Our Future Now

I often watch “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” (episodes taped 1973-1992) on AntennaTV. It’s fascinating to hear people talk about their experiences and their plans from my vantage point 40 years in their future.

Last night (taped in 1978), twelve-year-old Tracee Talavera talked about her life-long preparation to compete as a gymnast in the 1980 Olympics. My perspective was very different from that of the live audience. I knew her big opportunity would be preempted by the US boycott. They cheered; I felt sad. She beamed; I winced.

Tracee would later go on to win team silver in the 1984 games. She became very active in US Olympic gymnastics as a coach, mentor, and selection committee. She also was inducted into the US gymnastics hall of fame.

Later, Tracee would be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

So, what would I have told her if I had this 40-year foreknowledge and lived within her sphere? How would I encourage her to train hard, pursue excellence, persevere, and respond to the setbacks I foresee? This must be a glimpse into God’s daily experience with me (and you) as we live and make plans.

This makes me want to cherish each day and live fully in the present as much as possible. Today is a gift; tomorrow holds no guarantees.

Live well and love well, my friends!

Online Donor Dynamic #1: The Need for Continuity

Online Donor Dynamic #1: The Need for Continuity

Our brains are wired for continuity. We naturally seek–and find–patterns everywhere to make sense of our world.

Landing on a donation page that bears little resemblance to the appeal page is very jarring to users. They question the validity of the sudden transition and will likely abandon the giving process.

After an Internet user clicks a link and then lands on another page, they (we) ask three quick questions:

Continue reading “Online Donor Dynamic #1: The Need for Continuity”

The Jesse Duplantis Missionary Endowment Calculator

So, Jesse Duplantis thinks that a $54,000,000 donation toward his private jet would be a good investment in missions.

Use this Excel worksheet to plug in your own figures and see if he’s right.

He reasoned that “if Jesus was physically on the earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey.” The private jet is his missions strategy. “All it’s gonna do is it’s going to touch people, it’s going to reach people, it’s going to change lives one soul at a time.”

(This is just one of many reasons he can’t–or, more accurately, won’t–submit to ECFA standards of responsible stewardship.)

Continue reading “The Jesse Duplantis Missionary Endowment Calculator”

An Evangelical Renaissance of Social Justice

Help

Social action has enjoyed a kind of renaissance among evangelicals lately.

This activity would include helping the poor, advocating for the oppressed, defending the helpless, reforming a secular institution, and other worthwhile causes.

According to recent research, evangelical churches have become increasingly involved in issues of social justice.[1] Nearly 68 percent of younger evangelical Christians affirm that the best way to address social evils is to “practice your ideals in everyday life.”[2] They increasingly see the church as a counterculture, whose mission is neither to integrate itself with culture nor baptize culture, but to become a mission to culture, “calling people to come under the reign of God through Jesus Christ.”[3]

These surveys demonstrate that younger evangelical Christians consistently oppose abortion like their forebears, but refuse to engage in cultural warfare or partisan politics. Instead, they eagerly “employ their faith publicly to fight against global poverty and sex trafficking or for creation care and immigration reform.”[4] Consequently, a New York Times opinion columnist labels this younger generation of evangelicals the “new internationalists.”[5]

This renaissance of social action isn’t limited to the young, however. For every one dollar given by evangelicals to political organizations, the same group has invested twelve dollars in foreign missions and international aid. Six of the seven largest evangelical mission organizations have relief and development as their primary focus.[6] Furthermore, the “missional church movement” sees social action as a natural expression of the church, at least on a local level.

Continue reading “An Evangelical Renaissance of Social Justice”

Are We Turning Our Donors and Volunteers into Quitters?

Are We Turning Our Donors and Volunteers into Quitters?

According to multiple studies, 50 – 70 percent of online donation attempts end before completion.

In other words, thousands of people click the “Donate” button—saying “yes” to our value propositions, agreeing to support the people we serve—only to quit before completing the transaction.

At the risk of belaboring the point, let’s put “donation abandonment” into real-world context. We have poured precious resources—money, time, and creativity—into finding likeminded donors and volunteers, convincing them to view our Web site, and inspiring them to help the people we serve.

Potential donors then click the “Donate” button, saying in effect, “Yes! I want to share a portion of my wealth to help others through your organization. I believe in what you’re doing!” Then, at some point during the donation process, more than half of them change their minds, close the page, and do something else.

Continue reading “Are We Turning Our Donors and Volunteers into Quitters?”

Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?

Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?

In the article, “We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?”, we examined the child sponsorship model used by World Vision and Compassion International, and considered a key principle that drives the strategy: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

As we continue our focus on building a strong tribe of satisfied donors and volunteers, and examine what makes the child sponsorship model work so well, a second principle emerges.

Principle 2:  Problems urge donations; results inspire activists.

A compelling presentation of the problem your organization addresses will trigger a response from a percentage of any group you address. So—according to some marketing firms—we increase funding by targeting a specific segment of the general population (to keep production costs down) and then seek to maximize response by communicating our problem-solution program with the right blend of pathos and logic.

