Nov 27

Asking for what you need

The concept of “commercial broadcasting” – presenting something to many people simultaneously and expecting an action from an audience – has led to many small non-profit organizations thinking they can use the same idea. On the surface it seems quite simple: if enough people see a message, a percentage will respond.

What some fail to understand is that commercial advertisers don’t simply put their message “out there” and hope. They spend millions of dollars tailoring the message for specific audiences and, in the case of radio and television, places them in specific programs their target market listens to or watches.

Have you ever seen an ad on television and shook your head wondering what it was all about? Chances are, if you didn’t get it, it wasn’t aimed at you.

Think of all the times you’ve heard a call for volunteers who are asked to use a sign-up sheet to express their interest. Or a general announcement about a need for funds. These are prime examples of broadcasting in the wrong way. Sure, there may be some response but not necessarily from the people who could make the most impact.

You may not buy Girl Guide cookies because you saw they are for sale. But you may buy when a uniformed girl arrives at your front door as asks you.

What many churches and small non-profit organizations need to learn is to ask specific people for the specific thing required, whether it’s time, skill or money. Yes, it can be awkward and you always face the possibility of a “no”, but you won’t have that opportunity to hear any response if you don’t take some action.

Next time you hear someone say “We need board members” or “We need funding for this project” respond with “Who can we ask” rather than “Let’s put up a sign.”

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Aug 02

How media shapes people the Church is called to reach

As communication paradigms shift, the new media affect society. This presentation looks at how media shapes the minds of those with whom the Church is trying to communicate the Gospel. It was created for and presented at a Lutheran Hour Ministries Regional Outreach Conference in Saskatoon, Canada, July 2012.

Adobe PDF with notes
Adobe PDF slides only

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Jul 25

New e-book looks at religious trends in Canada

Canadian religion observer Reg Bibby has published an e-book “A New Day” which looks at the current trends and state of religion and non-religion in Canada. It’s available here:

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May 22

Intentional board changes can build a future for non-profits

A few years ago I tried skeet shooting. I didn’t do well (which is good because I never found a good recipe for grilled skeet!) I discovered the trick was anticipating the position of the clay disc in the air and pulling the trigger at the right time to make sure the shot hit the moving target. Timing and practice are the key elements to success. Although you can usually figure out where the disk will be, your actions to shoot it out of the sky need intentional decisions to make it happen. Hoping for success won’t cut it.

Non-profit volunteer boards often hope the future of their organization is secure without taking intentional steps to make it so. When positions on the board become available it often falls to the existing members to seek replacements, usually from their own networks. In other words, they will usually find people just like them.

That’s where intentionality becomes important. If a board keeps replacing itself with the same kind of board member, it will naturally age and eventually cease to exist. However, if it is diligent in finding younger people to become involved in the organization, it will naturally be introduced to a new network.

A recent webinar on engaging younger donors in support of non-profits noted that although some organizations may ask younger people for input, they will not necessarily provide opportunities for them to assume leadership positions. This trend reduces the board’s ability to understand the current social environment.

As boards explore ways to intentionally refresh their composition, it’s important to consider what kinds of people and skills the board needs for good decision-making. Most of the time those competencies centre on financial skills. But a board needs more than financial smarts. What about understanding the changing world around them?  For example, although board members know younger people spend a lot of time online, how many of them bring to the table a thorough understanding of what that means? It’s easy to lament the lack of engagement by a new generation, but does anyone sitting around the table know how reach out to them?

Over the years I’ve challenged boards to recruit or find potential board members who are half their age. I call it the “better by half” approach: a sixty-year-old finds a thirty-year-old. And don’t have a “token” younger member; he or she brings to the board your future. Give them the same respect and responsibilities given everyone.

In addition to infusing a board with younger blood (thereby introducing the possibility of longer-term survival) the younger person comes with their personal network. Studies show that young adults display a high level of peer engagement with causes and organizations. One or more young person on the board and the interest spreads.

