One of the most fruitful areas your ministry can invest time and energy in is philanthropy development—building relationships with major donors in your community. The effort that you put into these influential and affluent individuals will make a huge difference to your organization. Being intentional about developing those relationships is a key piece to your capacity building activities.
Marketplace leaders and philanthropists are involved in giving significant funding to ministries and to nonprofits. Their lives are rooted in the business and professional realms, so they usually have broad reach into the community. They can bring a lot of resources to your organization, which can ultimately play a big role in building capacity for your enterprise.
Now, I’m not in any way suggesting that we go and develop major donors just for the sake of getting big checks. But the depth and breadth of those relationships that they bring to the table can help you, from fundraising events to developing your board to helping you get in contact with media outlets to tell your story.
A church in Pennsylvania spent $3000 to air a year’s worth of professionally produced TV spots on their county’s cable network. During that entire year, the church only got two phone calls in response to the ads—one to complain about the content and the other to ask what Bible translation they used.
Why did this well-produced marketing effort fail? Geography was a big part of it. Even though the spots aired throughout the county, the vast majority of the population lived much too far away to consider attending the church—a detail that was overlooked in the excitement of planning.
Marketing efforts often are begun with hopeful anticipation of great results. Then later, when the results are measured, there’s disappointment and frustration at the meager return on the organization’s marketing investment.
What goes wrong? Why does the marketing of a business or nonprofit so often fall short? Here are three possibilities:
Business consultant Art Ritter has said, “Different groups in our general population respond differently to TV advertising, radio advertising, or newspaper advertising. Generational marketing has shown that if you put an ad in the newspaper, one sort of demographic will respond to it. If you send a text to a large number of people with cell phones, a different part of the population will respond to it. If you use the wrong media channel for your message, you’re going to miss the kind of people you’re trying to talk to. Failure to understand this leads to disappointment. Disappointment leads to either trying to do it again harder or just giving up and not doing it at all. Neither one of those is the right outcome.”
Match your media to your intended audience.
Your expectations may be unrealistic
Like that church in Pennsylvania, ministries can often have unrealistic expectations about what their marketing efforts will accomplish. “I find that organizations have some unrealistic expectations of any kind of communication with the general public,” says Art Ritter. “With direct mail, if you get a 1% response, and by that I mean just a ‘Huh, what’s this?’ kind of response that you can measure out of a direct mail campaign, you’re doing really good. If you get a 2% response, you are king of the hill. So you’re going send out an awful lot of postcards to get one person to come through your door.”
It’s worth taking the time to research the effectiveness of various types of marketing. That will help you to not set your expectations too high.
You may be neglecting to build relationships
Though leaders may sense that it’s important to make relationship-building a priority, the tendency when it comes to building a ministry or nonprofit is to either do marketing or build relationships. And what we tend to do, quite frankly, is to fall back onto marketing when we haven’t done the relational piece. And it isn’t going to work. When we haven’t done that stewardship-of-relationships piece, it isn’t going to work.
I’ve heard it many times. The board looks at the director or the pastor and says, “Our giving is down.” He or she responds, “I know; I have to get the newsletter out.” What they’re saying is, “I have to get the advertising out”—I have to do some more marketing—instead of realizing that they have not put their attention toward the stewardship of relationships.
The natural process of stewardship is one-on-one, building relationships and growing those relationships over time, and growing relationships upon relationships over time, so that there’s such a trust level that folks are giving naturally, they are volunteering naturally, and they want to support the effort or the vision naturally.
The question for you is, how could your ministries measurements better facilitate achieving your ministry's mission? We can talk briefly about the fact that if you want to lead effectively and strategically, you will have to take wise risks. This is a tough one for a lot of places, but you cannot choose the best course of action unless you consider all the alternatives, the pros and cons of each one. Wise decision-making isn't about what seems right at that moment. It's about taking into account the bigger picture. Keep in mind, too, that you'll have to constantly gather enough relevant information to continually make good decisions. In that process realize that you can never eliminate risk no matter what the strategic leaders tell you. You can't eliminate it. You can minimize it. You can reduce it. You'll always have some risk, but taking risks is part of leading. In fact, it's one of the e most significant things that leaders do. See, a leader has to push people to take reasonable risks. People want the safe route. They want the routine. They want things that aren't going to be painful or cost them anything. Yet, when you pursue that path you never make progress. You’ve got to take some risks and it's the leader's job to convince them to take those kinds of risks. In fact, I'd suggest that, in a way, a leaders legacy is determined by how he or she has helped the ministry to manage risk. They need to be held accountable for those choices that they've made.
