A Step at A Time

This month marks the two year anniversary of Sacred Language Communications. So we celebrate today, and look forward. But caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware!). Humor, sports metaphors, and important news that could change your life follow. Enjoy! And thank you.

My son loves football. So do I. This season, he’ll be playing high school ball for the first time. He’ll be playing some quarterback, some linebacker; but mainly, he’s building himself into a kicker. He works hard at it. He spends 6-8 hours a month with a private kicking coach who formerly played for the University of Virginia. Then there’s a minimum of 12 hours a week at football practice. And then, there are countless hours on the field, kicking over, and over, and over again.

A lot of practice sounds like this (turn up the volume): 

 

At times, things go a little better: 

 

In between, there’s a lot of sweat, work, attention to technique, and, yes, even anxiety. Am I kicking far enough? Who’s coming up behind me?

And always, there’s a desire to do more. A year ago, when he began, he was kicking 25 yards, tops. Couldn’t punt. Couldn’t handle kick-offs.

This year, he’s kicking 45 yards, punts 50-55 yards, and is learning to kick off. And still, he pressures himself to do more.

It’s All Good

We all want to succeed–and as soon as possible. But we must remember, too, that there’s a lot of growth that must happen along the way.

It’s true in all aspects of communications.

It’s true in your professional development.

And it’s true in business.

Two years ago, I launched Sacred Language Communications with the belief that what organizations wanted and needed was education about social media, e-newsletters, and how to do them on their own.

There’s certainly a number of groups for whom this is true.

But more than before, I’ve learned that having a valued advisor, and someone who can build communication platforms, monitor their growth, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and write a great deal of the content is also needed.

And so, I am refining our business to better serve you.

SLC Web

Learn more about the changes at SLC by visiting our revamped website.

1. More emphasis on Taking Communication Burdens off Your Shoulders. The fact is most organizations realize little to any impact from their online efforts. There are many reasons for this, of course, but a big issue is a lack of time and talent to manage the site–from getting it launched, to creating the content; and from placing online media into your overall strategy to ensuring your online tools connect with people and strengthen your community. We are doubling down on delivering both communication strategies and the content you need to support that strategy, whether it be blogging, e-newsletters, or social media.

2. More-timely news about changes in technology. In addition to the SLC weekly blog, each wednesday I will be sending along links to the best stories in communications technology that will benefit you and your organization. (Register now.) The newsletter will be delivered on Tuesdays.

3. More hands-on tools. Look, learning online tools is like learning a foreign language. You can spend months and years learning grammar and syntax, but that won’t help you speak the language fluently. Today, students begin speaking from day one. So we’re launching a new series entitled “Let’s Get …” that leads you day-by-day through leading online and social media tools. Our first one is Let’s Get Tweeting, coming out next week. We don’t explain how to do it–over 10 days we help you do it yourself in manageable chunks.And we support your effort with daily encouraging emails. By the end of this course, you’re on your way to fluency.

It’s been a marvelous journey thus far–and I wish to thank all of my customers who have entrusted their communication needs to SLC.

He’s to the next year … One step at a time!

The Death of Church Marketing, or A Return to Communications

A year ago, I made the decision to launch Sacred Language Communications. I didn’t put “marketing” in my company name then, and ever since I have tried (not as successfully as I’d like) to avoid using the term.

The traditional marketing approach is failing--two-way communications is the next step.

The traditional marketing approach is failing–two-way communications is the next step.

Marketing as a concept for faith communities, I believe, is largely dead. Buried initially by the introduction of social media—which exposed to all how little marketers can really influence people’s habits. And increasingly buried by a return to sanity—at the end of the day, it’s your ability to connect to the people you serve that makes the difference.

Traditionally, people talked about doing this work as “marketing.” I prefer to talk about “communications.” The term is clunky, to be sure. Maybe I’ll invent a better word or phrase someday. But until then, there’s value in using this longer, five syllable term for the work we do. It describes a dialogue, a discussion–not a one-way funnel of information trying to convince people to join something.

