what if churches thought like nonprofits?

We’ve been wondering what would happen if a church thought like a nonprofit. Our team has had several conversations about how much churches could learn from the great, strategic nonprofits in terms of communicating with their…(dare I say it?) Yep: “Donors.”

LifeWay Research recently released a study reporting that “79% of the churches surveyed are experiencing a negative effect from economic conditions.” The specific details of the report aren’t really important for my purposes. My take is that it isn’t a surprise to me that more churches are experiencing a decline in giving than last year. What I’m wondering is if it really is the “economy” at the root cause (as the report indicates).

I wonder this because many faith-based nonprofits’ income is doing great. Many are up year over year. It’s interesting to consider that a church could fit within the definition of a “faith-based nonprofit.” If you’re an Executive Director or Development leader in a nonprofit, I suspect you’d love (I nearly wrote “kill” but since I’m going to get in enough trouble over this post I thought I’d avoid that one) to have the undivided attention of your donors on at least a weekly basis.

Let’s jump in with both feet. Imagine what would happen if a church thought like a sharp nonprofit. (See the disclaimer section before getting too bugged by what I’m saying).

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Giving wouldn’t be assumed because you “have” to give.
  • Reporting would be less about the budget and more about changed lives.
  • Financial communications would focus on the difference my “gift” makes.
  • Social Media would knit the congregation together.
  • Social Media would allow the leaders to communicate with the groups (segments) specifically.
  • Communications would be targeted and specific.
  • Social Media would tell the story of the life of the congregation.
  • Communications would be designed to grab the donor’s attention and woo them, not assume attention.
  • Connections wouldn’t be based solely on Sunday attendance.
  • Data would inform decisions and messaging.
  • Donors would hear from other donors how giving changes the heart of the one who gives.
  • There’d be less “you have to” talk about giving and more “you get to” language.

OK, that’s probably enough to get your dander up or your juices flowing.

Let’s go to the disclaimers.

DISCLAIMERS: I’m not wanting to meddle in theology or change anyone’s church. I understand there could be terrible abuses from thinking this way. I wouldn’t want church leaders to be fundraising on every Sunday (not like that ever happens now). I’m not trying to change worship or sermons or your beliefs. Your church probably does these things well and more. I’m not talking about any one particular church or congregation or denomination or pastor…I’m just wondering, “what if…?”

What if a church thought like a faith-based nonprofit in terms of communication, teaching, connections and cultivation? I think that particular church would experience growth in every way they cared to measure “growth.” What do you think? And remember all comments this week make you eligible for this week’s 8-in-8 book giveaway, featuring the “whole Seth Godin enchilada!”

I’d love to hear what you think.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: au_tiger01)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

14 thoughts on “what if churches thought like nonprofits?”

  1. “Reporting would be less about the budget and more about changed lives.” — ST

    What a concept! I remember a pastor who frequently longed for the sound loud voices and unbridled enthusiasm during soccer games at Qwest Field. He couldn’t understand why Sunday at church couldn’t be more like Sunday at the stadium. My answer for this conundrum is really quite simple. “Start keeping score”. If we hear more about changed lives (score!) and some of our setbacks (3rd and goal to go), we might be more likely to get personally involved, emotionally, vocally and financially. (Also beer and brats couldn’t hurt!)

  2. I noticed that church leaders HATE, and I mean with a passion, to get up and show the need and then follow with the ask. They don’t think it’s a “sexy” sell. I totally agree that if churches would SHOW the need, they would get so much more. Charity giving is so different from church giving because people give emotionally to charity from seeing a need. Most give out of obligation and don’t understand the biblical blessing of tithing at church. There is little “that felt good” because people don’t see the need and don’t get to see the results of their giving. But it needn’t be that way.

