Q: What is your background with The Navigators?
A: I joined The Navigators as a single man in 1962 as an assistant to Leroy Eims. Marilyn and I married in 1964 and went to our first assignment at Indiana University. Two years later, we were asked to open the work at Michigan State where we served for two years before moving to the Middle East in 1968. We lived overseas until 1990, and then we served as regional leaders for the Middle East until 2003. We now assist the Navigator Middle East leaders as requested. We’re in our 50th year with The Navigators!
Q: Have you raised personal support all these years?
A: Yes, although I’d say we “prayed in” support rather than “raised” support in the early years. We didn’t know how to do otherwise then. When we left for our first assignment, we had just $50 a month coming in. Those were lean times. Once we invited a guest speaker from out of town to a Navigator meeting. He stayed in our home, and that month we prayed for enough money to come in to turn on the gas for the hot water tank so our guest could take a hot shower.
Those early years were important to us, however, in building relationships. The four years we ministered on campus provided the foundational relationships for the financial support we needed to minister overseas. Some of the supporters who joined our support team in the ‘60s still support us today!
As our team has “matured” and their financial situations have changed, some of these long-timers have started giving annually instead of monthly. But we’ve cultivated a team of loyal ministry partners during these 50 years, and they stick with us and are excited to participate in God’s work.
Q: Is that why you started writing year-end funding letters—to honor the preference of your ministry team?
A: That was part of the reason, but there are two others. First, when we left the Middle East in 1990, our Navigator leader urged us to send a funding letter to help with moving expenses, but more importantly, to help us raise funds for the ongoing work in the Middle East. Since 1990, sending a year-end appeal letter has been an important part of our overall funding strategy. God has used the letters awesomely to provide for His work.
Second, very practically, the government gives citizens tax benefits for charitable giving. At the end of the year, people evaluate their personal finances and ask, Do I give my money to the government or to people doing God’s work? They’re straightening up their own personal economy and simultaneously giving to God. The government may not always allow tax benefits for charitable contributions, but while it still does, many people give with this thought in the background. We offer them a place to give.
Q: What have you learned about year-end letters in the twenty years you’ve mailed them?
A: Writing year-end letters is a spiritual experience. I feel dependent upon God as I write the letter. I pray and write, pray and rewrite—until I’ve written about 18 drafts! I desperately want to reflect God’s heart for His people in the letter. I don’t write from the perspective of “here’s how much I need.” Rather, I want people to feel they’re a part of God’s work. I always ask the Spirit to guide me as I write.
I also wait on God for people’s response. People do respond! I’m astounded each year by the generosity. But God—not my writing—moves their hearts to give. Often, people who seemingly have the least to give, give the most. I’m always surprised at how God does this.
Ministry stories are essential. Stories that touch people’s hearts—not facts—are essential to an effective letter.
Follow the guidelines for success. Early on, we were advised to incorporate best practices, such as personally signing each letter, writing personal notes on many, including stories, editing, etc. We’ve always made sure we follow the “rules” of writing.
Q: You’ve said God generously blesses your ministry through year-end letters. Besides writing and mailing the letter, what do you see as your role in this process?
A: Regular communication. The year-end appeal is the final step in an entire year of regular communication. I don’t simply mail a year-end appeal and expect people to give. By the time they receive my letter in November, they’ve already heard from me numerous times during the year. I send quarterly newsletters; I phone, write, and visit; give small gifts; etc. to all my ministry partners. They are partners, and I treat them as such. They hear from us regularly—they don’t just receive a request for funds in November. Regular communication boosts monthly support too.
Personal thanks. I hand-write a thank-you note for every gift that comes from the year-end appeal. Every gift is important—whether it’s $2 or $10,000. The day the gift comes in, I record it and put a thank-you in the mail. This takes time (and gifts sometimes still arrive in May!), but thanking people isn’t optional.
Q: What would you say to staff who are “on the fence” about sending a year-end appeal?
A: If their hesitation is that so many others send appeal letters or that year-end letters don’t really work, I’d challenge them to take their eyes off man and look to God. He is our source. God does a lot of faith-work in me each year as I send the letter, and He provides marvelously for our ministry through it. Again, it’s not the letter that generates funds; it’s the God behind the letter, the God working through my ministry, the God touching people’s hearts to give. I’d encourage staff to let God orchestrate the miraculous for them, too.
Editor’s note: If you’d like to see the “guidelines” for writing a year-end letter or sample letters, please visit www.navigatormpd.org (login: navigators, password: navigators). If you’d like someone to edit your letter or offer feedback, please email your letter as a Word document to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Allow 48-72 hours for a response.)
Bob and Marilyn Vidano, NavMissions, Middle East Region, Colorado Springs
Contact Bob and Marilyn by email at email@example.com.