A recent event demonstrates the difference between marketing and communications very well.

Cantor’s Lesson: Be Real

If you follow politics, you no doubt heard about Eric Cantor’s defeat to a relatively unknown challenger in the recent primary. Of all the bluster and verbiage that has come from this election, Matt Bai of the Washington Postsaw past the obscure to the obvious. And his observation applies to more than politicians.

Rep. Cantor learned the hard way that talking points and marketing efforts don't trump real communications.

Rep. Cantor learned the hard way that talking points and marketing efforts don’t trump real communications.

“I can tell you this: Cantor didn’t lose because his opponent, who was backed by radio hosts and tea party activists, articulated some brilliant distillation of conservative thought. Brat struck me, when we spoke, as affable and well intended but nowhere near fluent in the complexities of policy or government…. But, hey, at least Dave Brat talks like an actual person and engages in something resembling an actual conversation. There’s not a lot of that going on in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol.”

And there’s not a lot of actual conversation going on in church-speak or church-marketing, either.

In this work that we are engaged, listening trumps everything. Listening to those in your community. Listening to those you hope to reach. And only after listening, do you talk. Not in the puffery of marketing lingo, nor the obscurity of theological lingo, but in the language of the community you leave.

Data-Crunching: Stay Real

Many, sensing the communications break-downs that are occurring in our world, aim their ire at the tools. So anti-technology people have enjoyed something of a renaissance in our age, blaming the tools for the breakdowns that we see.

Social media tools are just that--"tools." Used for communication, they're powerful arrows in your quiver. Used for marketing, and your aim is off. Photo Courtesy Rebecca Bollwitt

Social media tools are just that–“tools.” Used for communication, they’re powerful arrows in your quiver. Used for marketing, and your aim is off. Photo Courtesy Rebecca Bollwitt

But the frustration is misplaced. The tools are just that—tools. And generally speaking, people who excel in communicating in their communities will do well across the spectrum of communication tools. Unfortunately, because modern tools—social media, e-newsletters, and related technologies—allow us to not guess, but know exactly, how well our communications are, many use the raw data they provide (click rates, open rates, Likes, Follows, etc.) to measure goals and punish people who can’t “produce the numbers.”

But data—for all that it shows us about how people react—is not a tool for punishing people. It’s a tool for learning. “OK, this doesn’t resonate with people. Why?” And the discussion goes on from there.

Data should keep your language and motivations “real,” not become a tool for judging people’s performance.

Live Real

Marketing isn’t a four-letter word. You need to carry out campaigns, organize events, recruit volunteers, etc.

But don’t mistake this work for communications—listening to, learning about, and talking with those you serve and work with.

This is communications.

Sacred Language Communications works with you to advance your communications efforts in order to strengthen your existing community, and grow it for the future. Feel free to call us at 540-498-5994, or write us at mdavis@sacredlanguagecommunications.com

 

How “Real” Are Social Media “Friends”?

In a conference call with a friend and business partner, I had one of those “Eureka” moments this week as we were discussing friendships we shared. Several times when names were raised, I responded—“Yes, I am friends with him/her.”

And very often, I also had to confess that I had never met some of the people we were discussing. Instead, our relationships had been born, nurtured, and developed online.

abelardEureka. I don’t have just a few friends I’ve never physically met, but many. Which raises a question about just what “friendship” is, and whether or not our virtual friends are “friends” in the classic sense. The question is hardly academic, as many congregations I work with retain a cautious approach to social media because, in part, they will not, or cannot, accept that online relationships are “real.”

But a thinker from my academic past can, I believe, ease that concern for many, while helping others understand just how profound social media friendships are.

Medieval Plug-in

My academic days are well behind me, but not the information I learned. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my Eureka moment is rooted in the words of a medieval theologian who knew a thing or two about friendship—Peter Abelard.