  3. Julie and Al are both onto something here. If churches became explicit about their value-propositions (why we (customers/members) should give them of our resources (time and $$), then a conversation could happen. If a church (pastor or leadership team or both) had the guts to say “We believe that changed lives is our rubric” then at least their faith-communities could dialogue (via Social Media makes the most sense) about how/if/when that was happening (or not).
    NPO’s must define this value-prop daily or they’re toast. If they (the NPO) can’t connect what they do to the “need” (as Julie called it) they get very little mojo (time or dollars). Churches, in my experience, have been VERY reluctant to articulate and/or discuss their value-prop. As with anything else, your customer defines your value-prop, you don’t. If a church was openly saying, “We want to measure our success or failure by ‘changed lives’ (for example)”, I’d at least be interested in that conversation.

  4. @Julie — You’re right.

    Often when church leaders talk about money from the pulpit or in other communications they take one of two options:

    1. They say things like: we’re short on the budgeted income…and you do know that good Christians have to tithe. Which focuses on money, obligation and guilt.

    2. They go for the “teaching” model only slightly ahead of the budget discussion. Few in the congregation miss the connection which defeats the teaching.

    When church leaders can talk about the very real blessing of giving without connecting it to the budget, things change. Or when church leaders can consistently, through the year, tell the story of how the members are changing the world…income changes. Add in a woven fabric of connection and participation through the week so that connection is broader than sitting in the pew on a Sunday and MAGICAL things begin to happen.

    The “feel good” you mention does get lost.

    I have to say that there are many churches who do an incredible job of communicating and telling the story, but sadly many do not.

    Great to hear from you Julie!
    st

  5. @Jeff — Value propositions for churches!! That’s why I love the way you think and write.

    How would a church’s value proposition look? Beyond some of the theological “givens” or basics…Love the idea.
    st

  6. Leadership needs to gen up commitment and enthusiasm Sunday mornings and throughout the week w/tools like SMS. A church in the south has a program called the dollar club here’s the link http://www.southlandchristian.org/jonweece/entry/the-dollar-club/ (please pardon my clumsy inability to do tiny urls and the sort). But it’s a great idea to get young Christians seeing how their gifts, in this case dollar, blesses God’s Kingdom and prepares them for bigger gifts in the future as a result of previous good giving experiences.

  7. Hey Kris, did you notice that conspicuosly missing from the pastor’s illustration that Al mentioned regarding loud sounds and unbridled enthusiasm at Qwest field was anything about it being for the Seahawks? Sorry i couldn’t resist.

  8. @Tim–Your dollar club reference is wonderful. I love the reporting to the church (last week we…) and encouraging the extra giving. Great shoutout Tim, thank you.

    I think the more a church does as this church describes the more people would ENJOY giving…and the less likely they would be to experience “economy driven downturns.”

    Thanks Tim.
    st

  9. @Tim- This reminds me of the “$100 Challenge” that was done by a local church by my house. They were in the middle of a church expansion when funding ran dry so they took the money they had and gave $100 to members. Members were asked to do something with it and return the $100 plus any profit they made from it. They even had a website where members could post what they were doing and offer their service or product for sale. What a way to involve and invest their members in supporting their building project rather than just asking for more money. Here is the article: http://www.q13fox.com/news/kcpq-060609-churchstimulus,0,894579.story

  10. I noticed that church leaders HATE, and I mean with a passion, to get up and show the need and then follow with the ask. They don’t think it’s a “sexy” sell. I totally agree that if churches would SHOW the need, they would get so much more. Charity giving is so different from church giving because people give emotionally to charity from seeing a need. Most give out of obligation and don’t understand the biblical blessing of tithing at church. There is little “that felt good” because people don’t see the need and don’t get to see the results of their giving. But it needn’t be that way.

  11. @Winifred — wonder why church leaders struggle with showing need?

    And do you think that all charity giving is “emotional?” And is “emotional” giving bad or less desirable than non-emotional?

    I don’t think so. I think that emotion-driving giving is wonderful. Emotion gets a bad rap in some circles, like those of us who give from the heart are less “thoughtful givers” and therefore more impulsive or some other craziness. Bah. Bring on the emotion. Bring on the passion.

    Thanks Winifred for your comments. Keep ’em coming.
    st

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