To be fair, the approach works, especially for older constituents who tend to be motivated by a sense of duty. Sad eyes, dirty clothes, and flies-on-the-face images do, indeed, prompt donations.

Once while visiting an African village, I asked a child’s mother for permission to photograph her daughter. She saw a white man with a camera representing a humanitarian organization, so she instructed her little girl, “Push out your stomach and look sad.” She was well aware of problem-solution marketing and simply wanted to be helpful.

While the problem-solution approach can be effective, it’s an exhausting treadmill. It requires relentless focus on finding new audiences to replace individuals who grow tired of urgent appeals. It calls for a constant refining of the problem-solution message to increase the percentage of donor response. And then there’s the challenge of prompting first-time donors to give again, or become regular supporters. So, the question becomes, “How can we restate our problem-solution message differently with each appeal?”

Continue reading “Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?”

We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?

We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?

Anyone who gives time or money to a charity does so with the expectation of satisfaction.

That’s not to suggest their motives are selfish. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Donors and volunteers simply want to know that their time or money has been invested wisely, and that our organization has helped them make a difference in the world.

That is, after all, the promise we make in our value proposition. (Assuming, of course, our value proposition is clear and compelling.)

This isn’t new information. Every leader in non-profit organizations I’ve encountered understands this at an instinctive level. Unfortunately, the concept of donor satisfaction rarely finds its way into the marketing or donor development activities of charities, and almost completely overlooked on the ministry side of their operations.

For-profit organizations live or die by customer/client satisfaction. In the non-profit world, satisfied donors and volunteers do two very important things: they donate or volunteer again, and they tell other people about our wonderful organization. And that’s the key to maintaining financial stability while cultivating steady growth.

Many charities eagerly devote precious resources to acquire new donors and volunteers, yet give little thought to making donating and volunteering a satisfying experience.

Seasoned leaders, however, understand that the key metric in organizational growth is not new name acquisition or even first-time donations, but consistent re-engagement. Astute leaders understand that ministry operations and donor development are not two separate functions, but interdependent teams that share a symbiotic relationship.

Continue reading “We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?”

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

It’s been several months coming, but last week I made it official. I’m beginning the next leg of my vocational journey. My final day at Global Aid Network (GAIN) will be June 16, 2017.

I first joined GAIN in 2014, primarily for the purpose of establishing a new marketing and communications department. The new president, Al Goff, had set a new direction for the ministry and understood the importance of messaging, which requires a certain professional discipline to be successful. I had hoped to complete the task in five years and, in the meantime, find a bona fide marketing professional to take the reins permanently. Alas, the timing of blessings is rarely in our control. GAIN found a very capable leader in Michelle Oney, formerly with the Josh McDowell Ministry, and the department now runs smoothly with her guidance.

I leave with few regrets. Much of what I was building was still in the chaotic throes of development and I don’t like leaving things undone, but that does not appear to have caused many problems. Mostly I leave with a sense of satisfaction, and much of that because of the team God assembled during my tenure.

Kim Davis was the zig to my zag, often counterbalancing my weaknesses with her steadfast “git-er-dun” determination. Ever mindful of the heart, she never let tasks become more important than the people doing them. She takes the job seriously yet always finds ways to make work fun.

Lara Strain brings to the organization an unassuming intelligence and wide-ranging skillset that GAIN is just beginning to discover. The challenge will be to find mentors she won’t quickly outgrow and challenges that bring out her amazing potential.

Joshua (Jam) Robinson brings to video production an innate sense of timing, style, and voice that cannot be taught, only discovered. Meeting Jam was like finding a magic genie. I learned quickly to trust his instincts, keep direction high-level, and stay out of his way.

Jason Cress holds great promise for the future of GAIN and Cru; he’s clearly destined for a great challenge. His natural curiosity, his ability to learn, his focused work ethic, and his easy-going way with peers will make him a strong leader as seasoning works its magic in him.

MaryBeth Berry knows far more than she lets on. Her affable, self-effacing demeanor masks many years of experience. I soon discovered that her gentle suggestions carry weight; ignore them, and you have only yourself to blame for the egg on your face.

Kerry Olson is among those people who are too easily overlooked because they don’t wear their competencies like merit badges. She’s amazingly astute. And when she completes a task, there’s no fanfare; it simply gets done.

Leaving Global Aid Network is bitter-sweet, but it’s the right path forward for me. Over the Christmas holidays, I took time to do some crucial self-assessment, to determine who God made me and what kind of work will keep me excited for the next forty years. While marketing and communications had been my role the past five or six years, I always understood it to be a season, a valuable part of my preparation for something yet-future. Now, I take a conscious step toward that destiny.

As I set course for that future—that frontier we must all explore—I do so with peace-filled confidence, knowing that God has already ordained my days (Psalm 139:16). I pray He now orders my steps (Psalm 119:133).