Best known for his love affair with Heloise, Abelard was also a student of what it was to truly love God—a love that he believed had a counterpart in this life; charity. His ideas about what charity and love of God really are were heavily influenced by the works of Cicero. In fact, Abelard’s definition of what it is to love God comes directly from Cicero’s definition of friendship (amicitia, for you Latin lovers). But it’s how Abelard altered the understanding of charity that most interests us here.

Cicero, you see, stated that friendship was a reciprocal relationship—you act on behalf of one because you want the best for him or her, and because you expect similar actions in return.

Abelard stressed only the first idea. That you care for the fate of your friend, with no concern for reciprocity.

It is a genuinely selfless gift. One gives, and expects nothing in return.

A selflessness that Abelard knew a great deal about personally, if you know about his tragic relationship with Heloise—a woman he loved, bore a child with, and suffered mutilation because of. After moving to a monastery, he never saw Heloise again, though he retained a deep, abiding friendship with her using 12th century social media—letters.

Plug-in

Abelard’s understanding of charity (and friendship, in his later letters), could well be used to define online friendships that we develop today. We meet many people online with whom we develop genuine, deeply felt, and life-changing relationships, though we may never personally meet. (On the other side, I find that these relationships increase the chance for meeting—at conferences, when I travel, etc.—and to date I have rarely been disappointed when we met face-to-face.) These relationships can be genuine, deeply felt, and important when they are developed in the contest of friendship as Peter understood it. Doing well for people because you want the best for them … not looking for or expecting something in return.

In fact, this is how many of my own online friendships have begun. People post tweets, Facebook posts, etc., that express a need. And I (and many others) respond to that need because we genuinely enjoy sharing useful information.

This is not to say this is the only use for social media—marketers, for example, see in social media a one-way relationship going the other way. They sweep the landscape looking for clients.

This is fine, too, but it is not how communities engaging in social media get the most from it. Rather, it’s that shared experience of helping one another that creates dynamic, and powerful, communities of people who often have never met one another personally.

But they are, indeed, friends.

Three Questions to Ask about Your Church’s Social Media Use

There’s a great deal of information available to churches and businesses about how to “inventory” and assess your social media program. Many of these inventories are quite good; done properly, they’re also time-consuming and best done with the assistance of someone who specializes in this world.

Should you go to that extent? Take the time to fully account for all your social media projects, assess their effectiveness, and analyze how you manage your channels?

Before undertaking a full inventory, SLC recommends you answer three simple questions.

followQuestion 1: Looking at your existing social media channels, are you following everyone (or as many as you are able) of your congregation? 

Why It Matters: Social media is just that–social. If you are not following your parishoners, you are using social media channels as a one-way street. You can send out information that you find important, but you aren’t seeing information about your community that your members find important.

integrateQuestion 2: Thinking about your online habits, are your church’s social media channels integrated into your work (i.e., they stay on and you check them at the same rate you check e-mail)?

Why It Matters: Social media works best when you respond. Just like e-mail. If you aren’t monitoring and responding to the social media pages of those in your community, you are missing a critical opportunity to discover what people are saying about your community and learning what those in your community are learning and sharing with others.

speedometerQuestion 3: Do you regularly review and make adjustments in your social media habits based on your parishoners’ responses and posts?

Why It Matters: Think about real-time, face-to-face conversations. When you start talking with someone, you use your aural and visual senses to decide how the conversation will develop. If the person you’re speaking with is using sober tones and looking down, you aren’t likely to start talking about how wonderful everything is in your life. Instead, you listen and sympathize more. If someone is excited, you don’t burden them with a heavy question. The same is true of social media. Sending out material that no one responds to and never changing suggests to those who follow you that you’re tone deaf. Staying on top of people’s reaction is critical to your success.

So how’d you do?

If you answer positively to all three questions, you’re set for a full-blown social media inventory. Forge ahead!

Less than that, there are some more fundamental steps you need to take before investing in an inventory. Start with the questions you can’t answer affirmatively, try doing them for a couple months, and then re-evaluate your readiness for an inventory.

