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Manic-Depressive Ministries?

How can you systematically set out hooks and reel in testimonies to share with your donors? 

  • We often suggest soliciting testimonies from donors in a more-or-less-standardized area of the response form (the back, maybe?). 
  • Media ministries can also establish an annual “Letter Week” as a tradition, where you ask people to share what the ministry has meant to them. 

Organizations that focus ministry on parties outside the donor family, however — disaster relief groups, child sponsorship organizations, Christian schools, and so forth — have a harder job. 

They must make story-collecting a priority at the “point of purchase” — where the ministry is actually occurring. 

  • Ask your disaster relief caregivers to write up or phone in reports; give them a 24-hour phone number to call, with nothing but an automated phone system on the end of the line. 
  • Contact the caregivers who deal directly with the sponsored children in your program and ask for their impressions of outstanding or unusual cases. 
  • Get on a schedule of contacting each teacher in your Christian school — maybe once a quarter? — in hopes of hearing about kids making extraordinary progress … or about kids making ordinary progress, but who couldn’t have come to school at all if it weren’t for those donor-subsidized scholarships. 

Telling the “story of the one” — how someone’s life has been changed through the work of the ministry — is good medicine for the “manic-depressive syndrome” that we observe in so many ministries. 

What is manic depression in a ministry? 

Some organizations are manic — they communicate with high emotion, but not much information — while other organizations are depressive, communicating loads of informative data but without much emotion. 

There are numerous reasons for ministries to be skewed one way or the other, but a balance between the two is preferred. 

The “story of the one” has the natural effect of leveling out either extreme. 

  • Say you’re one of those ministry marketers more inclined to raise money via emotion than information. We see this often in ministries which have sprung from the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions, and in quite a few ministries dedicated to helping children with various needs.  

Tell the “story of the one” in an appeal, and you’ve provided some substance — some hard evidence indicating that your ministry is actually accomplishing something with the donor’s dollars. Not that you can use a story and abandon the use of hard facts altogether — but a testimony helps. 

  • Or say you’re one of those ministry marketers more inclined to raise money via information than emotion. You’re just not comfortable expressing a lot of passion on paper; it’s not natural for you.  

Tell the “story of the one” in an appeal, and you almost automatically heighten the emotional quotient of your package. Not that you can use a story and abandon the use of emotional language altogether — but a testimony helps. 

Either extreme — manic emotionalism or depressive “informationalism” — undercuts a ministry’s potential for building donor relationships. 

But either extreme is also cause for concern because of what it may say about the heart of the ministry, its leader, and/or its marketers. 

To be painfully honest, in some high-emotion/low-information ministries we observe a generally low opinion of the donor. The ministry’s personnel treat the donors as if they’re stupid — willing to respond to preposterous requests or a flimsy case for support. 

More commonly we observe high-information/low-emotion ministries — and here we often find marketers who feel compelled to use every communication to tell donors all about everything the ministry is doing.  

In some cases this reflects a subtle, deep-seated pride: “This ministry is great, and I want her to know all about it.”  

In other cases this urge springs from a feeling of insecurity about the relationship between the donor and the ministry: “I’ve got to overwhelm her with data because she’s so skeptical, or even hostile.” 

In both of these scenarios, however, the ministry marketer fails to distinguish between being fascinated and being fascinating 

Regardless of the marketer’s motives of the heart, the donor does not want or need to know the details of the ministry’s operation. 

How the ministry happens is not nearly as important to the donor as what the ministry accomplishes in people’s lives. 

We must paint the picture of results in the donor’s mind. 

Yet as ministry marketers, we often find it easier to talk about how we do it than what comes of it. 

The “story of the one” takes far more work than the “story of assembling the food boxes” or the “story of building the school building” or the “story of getting on six more TV stations to reach a million more people.” 

The doing the hard work — so you can tell the Story Of The One — will be worth it. 

We’d like to help you bring the powerful Story Of The One to your donors and prospects. Let’s talk about it. Contact BBS & Associates today.