February 3, 2014 Leave a comment
This is my second year serving at president of the council at my church - King of Kings Lutheran. We just held our 2014 Council Retreat on Saturday where we reviewed goals and strategy for 2014 and beyond. It was a working session where we reviewed the current state of our organization and wrestled with how to address some key problems we’re facing. One of those problems relates to how we grow the church. I decided to share some thoughts about it in this blog because it is easy to forget that non-profit organizations, especially religious organizations like churches, are businesses just like any other business. Both types of businesses are trying to deliver great customer experiences that help the business to grow.
What makes me passionate about this is that I volunteer a lot of time in the community. I’m watching as many of the organizations I volunteer with are struggling to reach their goals. This is especially true at my church. As such, this is one of those moments where it is possible to merge professional and volunteer experiences together to benefit what will hopefully be many good causes.
In church leadership, there is a resistance to talking honestly about money. There is a general discomfort using business terms like “income” and “sales process” to describe the process of engaging new members and convincing them to invest in the organization. Somehow, these terms seem harsh and way to profit-orientated especially when applied to a Christian context where we tend to think of money in terms like “God will provide”. However, consider for a moment that every business start-up and every investment involves a leap of faith. Some may look at this as a type of gambling but, in my experience, most entrepreneurs who start businesses do so with some other motive that doesn’t involve money. For the most successful entrepreneurs, these “other motives” usually involve a real passion for delivering great value to their customers.
Aren’t non-profits the same? No one volunteers time and gives money to a program they don’t believe in, right?
What differentiates religious organizations is that the members believe deeply in the mission of the organization and, especially, in its theological perspective. However, they often do so regardless of the actual quality of the experiences they are receiving personally. They are willing to accept less for the good of the cause. This is what makes churches special but it is also leading to failure. This fact is reflected in the decreasing attendance/membership and the increasing financial strain that is happening across most “mainline denomination” churches today. It is difficult to recruit new (especially younger) members who are not already indoctrinated into these systems and are not willing to accept less-than-engaging customer experiences.
So what does this mean in business terms?
- Businesses that are not growing will eventually die. No business can be successful unless it is trying to grow. Due to inflation, expenses never stop increasing so it is only logical that expenses will eventually exceed income if there is no growth.
- The sales process for most religious organizations starts when someone decides to attend a worship service. The process for convincing that person to join and support the organization is a sales process just like any other.
- Sales processes involve a set of stages or steps that a potential customer goes through in making a decision to buy your product or service. Identifying and understanding those stages is critical to improving sales effectiveness (increasing the likelihood that someone will buy from you).
- Sales processes are fed by lead development. Lead development is the process introducing people to your product or service. For religious organizations finding people and getting them to visit is one the biggest challenges.
- Once someone buys your product or service, the work is not over. Great organizations are focused on creating great customer experiences that produce long-term relationships and repeat buying.
Thinking in process terms and applying that knowledge is smart business. As Christians, we are called to and in the business of spreading the Word. As volunteers trying to do good work in the community, we are called to increase the reach and effectiveness of our programs. As leaders, we owe it to our cause (whatever it may be) to understand the processes that make our organization great…to take the steps to continually improve those processes…and to strive to grow.
Part Two of this series will examine the fundamental questions religious organizations have to ask themselves in starting to explore their sales or “visitor engagement” process. Part Three will focus on the sales process itself and how to evaluate the metrics for driving sales effectiveness. Part Four will then focus on the lead development process – filling the visitor engagement funnel. Part Five will wrap up with a discussion (hopefully, one that will be ongoing) about customer/member experience and retention.
Please join me in exploring this. Your comments are welcomed.