Happy Socializing!

Martin Davis is founder of Sacred Language Communications and specializes in helping congregations and faith-based organizations leverage social media to strengthen their communities through improved mutual understanding and discussion. Contact him at mdavis@sacredlanguagecommunications, or call him at 540-498-5994.

Zero-sum Game?

Thursday night, a very select group of college football players will become very wealthy young men when the NFL holds its annual draft.

Most just enjoy and benefit from the game.

Most just enjoy and benefit from the game.

This past Monday night, more than ten times that number entered the weight room at Riverbend High School to take their first steps toward playing high school football–my son (right) among their numbers–with promises of nothing more than sweat, pain, and two-a-day drills in 100 degree heat in August.

rg3

Some guys strike it rich

The paradox between the two worlds raises a question–if the young men beginning their high school careers never make millions in the NFL draft, will the next four years of their lives be wasted? High school football, after all, is no small commitment. Practice/weight training are year-long at this level. Figure a minimum of 10 hours a week (and that’s a low number by any estimate), and these young players are on a track to commit 2080 hours over the next four years to a sport that the vast majority will never play after high school.

Most any high school football player will tell you no–these years are not wasted. In fact, most look back fondly on these years for the rest of their lives.

A Second Look

Carry that lesson to your church’s social media use. A very few communities will realize users in the tens of thousands. (Willow Creek’s Facebook page has 27,500 likes, Saddleback has 92,000 likes, and Adam Hamilton of Resurrection Church of Leawood has 25,500 likes). The vast majority will never crest 200.

saddlebackAre those using social media and not reaching these relatively large numbers wasting their time?

No–and here’s why.

The name of the game in social media is not high numbers of likes or follows. Social media is not, by its nature, a “church-growth” tool. It is a tool for facilitating discussion and communications among people who live in community.

A recent Pew study drives this point home. According to the study, “users say they … appreciate photos and videos from friends … the ability to share with many people at once. … keeping up with news, or receiving support from the people in one’s network–appeal to a more modest audience of users.”

Did you catch it? It’s sharing information, sharing with friends, and not so much getting news, that drives users on Facebook?

It’s not about the numbers. Consider how small the average number of friends Facebook users have:

 

Pew2

 

So when thinking about your social media “strategy”, remember those guys sweating in the weight rooms this summer to make their high school teams. Maybe 20 of the tens of thousands of high school football players will rise one day to the top and claim millions. Most never will; yet, they’re forever changed for the better by taking part.

It’s about the journey and connections–not the numbers.

Tucker’s Gift

2013-11-28 16.58.43

This article breaks from most we dispense because it offers not so much communications advice, as a reminder of the power of unconditional love. And the wonder of our pets. 

In Memory of Tucker: 2010-2014

“A home without a dog,” read a sign on my boyhood home, “is just a house.”

This past week, our home became a house once again when we lost our beloved beagle, Tucker.

Tucker’s loss will be with our family for years to come. As will the unconditional love he freely gave to us each and every day of his too-short life.

In my own day-to-day work, I will certainly miss Tucker’s presence. He was by my side as I worked, teased me into walks when he sensed I needed breaks, and laid beside me as I wrestled with the complex and challenging communications questions congregations face.

But it was his unconditional love for me and for my family that will be most missed. It’s the love that we as faith-communities strive to provide despite all of our human failings, and too often fail to live up to.

Our pets, however, live up to the demands of unconditional love more often than not.

Take some time today to return your pet’s unconditional love, and to be thankful for the special bond that we have with our animal fellow-travelers through life.

When to Make the Switch

Over the past couple weeks, in both my practice with congregations and with small businesses, I’ve encountered the same question from three very different organizations. Can the switch to online communications be iterative, of do we just make it at one time?

The answer, of course, is “it depends.”

In this blog, I’m going to explore the factors to weigh when a congregation is facing this situation.