 

Navel-Gazing Done Right

Navel-Gazing Done Right

I remember when my first child discovered her belly button. Having recently learned to sit up on her own, she looked down, and found this funny-looking hole in her tummy. Thus began her journey of self-discovery.

Our evangelical tradition correctly warns us that focusing on self can lead to all sorts of problems. An egocentric worldview inevitably leads to pride, self-aggrandizement, lack of empathy, and other neuroses. Unfortunately, we have taken this subjugation of self to unhealthy extremes.

Some calvinistic traditions have even turned self-hatred into a core spiritual discipline.

I grew up in a healthy home with a well-adjusted family, but it was considered downright tacky to think about oneself or talk about oneself, unless it was to identify the motivation behind wrongdoing or failure.

So, the words of Chuck Swindoll felt like a cool breeze on a stifling day when he wrote,

No one needs to hear these words more that parents in the process of rearing little children. The impact they have on a child under the age of ten is profound. These vital, fundamental words are important at any age but critical to little ones. Here they are: Know who you are, accept who you are, be who you are.[1]

True humility begins with an accurate and realistic view of self—strengths and weaknesses, darkness and light—and then making the conscious choice to regard others as more important. Without an honest assessment of self, true humility will prove elusive, as pride continually seeks to fill that vacancy.

During the season I have called my crossroads moment, I have been forced to do some honest self-assessment—something I should have been led to do as an adolescent. Parker J. Palmer’s work, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Josey-Bass, 2000), has been an invaluable help.

In this dense little volume, he encourages readers to rediscover our “birthright gifts,” those innate abilities and interests that have always been with us. They offer clues to who God made us, what makes us uniquely special. This, in turn, points to what we should be doing as a vocation.

When I spent a few weeks reminiscing with myself and others who know me well, I discovered a number of birthright gifts. One day, I felt ready to list them out on a whiteboard to see what picture these puzzle pieces might form. What emerged resonated as true and filled me with a sense of calm.

 

my-vocational-puzzle-pieces

I now know that I will find most satisfaction and achieve greatest success in any vocation, any job, that incorporates these innate abilities and acquired skills. And the relationship is proportional. The more natural ability I can apply, the more everyone benefits: the agency I advance, the people I serve, the people who love me, and myself.

I encourage you to do some reminiscing. What stories from your past reveal natural abilities and interests? Are you trying to “do what you ought” or are you being who you are?

 

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Parenting: From Surviving to Thriving (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008), 63.

Active Listening

Active Listening

Listening to God calls for a cessation of normal activity, but it is not a time to remain idle. Our posture must be submissive, while leaning forward.

In my first semester at Dallas Theological Seminary, the list of classes included “Bible Study Methods,” then taught by “Prof” Howard Hendricks. His had been one of several names that graced the shelves of my father’s library, so I was excited to learn firsthand from this master of teaching.

I routinely arrived for class thirty minutes early to be first at the classroom doors. As the previous class dismissed, I would slip in, make my way to the front along the side wall, and wait for a front-row-center desk to open up. And Lord help anyone who happened to get between me and that desk! I was more aggressive than an Evangelical in a church parking lot!

We’re more likely to hear from God when we place ourselves in an optimal position. Front-row-center, no distractions, pen and paper in hand, well-rested, and leaning forward.

Having ceased normal activity for a time, here is what I have been doing to make this unscheduled Sabbath “solemn,” to give my rest purpose.

First, I repented of my sins and made certain my primary relationships were clean and clear of unresolved conflict (Matthew 5:23–24; 1 Peter 3:7).

Second, I began a daily Scripture-reading program. When I most need to hear the Lord, I gravitate to the Gospels. There’s just something soothing and clarifying about hearing the words of Jesus and observing His actions.

Third, I called upon several faithful friends to pray for me as I sought direction from the Lord.

Fourth, I began reading books that relate to the issues at hand: identity, calling, and vocation.

Fifth, because my particular circumstance involves a reevaluation of my identity and calling, I reviewed some old personality assessments and took some new ones.

Finally, because creativity makes my brain work better, I began indulging some random creative whims:

I resurrected this blog (as a more personally satisfying alternative to journaling) and relaunched the Redemptive Divorce Web site.

I created the “Jesus-Actual” Social Media and Web Site.

I conducted a Christian Leadership Alliance Workshop.

I led a Christian Leadership Alliance Webinar (now accessible to CLA Members only).

These activities, combined with lots of conversation with loved ones and lots of alone time with God, will hopefully put me in front-row-center desk, where I can hear the Master’s instruction.

I don’t hear from God in secret instructions or circumstantial signs. Instead, the Holy Spirit reorders the chaos in my head to create clarity.

His leading usually points to a next step that’s undeniable. It may not be easy or comfortable, and it may run contrary to conventional wisdom, but it becomes unmistakable as a moral imperative.

It’s a next action that resonates as “right” deep down in that serene place of knowing that gives me peace when I move toward it and fills me with disquiet when I back away.

How do you position yourself to hear from God? What works best for you?