You can be reckless and undermine the ministry in this process, just as significantly as you can if you cause the ministry not to take any risks. So that accountability is an important part of the factoring. But I would ask you, what was the last significant risk your ministry took and how well did that decision serve your ministry? Finally, we can talk about the fact that if you want to be a great strategic leader, you're going to have to push your people to make productive mistakes. You probably haven't heard too many people say that it's important as a leader to cause your people to make mistakes, and you want to do this with the right mindset, of course. Great strategists always make mistakes. Sometimes great strategists lose the battle but they almost never lose the war because of how they deal with their mistakes. See, what we find is that if you retain the big picture, you put it in perspective. Ultimately you learn valuable lessons from each mistake. Great organizations have leaders who expect their people to make mistakes. I'm shocked when I work with organizations where the leader is surprised when their people make mistakes. This is part of how we grow. I guarantee that if you're not making mistakes, you're not moving forward. You've got to be looking for these mistakes.
Twila Tharp, who is a world-famous choreographer, said a quote that I thought related to this very well. She said, "If you only do what you know and you do it very, very well, chances are you won't fail. Instead you'll just stagnate. Your work will get less and less interesting, and that's failure by erosion." True failure is a mark of accomplishment in the sense that something new and different was tried. See, what makes a person a great leader is when that new and different something was tried, you learn from it and then you build on that. What you'll find is that every great organization makes tons of mistakes. Dale Carnegie said it well when he said, "If you must make a mistake, make a new one each time." I think that's a great way to think about it. The problem with failure is not making mistakes; it's repeating them. So if you learn from your mistakes, that's a good thing. I would ask you, in your organization what's the culture? Do you have to hide the fact that you've made errors? Or is it a culture where you can be up front about the error and say, "Now look at what this teaches us. Everyone needs to understand this so that we can all grow from this." It's important that we have this mentality that every day what we want to do is identify our mistakes and grow from them. The question for your organization is what mistakes did your ministry make last week that facilitate progress in your ministry this week? You ought to be able to put your fingerprint right on those things. Just by way of closing let me tell you that successful organizations behave strategically because they think strategically. Always keep in mind that you do what you believe. Your actions follow what you believe, what you think is right, what you think is worthy. Successful organizations behave strategically because they're compelled by God's vision. They're committed to God's values. They've contextualized all the activity that they're engaged in relating it back to the vision. They've considered all the possible courses of action and calculated the risks and rewards. They've chosen the optimal outcome and therefore are capable of extraordinary performance because they've done their homework. They've made their mistakes and learned their lessons. They've worked together in partnership and they've done what they believed God called them to do in pursuit of that vision. When you've got that kind of an organization you're going to go places.
This is in fact a time of great turbulence, but because of that very turbulence it's a time of unparalleled opportunity for those who think strategically. So I want to know: how strategic is your organization today? Thanks for listening. END of Series - Please make your replies below
I could go on and on, but really, the question for you is: what are the key assumptions that your ministry is basing its activity upon and how do those assumptions affect your performance? Another critical dimension in leadership is the whole issue of "you get what you measure". This makes sense for me because what we do is measure. I understand that measurement isn't easy. A lot of people don't do it because when you do good measurement it might provide embarrassing results, and it does consume valuable resources. You need to understand, though, that what you measure is important for several reasons, not the least of which is what you measure identifies what you consider to be success. People are not going to measure stuff that doesn't matter to them. So what you measure really does determine what you consider success to be. Measurement is important because without some kind of objective measures, people don't have any reason to change. As a leader you are a change agent. You're trying to get people to become better people. You're trying to get the world to be a better world through what you do in the lives of people. You're trying to see transformation transpire. You've got to give people a reason to change and often it will be these kinds of objective measure that facilitate that. Understand that, in order to do that, you have to define success in measurable and meaningful terms, and it needs to always be tied back to the vision. But see, a lot of times what we do is verbalize one definition of success, but then we measure something very different.