Social Media usage

  1. Be clear-eyed about your facts: Nationwide, the move toward social networking sites is unmistakable. In most categories (race, education, income, and urbanity), the percentages of social media adoption are nearly equal.
    Lesson: Despite the cries of some, social media is no passing fad. You will have to make the switch eventually.
  2. Be clear-eyed about your facts (Part 2): While social media adoption is consistent across many categories, in one important area, a yawning gulf remains–age. For people age 18-29 a staggering 90 percent are on some sort of social media. But for those 65 and over, the percentage is still (slightly) below 50 percent.
    Lesson: Look carefully at your demographics. If your congregation is older, pay attention to that fact.
  3. Are You Ready?: The time required to establish and perfect protocols for going to social media as your prime means of contact with your congregation should be carefully considered. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it can be done quickly. In fact, moving to social media will require training in technologies and developing content for your staff, even if they’re experienced with social media. And, moving in this direction will fundamentally change the way you and your staff work together. I will argue for the better, but make no mistake, it is a significant transition.
    Lesson: Don’t gloss over the difficulties involved in making this transition.
  4. Do Your Members Want It?: Listen, the fact is there are some communities that will never be comfortable moving to social media. Smaller churches with older congregations and little new blood coming through the doors can be a difficult sale. We all reach a time in our lives where we’re tired of keeping up with Joneses.
    Lesson: You can’t force change.
  5. Are Your Ready to Teach?: Even if your congregation is ripe for the change, there will need to be clear communication about how things are changing, why they’re changing, and when the changes will occur. Failing to do so will leave even power-users perplexed.
    Lesson: Just because people are savvy about social media, doesn’t mean they’ll understand how social media is being implemented and how you intend to use it. No more that those who love to read paper will understand how to find information if you don’t have pre-set, determined, and known locations for the print publications you now produce.

Have you detected a theme? The onus for any such switch is on the leadership. Not the people in your congregation.

So educate yourself, seek advice on how to understand how social media will affect your workflow, and be prepared to walk patiently beside your community as you take this next step.

Sacred Language Communications is here to help. Questions about making the switch from print to social media? Call (540-498-5994) or write us!

Oh, Those Millennials

Millennials—everybody wants ‘em, no one seems to know how to get them.

That’s the major take-away from a newly-released study by Pew Research, “Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions; Networked with Friends.” So the question for congregations naturally becomes, “How do we reach them”?

Some like Keith Anderson, a Lutheran pastor and digital media maven, see in the report a reason for churches to become more engaged with online social media. He’s become a leading voice in this movement, and has some fascinating ideas on the topic. And I have come to believe that he is basically right. The days of churches hiding within walls that members wish to be epicenters of people’s lives are largely over for much of Protestant America.

But simply shifting to digital ministry, or outside the walls of ministry, isn’t a sure-fire path to restoring religious life in America. (A fact I suspect Keith would agree with.) Because the problem remains—what do you say in this space?

Authenticity

In this new space of communicating, authenticity is everything. People can sniff out individuals and organizations that are using social media becaumillennials unmooredse they want to reach “the younger crowd” in the time it takes to hit re-tweet with a modified comment.

How do you know if you aren’t being “authentic”? Here’s an easy way. Look at your past ten posts/tweets/etc. Read them. Are these 10 items pushing events, making announcements, delivering marketing pitches? If more than two are, your authenticity is in question.

It’s this type of thing that sends Millennials, and others who “get” social media, scurrying.

Hence the Pew Report subtitle, which could well become a working definition of social media: “Detached from Institutions; Networked with Friends.” Social media is all about meaningful networks. And yet, this remains the major criticism of the medium. A charge largely leveled by those who don’t use the tools.  The person who charges, for example, that “nothing meaningful can be said in 140 characters” fails to realize that good twitter communications are long series of 140 character statements among two or more users—i.e., conversations.

Almost by definition, institutions have a hard time interacting this way. Not that they don’t try—and largely fail (i.e., far too many are not authentic in their communications or spend all their time “pushing” information out and bragging about themselves).