Next time your board or council meets look around the group and see where you could be “better by half.” If Adnams Group can help you in the process, let us know.

Good governance doesn’t happen by accident. It takes planning and intentional decisions. Change happens when you are doing it on purpose.

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May 16

Church publications can reach beyond the pew

At the recent annual conference of The Canadian Church Press I conducted a workshop dealing with expanding the reach of publications “Beyond the Pew.” Here is the PowerPoint presentation.Beyond the Pew

View more PowerPoint from Adnams Group

PDF: Beyond the pew CCP2012 Handout

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May 08

Bytes or ink in your veins?

On Thursday and Friday of this week I will be in Toronto for the annual Canadian Church Press conference. I serve as the association’s vice-president.

CCP is more than 50 years old and began as a networking opportunity for church publications, most denomination-based. As independent Christian publications came along, then newsletters and websites its focus became a bit broader.

This year’s conference is focused squarely on the impact of social media and what publications can do to make the most of new opportunities.

For some, the new communication realities are difficult to embrace, maybe even understand. Unless someone has taken the time and interest to keep up with the latest developments, it’s so easy to be left behind.

Recent surveys say that even at the corporate level, upper management, usually those with the longest work experience, are only now beginning to understand how social media works. Email was easy: correspondence on a screen rather than paper. But things like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Pinterest bear little resemblance to anything businesses or society have ever encountered.

However, innovation doesn’t necessarily spell the end of any particular communication medium. As my friend and former colleague Stan Gilbert at OMM Productions reminded me recently, movies didn’t stop theatre; radio did not kill newspapers; television did not spell the end of radio; the Internet does not threaten the end of television. Everything adapts and evolves. No media is the same as it was when it first came on the scene. Even some newspapers changed their front page to what they call the “point and click” approach that resembles an online version. No partial stories, only photos and where to find the details.

I’ve spent the first part of this week preparing a presentation for the convention on moving your publication “beyond the pew.” The point I make is that the Internet does not replace the printed publication, but expands its circulation.

If publishers and editors can grasp this reality, changes in media will not be a threat, but an opportunity for creative thinking.

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Apr 30

The future is here

What earlier generations considered science fiction is reality today.  The proliferation of mobile devices is changing our lives individually and collectively. Think about the last time you gathered with other people for an event of some kind. Were people texting? Did they use tablet devices? How did they interact with the speaker or presenter?

Mobile technology has the ability to engage participants in ways we never dreamed possible.

Here’s how it can work today. I have chosen a church service for illustration, but it works for any educational situation, meeting, seminar or similar gathering.

The church office prepares the service on the office computer and produces a PDF which includes everything the worshipper needs, including Scripture lessons, music for the hymns and church announcements. On Saturday morning, members of the congregation receive the PDF link by email and download it to their mobile device or tablet to bring with them to church the following day. When they arrive Sunday, flat screen monitors feature announcements and, for members who didn’t download the service bulletin PDF, they can scan a QR Code which takes them to the download site.

Before the service begins, people in the pews are asked to use their location software to let their followers know where they are and what they are doing.

Those unable to attend the service can take part online via a webcast, following along with the PDF church service bulletin they received by email or downloaded from the church website.

Although the service may be available on video projection, many worshippers use their tablets or other mobile devices to participate.

This week the usual accompaniment to hymns is not available. Via WiFi the pastor (or an assistant), triggers an MP3 recording by the church’s musicians. The player is connected to the church’s audio system.

For the sermon, worshippers click on the “Sermon Notes” link in the service PDF bulletin where they can follow a presentation (Prezi or Powerpoint) prepared by the pastor, who is preaching from his tablet device. The software allows them to highlight sections and send them via email.

During the sermon, the pastor receives questions via text mail. He can address them at the end of the sermon, or the end of the service.

Some members of the congregation have pre-authorized debit from their bank account to support the work of the church. Others will use their mobile devices to send their offering electronically during the Offertory. Once that is done, they can send a text message to the pastor should they have a prayer request.

