Partners for Life
There is a spot in my front lawn, well maybe two, where up until this year the grass struggled to thrive each spring. I have tried everything: power raking, aerating, organic compost, over-seeding, weeding, ant-killer, etc. Yet, it remained dead - until this year. My wife, bless her heart of patience, asked if I thought it might just need more water. “Just more water?” I thought to myself. "There is no way it could be that simple - or could it?" So this spring I did just that. I scattered a little seed, then cranked up the sprinklers. I would go out and hand water during the days, and make sure the sprinklers hit it every night. What would you know, but the lawn is greener than ever – even though, it has been a significantly hot and dry Colorado summer.
I have long considered the field of partner development through an agrarian perspective.
I have long considered the field of partner development through an agrarian perspective. For a crop to grow, all I can do is feed it, I can’t make it grow. And in God’s sovereign design, it really doesn’t take all that much for a plant to grow as long as the soil is somewhat good, and there is plenty of water.
In this article, I want to highlight three elements which when applied strategically and consistently to your partner development work will ensure the best chance of success in optimizing partner engagement and generosity for your mission. Communication, proximity, and relationship are key factors that will ensure the partnership and longevity of those God has called to support your cause.
When you use effective channels to communicate to your partners with impactful messaging, bring them into proximity of your work’s impact, and strengthen your personal relationship with them, you will endear them to know, share, and advocate for your mission. Allow me to address each individually.
- Communication - Communication is made up of two components: channel, and message. My use of the term communication here refers to mass communication like newsletters, websites, social media, etc. I won’t take time here to unpack all the different channels available, but what I do want to address is the importance of gearing your message to partners around just that – their partnership. Do they know, from your communication with them, that they are partners, and not just people who give money so that you can go do the real work? Do they know that you and they are “in this” together?
- Proximity - Proximity is the term I am using to describe how close your partners are to the front lines of your organization’s impact. Have you innovated creative ways to share your work’s impact when you call on and visit partners? Have you developed ways to bring your partners closer to the work your team is doing to make a difference in the lives of those you serve? There are a variety of ways to do this. Consider taking them on a tour of your ministry site, or integrating real life examples of your organization’s impact into the events you host – both of these can be done virtually as necessary. Consider a video call with testimony from the people your work serves. The point here is to increase the proximity between your partners and the impact of their investment, drawing them closer to real stories of change.
- Relationship - The most important area is relationship. This is the “water” of development. What I mean by relationship is the human connection you have the opportunity to forge with your giving partners. Information (communication) and exposure (proximity) are starting points. But connection and community, both key aspects of relationship, are gifts you can uniquely provide. They create a special bond between your staff and the partners God has called to support your work.
Strengthening Partner Relationships
Strengthening relational connections with your partners isn’t rocket science; it just takes intentionality and commitment. The easiest way to win in this space is to break down your relationship building activities to daily tasks that you can weave into the first part of every day to ensure you accomplish one of the most important rocks (a strategy described by FranklinCovey) of your development work first.
I like to use an approach I describe as the 60-day or 120-day activity cycle. Essentially, you want to make personal contact with each of your major givers at least once every 60 days, or your general givers at least once every 120 days.
Each day, select between one and three partners with whom to connect.
What does this look like? Each day, select between one and three partners with whom to connect. You might send a text to let someone know you prayed for their wife’s surgery. You might shoot an e-mail to another letting them know you will be in their area of town next week and would like to visit. Perhaps you saw an article in the local news pertaining to a topic of interest for another partner, so you print and mail it to let them know you thought of them when you read it.
It is easy to connect with a small handful of partners each day, and those connections go a long way toward endearing their relationship with you, and through that, their connection to your work. As you know, people long (knowingly or not) for meaningful human connection, so the opportunity you have is to align that relational connection with a cause they are passionate about, and in fact called by God to support.
Speaking of calling, I’d like to touch briefly on the fact that what you are a part of in development is a deeply spiritual work. There are a number of powerful examples in Scripture that illustrate the spiritual realities of generosity at work, but let’s look at just one for now.
In Exodus chapter 35 we read the story of Moses calling Israel to express generosity for the building of the tabernacle by applying two key principles. First, posturing themselves before the Lord to hear what he would have them give, and second, response in faith by actually giving as he has led. This combination of prompting and response is what’s behind generosity. Either without the other falls short. Being called to give but not doing so results in disobedience, and giving without calling is a manipulation or coercion which Paul warns against in 2 Corinthians 9:7.
I’ll wrap up with a brief story. In a former role as a major gifts officer I had someone in my portfolio, let’s call him Carl. Carl had been a supporter for some time, but shortly before I took over the relationship with Carl; his giving had skyrocketed to ten times what it had been just a few years prior. At one point, I asked Carl what the catalyst was for this increase. He shared that my predecessor was a master at listening to Carl’s passions and in fact picked up on a clue that Carl liked to sing. As a result, he invited Carl to sing “How Great Thou Art” at a graduation for some of our program participants, and that did it.
Carl experienced the combination of these three elements; communication, proximity, and relationship in a way that connected him for life to the work of that particular organization. This relationship forging is the “water” of development – the secret sauce that will keep your partners engaged for the long haul.
So let’s keep the application of this simple – every day pick just two or three names from your database to intentionally connect with in a personal way. As a mentor once said, this is your “two-by-ten” strategy – two contacts by ten o’clock in the morning. May God bless and guide you in this work of communicating, engaging, and relating to giving partners he has called you to steward.
For nearly two decades, Nathan Jones has been committed to bring the truth of Scripture to bear on the work of resource development in kingdom-minded organizations. He lives out this passion as both the Associate Vice President for Youth For Christ USA, and as founder of The Black Diamond Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (303) 905-5844.