Confused, or Clear-eyed?

Gone among the Millennials may well be the belief that institutions are the arbiters of what is right. Some see this as a sign of Millennial self-centeredness. But I have a different take. I see Millennials as bold people constructing meaning out of the world they live in—not the world filtered through an authority figure(s). This takes courage, as the world they discover is not clean and logical, but messy, full of injustice and right, pain and pleasure, faith and faithlessness.

And it’s a view that is growing. Looking at growth trends, older Americans are the fastest growing groups of people embracing Twitter and Facebook. They trail the Millennials in total adoption rates, to be sure, but the growth trends among those 40, 50, 60 and over adopting these tools is clear.

A story in The Atlantic describes Millennials as “Deeply confused about … politics, finances and culture.” As the story says, “They’re always connected but distrustful. They’re selfish yet accepting of minorities. They’re “independents” who mostly vote Democratic and love Obama while hating Obamacare.”

Confused? Or facing the world head-on? Social media has created a generation that must face the world head-on. There is no place to hide. And older adults, who learned this lesson the hard way, are coming to find the same value in the tools.

Savior Social Media

To take this information from Pew Research as ammunition to integrate social media into your church marketing efforts is to misread it entirely. Social media is no savior. It’s a social gathering place.

Forget marketing. Embrace the conversation.

That is the path to the Millennials. Not a path that will lead them to your door, necessarily, but a path that will pull you out of yours.

Sacred Language Communications specializes in helping faith communities improve their communications through social media. To learn more, contact us directly.

Breaking the Communications Logjam: Content, Content, Content

Part II of IV

Creating content

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

The most important way to get a handle on your communications is to “get real” about how many communications you’re actually handling, and then break these publications into categories. Let’s return to the list of publications that most churches have that were listed in Part I.

  1. Church Bulletin
  2. Social Media
  3. Website
  4. Sermons
  5. Audio-visuals for services
  6. Miscellaneous posters/hand-outs related to classes
  7. Print newsletter
  8. Bulletin Inserts
  9. New Member materials
  10. Special publications for special services (Easter, Christmas, funerals, etc)

These are the ten separate publications that SLC has found most churches produce throughout the year. To manage this much, we encouraged people to break the content into a more-manageable list of categories. In the case above, we reduced the material down to three:

  • Educational (teaching information for new members, theological information for sermons, spiritually uplifting materials for newsletters and special events)
  • Audio visual (graphics for Sunday service, photos to place in newsletters [print and electronic], designs for signs)
  • Pragmatic (Details of events, special days [birthdays, anniversaries, etc], and assorted events happening in and around your congregation.

And now that this has been done, the magic can happen.

Write to the Categories

Instead of writing to 10 separate publications, target your writings to your, in this case, three categories. How do you do this? There are many approaches. But the two best in my experience are the following.

  • Create a Blog. It’s the modern-day answer to the diary. Only better. Get a free blog at WordPress.com, and start writing. It’s a great way to organize your educational materials, for example. Thoughts on books you’re reading; drafts of sermons your writing; notes on conferences you are attending; and on and on. It all can go in there. It can be public or private. And it allows you to easily tag your articles for easy re-discovery, and categorize each piece. You can integrate graphics, video, links, whatever you need. When writing, keep your short-term goals in front of you, but a blog gives you the opportunity to write more long-term, as well, knowing that you can return and use the material later.
  • Keep a REALLY GOOD Calendar. Online calendars leave us no excuse for failing to keep track of everything going on in our lives. Find the one that works for you and use it. Every special date, every event, music used in worship, everything (with one exception–see below) should go in it. This “pragmatic” tool will provide a great deal of your content. For your bulletin, your newsletters, your members and newcomers. The work done to set it up and maintain it will more than pay for itself in the time you save search for it every time you need that information for a publication.

