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 get that queasy, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” feeling, 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:

  • Where am I? (Where did I land?)
  • What can I do here?
  • Why should I do it?

That first question is critical, and we have just a few seconds to reassure the user he or she has landed in the right place. Here are a few ways we can maintain continuity between the charity Web site or campaign page and the donation page:

1.    Make sure the address bar reflects the URL of your primary site.

If you, as a user, have been browsing a charity with the URL, http://www.widgetwheels.org, and the donation button takes you to https://fastgiving.com, you’re wise to slow down and do some verification . . . or maybe change your mind.

Many charities and ministries make online transactions easier on themselves by using a “plug-in donation widget,” which is a service that integrates Web commerce within the host site. Some of these services allow you to use a “vanity URL” (an unfortunate term), which allows your primary domain name to display in the address bar after the hand-off.

2.    Maintain a consistent “look-n-feel” on the donation page.

When a user sees the same design elements on the donation page as the referring page, they experience less anxiety about continuing with their donation. On the other hand, when branding elements suddenly shift, the user experiences doubt, and then decide to play it safe by closing the browser window.

Design or branding elements would include colors, fonts, layout, photos, and certain phrases within the appeal text.

3.    Use the same “hero image” and appeal language on both pages.

Technically speaking, the “hero image” includes the banner with logo and tagline. In this case, we’re using the expression more literally.

If you use the face of a Syrian refugee on the appeal page, let the user see the same face on the donation page. It can be the same photo cropped differently, or another photo of the same person. But keep the “hero image” consistent.

Also, use similar language on the donation page. If the appeal page references “clean water and nutritious meals,” make sure the same phrasing appears on the donation page. It reassures the user that his or her money will, indeed, go to the intended cause.

Here are a few examples to illustrate. I have removed logos and identifying language to preserve the anonymity of the organization. But these will hopefully illustrate the principle of continuity.

The first image is a partial screenshot of the appeal page.

Appeal Image 1a
The Appeal Page









This first donation landing page was a “widget,” a plug-in service that offered (at time) only rudimentary customizing. (I have removed the logo.) The only remotely compatible banner color was black, and including an image was very difficult and, when possible, looked awkward on the page.

Due, in part, to the lack of continuity, the donation abandonment rate averaged nearly 85%. Other factors (discussed in later articles) also encouraged donors to quit the process before completing the process.

Donation 1a

The next version of the donation page improved matters quite a lot.

Donation 3a
Treatment #1

While we experienced a drastic reduction in donation abandonment, continuity was only one reason. (We’ll examine the other factors in later articles.) Even so, continuity helped a great deal. This page was created using a donation system we programmed ourselves, which gave us greater control over the user experience. Despite the discontinuity in the look-n-feel, abandonment dropped to nearly zero!

The URL in the address bar remained consistent. We utilized a photo of the same person. And we carried over phrases from the appeal page to the donation page.

The next image (Treatment #2) was supposed to be an improvement.

Donation 2a
Treatment #2

Again, the logo has been removed from all of the examples. But we did a better job maintaining the look-n-feel. Same design elements, same fonts, same phrasing, and same image subject.

While we improved continuity, abandonment increased over the Treatment #1, which remained near zero. Treatment #2 experienced a greater abandonment rate (10-15%), probably because we compromised on some of the other principles, which we will examine in later articles.

The Five Principles of Online Donor Psychology:

Five Factors of Online Donor Psychology - 1b

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.)

As a former project manager, my industrial engineering mind immediately questioned this reasoning. $54,000,000 to send one person out to “change lives, one soul at a time” versus sending… how many missionaries?

Is it a wise use of funds to sink $54,000,000 into a piece of equipment that will depreciate in value? What if we invested that money into a fund that will grow?

How many missionaries might we fund for ten years if we established an endowment?

How many missionaries could we fund in perpetuity from this endowment?

This simple Excel worksheet allows you to adjust these figures:

  • Initial Investment
  • Annual Rate of Return
  • Number of Missionaries
  • Missionary Annual Salary

See the effect of your investment over 10 years.

How would you invest $54,000,000?

An Evangelical Renaissance of Social Justice


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.
On April 7, 2018, I presented my first paper on this subject at the 2018 Southwest Regional meeting of the Evangelical Missiological Society. Here is a PDF of the paper.

[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.