over there, but that’s my choice, and it’s my responsibility to pay for it.

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Izzy March 29, 2011 at 12:35 am

So glad I’ve never recieved a letter like this! The way my church does it is they make an announcement and people can donate anonymously through the church, and the missionary would do some serious fund raising. After the mission trip, they usually make some presentation of their trip to show the congregation and to thank everyone – no pressure to give, noone can boast if they’ve given for the wrong reasons. The main reason missionaries don’t self-fund like a vacation is also a sign of support for this missionary (i some churches the missionary funds half, the rest has to be raised). If nobody pays a nickel, well that’s a clear sign the person’s gifts is not in that area. Furious fund-raising (not soliciting! fund raising!) also raises awareness so that congregation can keep these missionaries in prayer while they’re away. That being said I can’t imagine justifying support letters to people just for the money, not even if they were close, putting people on the spot is hardly the way to get prayful support! Sounds like a trend, maybe if we ignore it it’ll go away? Thanks for the warning, anyone sending me a support letter is probably going to get a sternly worded reply ^^

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karmabottle March 29, 2011 at 5:42 am

I think it might be best to do a general fund in these situations. You let the church congregation know about it, and they decide if they want to contribute. The teens are required to participate in certain chore events (a series over time) to earn a cut of the pooled money–cleaning the church, mowing the grounds, painting, and other sundry chores. If you plan far enough ahead, you could probably pay for everyone by the deadline.

We once received a letter from my spouse’s grown cousin and her husband. The letter was raising funds to pay for both to attend seminary! They’d already graduated college with a bachelor’s each, but felt God’s “call” to go to seminary. My spouse and I recycled their letter. Maybe after we’ve paid off his college and my doctorate, we’ll consider a contribution….. ;) Or, they could take out student loans and pay them back like we are doing. What a novel idea!

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Alison March 29, 2011 at 6:54 am

I funded my mission trip in college by holding what was easily the worst job in my life during the summer. I would have quit, but the money was important.

As much as people hate getting those letters, there are people like me who hate sending them; I will not ask relatives for money. Or having to do any fundraiser where you have to sell things/ask for money. I hate it. I hated the magazine sales in school and any thing where we had to ask for money. I get some people are good at it, but I’m not, and it makes me feel awkward.

Also, while many of these mission trips are good works trips, many of them are just vacations with a single day of “service” thrown in.

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The Elf March 29, 2011 at 7:01 am

Unless the person in question is among my nearest & dearest (in which case I am likely privy to the situation and would contribute without being asked if the cause was one I also supported), I categorically ignore all such requests. I don’t care if it is a school fundraiser, girl/boy scouts, church mission, or sponsoring a runner for charity. If I contribute to one I feel like I have to contribute to everyone (especially when coworkers are involved). I make my own charitable contributions, and those organizations can pay for the people they need to accomplish their purpose through those donations.

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Xtina March 29, 2011 at 7:51 am

@ Lia–the last mission trip I went on was when I was in high school, but they are not vacations and participants generally fund their own costs, accommodations, food, etc. That mission trip had us helping local families paint and repair homes, doing construction of a local church, serving meals, and things of that nature for those in need in the community. In the case of that particular trip (and is a common practice on most mission trips), there is a local church or sponsoring group in the city the mission is going to that helps to coordinate the work the missionaries will be doing, and can sometimes provide or assist with getting housing or food for the group. On that particular trip, there was a small local college that didn’t run summer classes, and offered to let us stay in their dorms for the week we were there. I do not know the details of that arrangement, though, to tell you if it was “donated” to us, or our church paid them something for it. We did pay for our own food most of the week; the rest was the odd potluck meal that a local group was kind enough to sponsor.

Our group raised the money to go by doing fundraisers or funding our costs ourselves (i.e. savings, summer job earnings, mowing lawns, whatever). I had never heard of sponsor letters, or asking anyone to help with costs on either end until the last few years.

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Wendy March 29, 2011 at 9:11 am

I just want to add my own two cents. :o) I have mixed feelings and I guess it depends on the people and the trip. I have a cousin who, until he was in a very bad car accident, was a star soccer player at his college. Every time they were to go to a special event we got a letter asking for support. While I admire his abilities, I wasn’t very happy with the letters. To me, soccer tournaments are not really life-changing events in a fundamental way.

However, I have another set of cousins from another part of the family (they’re the kids of a brother and sister) who have recently been doing the mission trip thing. Two of the kids went to India and Pakistan. We knew they didn’t have a lot of money and were happy to give a little to help them along. As a result, when they got home we got a 4-5 page letter telling us of their trip, what they learned, how it affected them…and pictures! One of the girls and her father went to the Ukraine…they have even less money than the others. We also helped send them (and the girl again two years later). They were upfront about other fund raising they were doing in their churches but asked if we could help a little. They were only asking friends and family outside of the church who were also believers…which seems much more appropriate.

In our church, when we’ve sent anyone overseas for short term mission trips, the announcement is made that they are going and if someone feels led to give, they can. Usually then we also help organize fundraisers for them as well.

Sending letters to everyone on your Christmas card list is just in poor taste. If you must raise funds, if you can’t pay for it all yourself, then just send letters to those you know are most likely to support your dream.

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