Think Like an Editor

If you’ve ever been around a newsroom, you know that editors are hard-nosed people. They have to be. With an abundance of material coming at them, and little time to prepare content for publication, they can hardly afford time to write thought pieces, or deal with pieces not directly related to what’s immediately happening in the world around them.

And you need to bring the same discipline to your church publications. Here’s how.

  • Get Organized. Before you write one more word this week, identify and implement an editorial calendar. It is good to keep this separate from the master calendar discussed above. There are many good ones out there. For a list of 14 free ones, visit this post at The Daily Egg which provides an overview of each. You’ll want to play around with these to find one that suits your needs, but find one and use it.
  • Every Word Counts. As a writer myself, I’m often asked by people, “How do I become a writer?” My answer is simple. First, write. And Second, make every word you write, count. With your editorial calendar in place, you can see all the material that needs to be filled in the weeks and months ahead. As you write, make every word count by addressing the issues coming up.
  • Re-use. Just because you’ve used material once doesn’t mean you can’t use it again. Use it, and abuse it. If you write a sermon on hunger, this material can be reused throughout the year in bulletins, educational pieces, and resource materials. You’ll need to edit it, of course, but better to spend 10 minutes editing something you’ve already written to make it fit another medium, then spend 60 minutes re-inventing the material from scratch.

Cut and Stitch

While you will never get away from writing one-off pieces for your publications, following the steps above will decrease the amount of original writing you do.

Rather than creating content, you will spend your time cutting and stitching together the information that you have already pulled together.

And any writer will tell you, it’s easier to edit something for publication–even if it isn’t particularly good–then to create something from whole-cloth.

How Much Time?

I know what you’re thinking. This seems like a LOT of work.

To set it up, it is. But once things are up and running, you will easily find the time required to produce materials for you many publications cut in half, at least, if not more.

Your publications will have a more consistent feel, gathering information becomes much easier, and your creativity will flow more easily. Add to that the time you save, and most organizations find it to be a no-brainer.

SLC can work with you to establish a more-streamlined publication schedule. Drop us a note, and let us show you just how affordable it can really be.

Why Don’t People Give?

Walking across the campus at Wesley Theological Seminary this fall, I received some sage advice from one of that campus’s distinguished leaders. “Can you help people raise more money?” The person continued, “That is something that most every church leader can use.”

Fundraising, like good communications, isn’t something that you can fix with a program.

The information didn’t exactly rattle my cage, as I know–firsthand, from any number of studies, and from years of talking with ministers–that financial issues are the ones that tend to keep leaders awake at night.

But I have delayed writing about it for one simple reason. Fundraising, like good communications, isn’t something that you can fix with a program. Fundraising is the outgrowth–most often–of how well your congregation functions on a variety of levels, perhaps the most important being communications.

So why write about it now? Because entering this New Year is a perfect time for you to think anew about fundraising and communications.

It Ain’t About Preaching (Probably)

If we’re connecting fundraising to communications, you’re probably expecting an essay on preaching about money. Let’s quell that right now. Preaching about money is probably the least effective thing you can do to improve giving in your church. If, that is, preaching is the main way that you communicate the importance of stewardship.

FundraisingWhy? A lesson from the world of marketing helps. Anyone worth their grit in the marketing world knows that there’s no magic commercial to turn people on to your product. It’s an array of commercials that hit you repeatedly in different ways. It’s why McDonald’s spends billions each year to air commercials, place magazine ads, and insert banners across webpages (as well as place their products in movies, TV shows, and on YouTube). People have remarkably short attention spans, and hitting them once or twice in the same place simply isn’t enough.

How often have you heard a commercial while in the car, or during a football game, only to realize 30 seconds after it goes off that it’s gone from your consciousness.

Sermons have an important role to play in fundraising. But as with any medium, the likelihood that people will hear your sermon and be forever changed are pretty slim. It’s more likely that by the time they get to their car, much of what moved them 10 minutes earlier has already been forgotten.

It’s not you–it’s just the reality of how we as humans work.

It’s time to expand your approach. It’s time to layer up.