A great example of this -- and again, I'm not here just to whack on churches -- but we all know churches and are involved in churches. We all hope the best and want the best for our churches. That's why it's a useful example. Again, based on national research that we've done in the past around the country, we found that churches are part of this issue where we talk about one measure of success but we measure something very different. What do churches identify as success in terms of what they measure? These five things: we asked senior pastors how they determined whether or not their church was successful, and these were the five things that came out from most pastors.
Now, you know what? Those are viable things to measure. There's only one problem with this. Jesus didn't die for any of this. This is not a profile of transformation. This is a profile of organization building. The only reason we as a church should be building an organization is to facilitate transformation, and frankly, this stuff is getting in the way. What's happened is the people in charge are looking at this and saying, "If the numbers are bigger this year than they were last year on any of these dimensions, we're successful. Hallelujah." The reality is that Jesus did not die to put butts in seats in a building. Jesus didn't die so that he could raise up a [group] of professionals that we call pastors. Jesus didn't die so that we could keep the construction industry in business. That's not what it's about, but that's what we measure.
So why do we keep getting bad results? Why don't we see Christianity changing the world from this country? Because this is what we've said success means. You do what you think breeds success. So we try to get more people and build more buildings and try to hire more staff and have additional programs and so on and so forth. We've missed the boat. You get what you measure. It's important that we realize that the only thing worse than no measurement is bad measurement. Now we can point to numbers and say, "Look! We're bigger than we used to be." So what? Jesus didn't come for all of that. He came to change hearts and through changed hearts, changed lives. Through changed lives change the world. Good measurement and analysis and response come from cultures that esteem truth about reality. That means you've got to integrate this measurement process into the very fabric of what y our ministry is all about. This isn't an add-on where you bring in a consultant every five years. This needs to be part of the very blood flow of how your organism survives. It means that you're going to have to have somebody on the inside who's a champion of this process to make sure that we never forget it and we don't ignore it. It means having good analysis of the information that you come up with, and just as importantly, willingness to change behavior when the measurements merit such change. Not sweeping it under the rug and saying, "Well that's not good news, is it? Let's put that in the closet."
You want to have impact? The greatest impact is among children. We have an abundance of research to demonstrate that reality, but our churches don't invest in children. Our churches use children as bait to bring in the adults because that's who they think they're really going to impact. Another assumption: there's the idea that if you're trying to raise money for the church it depends on the senior pastor successfully explaining the full ministry plan for the church to the congregation, and then asking that congregation to give generously. That's the great prevailing myth out there. What we've found is that actually doesn't work. People don't give to the totality of a church's ministry; they give to one or two hot buttons that get them really excited. They don't give a rip about the comprehensive plan for the ministry. What they want to know is what are you doing about this one area that I care so passionately about? They want to know how that relates to the vision, they want to know the impact of the ministry, they want to know levels of efficiency... They want to see that an urgent need that they care about is being dealt with. That's when they give.
Another assumptions is that the best form of evangelism, the best evangelistic strategy, is to bring non-Christian people to the weekend worship service. Isn't that the main strategy most churches use? Yet, I've got to ask, haven't they done any research? Almost no one comes to Christ by going to a church service. What we find is that evangelistically, the most effective strategy is to build relationships with those people outside of any organized religious activity, and love them into the kingdom. Eventually that may mean bringing them to church, but we find that church events have a very limited impact on whether or not they accept Christ.
Another assumption is that if you want to increase the ministry impact at your church, you need to hire more staff so you can get more done. We did some interesting research on this and actually found that mindset breeds complacency and dependency on part of the laity. The idea becomes, "Great! They've got full-time professionals who'll do it, so I'm off the hook." So you actually are worse off by hiring more staff.