Before leaving the service, people are encouraged to tell their online network about something they found particularly interesting or challenging. The message includes a link to the church website where a video of the pastor’s sermon is already posted.

For some, this concept is revolutionary, but it is all currently possible. And really it’s no more revolutionary than the day churches began using the new-fangled printed Bibles and hymnals!

Your current gatherings may not include large numbers of people who have the technical know-how to engage the technology, but within a generation, this could be the norm.

Are you ready or making changes to accommodate the generation for whom using technology is as natural as breathing?

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Apr 17

Weaving or unravelling?

The World Wide Web came onto the scene about 20 years ago. Google’s search engine was online by 1997.  Facebook launched eight years ago (yes, only eight!) and YouTube the next year. Twitter celebrated its sixth birthday this year. A change in technology and the software it drives initially attracts what are known as “early adopters.”  Anxious to ride the edge of the new wave, they are eager to embrace the “next new thing.”

From many organizations the cry, “We need a website!” rang out in the late-nineties followed by “We should be on Facebook” and then “Why aren’t we on Twitter?”

Registering on each of those platforms was, and still is simple. What is not so simple is asking “Why do you want a website, Facebook presence, or accounts on Youtube or Twitter?

Early in the development of social media I participated in a webinar that used the analogy of weaving a tapestry to describe how organizations should use online communication. A combination of threads following a clear pattern will result in a woven tapestry. Unless the threads intersect and cross each other, there is no cloth artwork.

The analogy stuck with me. Unless you know how each part of a media strategy interacts with other parts—on and off line—you have a number of single threads accomplishing very little.

Any communication, from a Sunday church bulletin to a multi-level website, should have a reason to exist, know what it is supposed to achieve, and how it relates to other communications.  If you can’t justify the existence of a communication (i.e. if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do) why do it?

With the number of ways to communicate available to any organization today, it is crucial to ask the “why” question. Why are we on (or not on) Facebook, Twitter and the World Wide Web? How does each of these fit into our overall communication strategy? Are all our messages in each medium consistent and connected to each other.

The inter-relatedness of social media allows you to post a video on Youtube and let people know about it with a Tweet containing a link to your website where it is also posted. At the same time the Twitter message can appear on Facebook and automatically post to your website from your Twitter feed. People can then retweet news of your new video or share the Facebook link all the while increasing the reach of your initial message. This creates the communication tapestry.

Is your organization weaving, unravelling or hanging by threads?

Asking “why” is never easy, but it yields the most useful results.

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Mar 29

Where do you think you are going?

When I was a child and my mother caught me heading out before telling her my plans she would ask, “Just where do you think you’re going?”

That’s a question many organizations fail to ask, and sometimes it’s the unasked question in the minds of supporters and donors.

I know how it is in many non-profit environments. Staff time is stretched. Everyone is busy with day-to-day activities. It’s a challenge to keep up. But are you going anywhere or just doing whatever the most pressing deadline demands?

Every organization needs to step back from its daily activities to assess why it exists and where it is headed.  A recent post on the Association of Lutheran Development Executives (ALDE) blog builds the case for some healthy gazing into the mirror. Here’s the link.

Few set out on a journey without establishing a destination. You chose a route based on things such as your interests or how fast you want to reach various stops along the way.

However, some organizations seem to believe they don’t necessarily need a map because, frankly, they don’t know where they want to go. The board has never worked it out. It’s easier to keep doing what they’ve always been doing rather than taking a look at the world in which they exist and asking “What has changed and how should we adapt.”

At a board meeting I attended, a facilitator read a glowing report about the organization set five years into the future. It talked about the various successes, activities and interactions the organization was experiencing. After reading the fictional piece, she asked the board members, “What decisions could you make today that will create this future?” The exercise gave the board a glimpse of what it is to have a vision and the members came up with some specific ideas, many of which became part of its strategic plan.

What will your organization look like in five years? What are the dreams? Does it have a map? Where does the board think it’s going?

As Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland once wrote: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

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