Layers

To significantly turn the corner on giving in your community, there are three important tasks you need to take on, each a form of communication. Teach your members about finances; integrate the influence of giving into your print and online communications; thank people for their gifts.

In short, layer the message much like you would spread frosting on a layer cake. Dump all the icing in one spot turns everyone off. Layer it evenly and thinly across the entire cake and between each layer creates a hard-to-reject treat.

Sounds easy–but it’s not. To do each of these effectively requires planning, staff time, and a commitment to doing it consistently.

Whether you have a communications strategy that is already doing some or most of this effectively, or want to begin one, it makes sense to take these changes in small steps.

Teach about Finances

There are few pressures in life greater than financial pressures. Financial difficulties lead to divorce, poor health, poor job performance, the list goes on and on. And as you know, more people than not in your community are probably facing some of these issues.

At the same time, people find asking for help with their finances difficult–and embarrassing. So help them out.

In 2014, offer a personal finance course to your members.

There are any number of very good courses designed to help churches help their members with their financial struggles. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have financial planners in your community who are willing to volunteer time to help others. If you don’t, many advisers will come in and offer basic financial planning courses.

layer the message much like you would spread frosting on a layer cake.

The reality is, until your own parishoners are financially stable, their ability to give to you will suffer. Just be careful to not make giving to the church your sole motivation for offering the help.

Integrate Financials into Your Communications

Over lunch several years ago with a minister of a mid-size church in Northern Virginia, I was stopped mid-sentence by my guest. He wanted to point out a man passing in front of the restaurant. “He’s made a fortune in real estate, and yet he gives virtually nothing to the church. Do you know why?”

I did not.

“He’s a businessman, and he wants to know where his money is going. In the church, he has no confidence that the money is being used well.”

Whether people have millions to donate, or hundreds, they want to make sure that their money has a significant impact. They want to know that it makes a difference.

In 2014, begin with your most-successful communication piece and integrate the impact that giving has on the church and your community.

This does not need to be loud, with screaming headlines. Rather, when your write your newsletter or e-newsletter, post on social media, or announce coming events, include a word or two about how this is possible.

Activities in your community run on money. When writing about the Christmas play, the blood drive, the parties throughout the year, the feeding programs you offer, etc., ask yourself, are people aware that their dollars pay for this, and that their money makes a difference?

How does this look? Consider this simple note in a church newsletter SLC helped with last year.

The original blurb described a program in which youngsters treated the senior adults to dinner and an evening of games.

The write-up was factual, human, and perfectly fine. We just added one tweak, mentioning that the money for the meal was raised by the children and benefited some for whom that was the only meal they had that day.

It was a modest adjustment, and it didn’t scream dollars and cents. Rather, it made clear where the money came from, that it didn’t require a great deal, and that it had a significant impact.

Such lines integrated subtly in your publications are a simple way to ensure that your members are getting the message–your giving matters.

Thank People

It’s so easy to do, and so easy to forget to do. But saying “thank you” goes a very long way toward making people feel appreciated and willing to give again. Ann Michel explained in an essay that saying thanks involves three “Ps”: Personal, Prompt, Planned. It’s that simple, and that complicated. Delivering personal thank yous promptly requires planning and staff time. Ensure that your community is able to do that in the New Year.

In 2014, make it a priority to create a method for thanking people promptly and personally for their gifts–no matter how small.

Plan to Communicate Better in 2014; Prepare to See Giving Increase

Each of these three steps are relatively easy to implement, but they do require follow-through and time. Done well, you will see results. But give yourself time. Changing the way you communicate will take time–for your members to hear the message, for you to become comfortable with the approach, and for your organization to build the systems to perpetuate the change and grow it.

If you can’t do all three this year, do one. Then add another the following year.

Just start doing it, and doing it effectively and consistently.

Happy New Year!

To learn more about how SLC can help your congregation more-effectively integrate the language of giving into your communications, please contact Martin Davis.