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July 14, 2011

Letters to Potential Donors of Mission Trips

Wording is more important than you might think.

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In the excitement of planning a mission trip, it’s possible to overlook the importance of carefully worded support letters that meet IRS guidance. The IRS indicates what would be helpful to include in letters requesting charitable contributions, according to Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

Busby co-hosted a webinar late last month that included a discussion on the importance of the wording in these letters. The IRS says the following elements, clearly stated in fundraising letters, meet its guidance:

  1. The trip is church-sponsored;
  2. Ministry will be performed on the trip;
  3. Gifts are preferenced for the individual’s trip expenses. (Leadership Journal further examines the question of designated gifts for short-term missions trips in the article “Tripped Up”);
  4. The church will exercise discretion and control over the funds (which implies that there are no refunds to donors if the individual doesn’t go).

Although unlikely, church mission trips may be canceled; therefore, it is good to mention in the letter what will happen to the donated money in that situation.

Churches also should say that extra donations will go to the church’s overall mission fund, says Samantha Cave, who also participated in the ECFA webinar and manages the financial and logistical aspects of her church’s short-term mission ministry. This extra money then can be used for a contingency.

For instance, a team from Cave’s church was serving in Haiti when disaster struck. She was able to use money from that fund to help mission trip participants during that time.

For more information on properly handling mission finances, you can purchase a recording of the webinar mentioned in this article. ChurchSafety.com also offers information on safe and legal fundraising.

Michelle Dowell is the editorial coordinator for the Church Management Team at Christianity Today International.

Related Tags: administration, Budget, Communication, contributions, donations, donors, finance, fundraising, mission trip, tax

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