We did some targeted studies related to evangelism and discipleship. We found that there was absolutely no correlation between effective evangelism/discipleship and the staff size. Another assumption is that most people in America believe the Bible is true, but don't know how to apply it. That's actually not the case, although most people will tell you that they do believe the Bible is generally true. When you start to break that down into what they believe and what that means to them, you find, for instance, 3/4 of all church people in America would say there is no such thing as absolute moral truth. Not even in the Bible. So how can they believe all the stuff that's in there? You know, the fact that they believe that the Bible isn't really, completely accurate in all it teaches, and that why they handpick the scriptures they want to pay attention to.
Another assumption is that once a church exists, it should never be closed. What an admission of failure that would be. The reality is every organization has a life cycle. There will be times when the church has done its mission; it's done what it was put on earth to do, and the most appropriate act of ministry and stewardship and transformation is to close the doors, and release those people and related resources to be used elsewhere, and to do what they need to do. It's not an admission of failure.
Another assumption is that non-Christians are interested in talking about salvation. We have this idea of training people to have these conversations about salvation issues with people. It's good for people to know what they believe and why they believe it and be able to answer questions and engage in those conversations, but please keep in mind that most Americans who are not Christian, they think they've got salvation figured out. There is no burning question in their mind. The vast majority of them, more than 80% of the non-Christians in this country already think they're going to heaven, so they don't see what the big deal is and why you would take up their time and energy talking about it. Continues next week in Part Six
These are just a few of the things that are happening now that you need to be preparing for, and if you don't, you're going to be taken by surprise and you'll be hurt by it. What emerging trends will affect your business and allow your ministry to grow? Have you identified them and what are you doing about them? So the fourth dimension we should talk about. What emerging trends will affect your business and allow your ministry to grow? Have you identified them and what are you doing about them? So the fourth dimension we can talk about is that it is important to identify and challenge your assumptions. Everyone in this room works in a ministry that has assumptions. You have empirical data at your disposal, no doubt, but you also make a lot of your decisions based on assumptions. Now, assumptions aren't necessarily bad. Sometimes what they do is they fill in the gaps between what we know and what we don't know. That's important to be able to get us from where we are to where we want to go. But if your assumptions are wrong, your choices are going to be wrong. What are the assumptions that are the most critical to determining what you're doing in your ministry? We work with churches. Let me share some of the assumptions that most of the churches we've worked with have made over the years. One of those, for instance, is that the greatest ministry impact they have will be achieved by reaching adults. The reality is that most adults are like dried cement; nothing's going to change. You can chip away at it here and there, but you're not going to reshape it. Continues next week in Part Five
So the principle that I'd like you to think about is that great leaders understand the past. They study it. They appreciate it. They get it. They lead in the present, but their head is in the future. They're always thinking about what's to come and preparing for that. What are you anticipating now that's going to impact your ministry five years from now? This is a vital part of what we do at the Barna Group. Just a couple of weeks ago we had a meeting --we do this regularly-- where we identify what we think are the emerging trends. We give everyone a list of fifty emerging trends that I think are going to change the world in the next five to ten years. So you need to be doing the very same thing. When was the last time that you all sat down inside your organization to have a meeting about what the ten trends are that are going to impact the way that we do our ministry. You need to do that. Things like, for instance, what difference does it make to you that within the next ten years there's going to be a continued expansion of not only the Christian population in America, but also the non-Christian population. The two fastest growing groups will be the skeptics and the Muslims. What difference does it make to you that there will be increasing intolerance of any kind of absolute moral, spiritual or lifestyle perspectives that come from a faith-based organization. What difference does it make to you in your organization that Christian families are going to be less safe and experience less joy living in this country simply because of their beliefs? What difference does it make to you that the center of Christian leadership in the world is right this moment shifting out of America and into China and India? What difference does it make to you that there are intentional Christian communities around the country and a number of those intentional Christian communities, small groups of people who moved out of their comfortable suburban, urban or rural setting into decrepit areas because they want to minister to hurting people. Two, three, five, ten or fifteen families giving up everything they have to go into those areas and BE the church. The fact that that's growing, what does that say to you about what you're doing in your ministry? What does it say to you that we're also seeing a group of young Christians who are growing up in this country who are not so much talking about what they don't believe and what they don't accept, but they're talking mostly about what they support. That's a very different orientation that what we've had within the last 25 years in the Christian culture in America. Continues next week in Part Four