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.

While this renaissance represents a positive shift in evangelical practice, some evangelicals find themselves struggling to reconcile social action with what they have come to accept as sound theology. Sadly, their theology suffers undue influence of events that took place more than a century ago, namely, the rise of the “Social Gospel” (a formalized, anti-evangelical movement) and its counter-revolution, what David O. Moberg calls “the Great Reversal.”[7]

For the past six years, or so, I have been on a personal, theological, vocational, and academic journey toward a better understanding our role, as believers, in “social action,” “social justice,” “compassion ministry,” “humanitarian aid” . . . whatever terms apply.
I also hope to understand better the reason evangelicals retreated from this arena, why some remain on the sidelines, why many more have become personally engaged, and how we can pursue social action without repeating mistakes of the past.
I will present my first paper on this subject at the 2018 meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society (South Central Region) on April 7. (https://www.emsweb.org/regions/south-central)
I invite you to join me and others interested in missions at the campus of the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics and College of International Studies (GIALhere. (Don’t let the name scare you; everyone there is down-to-earth and it’s a lovely campus.)
_______________________________________

 

[1] Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites . . . and Other Lies You’ve Been Told (Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse, 2010), 37.

[2] Ibid., 49.

[3] Robert C. Webber, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002), 132.

[4] David King, “The New Internationalists: World Vision and the Revival of American Evangelical Humanitarianism, 1950-2010,” Religions 3, no. 4 (2012): 923.

[5] Nicholas D. Kristof, “Following God Abroad,” The New York Times, 21 May 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/21/opinion/following-god-abroad.html.

[6] King, “The New Internationalists,” 924.

[7] David O. Moberg, The Great Reversal: Evangelism versus Social Concern (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972).

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.

Donors have agreed to help others through our organization, but our donation process convinced half of them to do otherwise.

This brings us to our third principle of donor and volunteer satisfaction. It is perhaps, the most overlooked, yet the most critical to our bottom line.

Principle 3: A clumsy donation or volunteer process turns potential advocates into quitters.

Non-profit marketing and communications begins with good messaging, on which the first two principles focused.

Principle 1: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

Principle 2: Problems urge donations; results inspire activists.

Non-profit marketing begins with a captivating appeal (based on a compelling value proposition) and leads to a clear call to action. But it must not end there. We promise the donor will experience satisfaction in his or her decision to help others; the success of our cause then demands that the donation or volunteer process reinforce their initial decision.

If our donation process erases this initial excitement before the end of the first attempt to help, how can we reasonably expect our organizations to grow?

Think about the economic impact of this. If we simply avoid disappointing donors with our clumsy online donation process, we could double our online revenue and help twice as many people!

Okay. ‘Nough said about the problem.

As I studied the issue of online donation abandonment in depth, I identified five factors of donor psychology that, when addressed with specific remedies, virtually eliminated the problem.

Here are the five principles listed and summarized. We will examine each in detail in coming articles.

Factor 1: Continuity

The perception that the donation process flows naturally from the value proposition and call to action.

Factor 2: Friction

Cognitive resistance to any element of the online transaction process, usually presenting as confusion.

Factor 3: Anxiety

Emotional resistance to any element of the online transaction process, usually presenting as concern.

Factor 4: Momentum

The feeling of ease or effortlessness that continues throughout the online donation process.

Factor 5: Cognitive Bias

Unconscious influences that systematically affect decision-making.

Five Factors of Online Donor Psychology - 1b

This article focuses on donor behavior because we have tons of data to study. Completing an online donation transaction is relatively simple compared to the intricate process of volunteering, which is fraught with opportunities to disappoint. So, it’s no great stretch to suggest that volunteer abandonment is equally high, if not higher.

Fortunately, these five factors of donor psychology apply equally to volunteers. As we examine each factor in detail, we can evaluate our volunteer processes to maximize participation.

In preparation for the coming articles, talk to your Web development team and have them begin measuring donor abandonment. This is a relatively simple thing to do, even for novice developers. Google Analytics is a free service and it’s easy to configure.

Simply have Google Analytics count the number of times users click any of your “Donate” buttons, then compare that number to the number of online donations received.

Begin tracking these two numbers on a weekly basis, and consider making donor abandonment a key metric in measuring the effectiveness of your marketing, communications, and Web development teams.

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?”

In other words, “How can we continue this kind of appeal while avoiding ‘donor fatigue’?”

While the child sponsorship model is clearly is not appropriate for every kind of charity and may not even be possible for most, it works so well because it connects the donor’s actions directly to results.

Here’s an example of a value proposition used by Compassion International on their Web site. (See image.) After only a brief mention of the problem, the appeal promises specific outcomes. Individual donors who enroll then receive prompt confirmation and ongoing reports that describe the results of their giving.

Increasing constituent satisfaction by connecting donors and volunteers to the results of their contributions is hard work. It will require a gradual restructuring of your organization so that the communications and operations teams become equal stakeholders in a shared outcome: donor and volunteer satisfaction.

The donor development question then becomes, “How can we help donors and volunteers feel like they are part of the operational team?” When this comes the objective, the issue of donor fatigue fades away; your communications will inspire hope and fuel excitement for greater involvement.

Moreover, just like the for-profit sector, satisfied constituents become our greatest advertisement.

How can you combine your donor or volunteer development and operations teams to form a cohesive unit?

How can you give each team a genuine stake in the other’s success?

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.

Consider, for example, two of the largest Christian humanitarian aid organizations in existence: World Vision and Compassion International. Both use a child sponsorship model, which is clearly not appropriate for every kind of charity and may not even be possible for most. However, their system leverages several principles that can be adapted when developing our own marketing and communications strategy.

In this series of articles, we will consider some of these principles and explore ways to apply them.

Principle 1: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

If the majority of promotional literature and donation appeals are any indication, this principle isn’t as basic as it might seem.

The child sponsorship model maximizes donor satisfaction by maintaining a direct connection between individual donors and the people served through the organization. Donors get to see the faces, and learn the names, and even carry on direct communication with the people they are helping. This helps each donor experience the satisfaction of generosity while appreciating the organization for its role in facilitating the work.

Any communications strategy we employ needs to connect donors and volunteers to the people they are helping as closely as practically possible.

Take a few minutes to examine your promotional literature and the last several appeals for donations or volunteers.

Who is the hero of the story you tell? Do you highlight the size, strength, successes, or qualifications of your organization? Or do you show the reader how to become a potential hero, a genuine change-agent in the fight against a particular evil?

Do you present statistics or describe the size of the problem you address? Or do you highlight the people potentially helped by the donor or volunteer? Can you tell the stories of representative individuals whose lives have been changed by the efforts of past donors and volunteers?

Can you communicate your value proposition in terms that feel accessible to your potential donors? What can be accomplished with a single donation of [insert reasonable donation here]? How will that donation or volunteer activity change the life of someone for the better?

Now the more difficult question: How can you bring a sense of satisfaction to the donor or volunteer after the initial transaction is complete?

Principle #2 addresses this challenge.

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.