Jerry Twombly has been spent the last thirty years helping organisations engage with their supporters and devise strategies that will ensure they have a long and healthy future.
In a webinar hosted by the WELForum on Wednesday night, Twombly had some useful advice for organisations trying to build sustainability at a time when churches and non-profits are struggling and even folding under the pressure of the economic downturn.
One thing ministry leaders he suggests leaders can do is calculate their retention percentage – how many of the donors last year are still donating this year, how many of the volunteers from last year are still volunteering this year, and how many of last year’s clients are still with the ministry.
Recruitment and retention is one of the key areas of organisational development he suggests ministry leaders look at.
The others are fundraising, public relations, database management, and strategic planning.
“Development includes not just one thing and that’s important to remember as you think about the things that are going to allow you to continue in ministry,” he explained.
“Most of our budgets depend on people supporting us financially. The reality is, we need that and we know that, but that’s not all of it.”
In addition to securing donors, Twombly said it was also important that ministries communicate well with their supporters, have a vision for the future, and a good system of organisation that doesn’t leave anyone suffering from burn out.
However, what he warned against above all was the trap of leapfrogging over good relationships with supporters in order to earn money.
Instead of having relationships in which both sides benefit, he said many organisations have no more than an “arrangement” with the people who support them.
“If you are nice to us, we’re going to be nice to you. We’ll send you letters and maybe even a Christmas card but if you stop giving, would you do the same thing?
“And in most organisations the answer is, ‘No, we wouldn’t’. Does that mean their value is only limited to what they give to you?”
Instead, organisations could consider asking their supporters how they too could benefit from the relationship and what the organisation could do to serve them better “because you are important to us too”.
“The extent to which you have been successful in building relationships, you won’t tend to lack in money, but if you jump over the relationship … you might be perceived as being manipulative and none of us wants to be perceived in that way,” he said.
The reciprocal relationship is increasingly important today, Twombly went on to explain, because donors are looking more than ever for return on investment.
“They have less money to give and they want to leverage it for maximum kingdom impact. They’re looking for value.”
Twombly made the distinction between outcomes – real transformation in people’s lives – and outputs – stats about how many people the ministry reached and how many people turned up to their events.
He explained: “Now people really aren’t interested in outputs so much. They’ll listen politely but they’re going to ask a challenging question: well, what does that person who went to the forum 10 years ago look like today? And what part of that outcome did you play a part in?”
If ministries want people not just giving financially, but fully on board with their vision and mission, what they really need right now is partners, not donors.
Donors, he said, see themselves as “vending machines”. They put a little money in, look for some return on their investment, and then they walk away no more deeply involved in the ministry than before they gave.
“Donors rarely become partners but partners almost always become donors,” he said.
“They may not donate money – they may not have money to give. But they give of themselves and often what they give is more valuable than money.”
Crossing that gap from donor to partner requires a pronoun shift from “I” to “we”, Twombly said.
“Ask people how they would see themselves getting involved. Make it into ‘we’,” he said.
“I don’t think we ask people enough questions. What we don’t get is that what they have is more valuable to us than their money and that is their wisdom.”
On the web: welforum.com