There is a simple and proven way to gain appropriate insight from data without allowing information to hold your vision hostage.
The need to gather data prior to beginning a huge project can limit the breadth and depth of your trust in what God could desire to do for your ministry. But we must be careful as we gather data and study the so-called feasibility of a project. Throughout the years, I’ve seen many beautiful ideas for ministry fail to get off the ground. Indeed, there are countless shelves filled with strategic plans and architectural renderings and infinite drawers lined with pages of gift appeal letters that went largely unanswered.
I recommend you commit to a due diligence and marketing research process. This could be a one-time study or an ongoing discipline that is integrated into your approach of working with constituents. The process of gathering marketing research prepares people for change while at the same time affording you the opportunity of studying their reactions to different options and ideas.
A marketing research survey is a central piece in this process. Surveying a broad range of constituents is most valuable, and using this process as an opportunity to begin face-to-face dialogue with key supporters is irreplaceable. Hiring an outside consultant is not a bad idea. You and your current staff could do this as well. I’ve seen great results either way, but ultimately, whether you choose an independent process or not, embedding these practices into your approach to advancement gets amazing results.
The due diligence/marketing research process can be very complex and detailed, or quite simple. There are, however, a few core issues you are trying to explore:
- personal vision
- suggested priorities
- current disposition toward giving
- and potential for greater impact
I think of “personal vision” as the measurement of any given individual supporter (or potential supporter) and their own unique vision for your organization. Before we go about the challenge of casting our own vision, it’s helpful to engage them first in a little dreaming of their own. You’ll be surprised how often their vision aligns with yours, and how often it doesn’t. Some will dream even bigger than you ever have. Each response gives you a clue as to where the individual stands and how passionate they could become about your ministry.
“Suggested priorities” is an attempt to gain some insight as to what any given individual might believe is important for your organization. It is helpful to list 5 to 10 priorities that you have been considering and asking for each person to rank them based on their perspective of importance. This also engages each person in a sort of collective thinking, and as you consider the data in total, trends emerge.
“Current disposition toward giving” seeks to take that snapshot that feasibility studies target but with an attempt to draw some distinctions between how potential giving might be affected by changes to the priorities or vision. This is tricky on paper but easily done in face-to-face meetings. Building this practice into your advancement methods rather than just in a one time survey is particularly important.
“Potential for greater impact” is where the boundaries or limits on your organization are stretched out. Now, you have individuals who, thanks to your questions, have engaged in deeper dreaming about their own vision, their priority structure for seeing the ministry improve, and the possibilities for impact through their giving. Now you are challenging them to consider the gifts, talents, and relationships that they could bring to bear to make a transformational difference. You discover they have skills and experience that would make a profound difference if brought to bear for the vision.
The lure of data provides us with a false sense of security, and you must not allow the siren song of perfect data and projections to limit your vision or immobilize your leaders. The goal is to lead people forward by God’s grace, under the conviction resulting from His calling, trusting in His good purposes to provide for the work of ministry. Make no mistake, God works through the efforts of His people, and He calls us to “lead with all diligence”. A well-implemented due diligence process challenges people to pray and consider how God might use them in a mighty way. It also leads people through a process of engaging their hearts and minds in the work He is doing in and through your organization.
Look how Paul prays for us,
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:15-21
How wide, long, high, and deep. It surpasses knowledge. And He is able to do immeasurably more than we can even ask or imagine.