Reinventing the Wheel
How many times have you heard “let’s not reinvent the wheel”?
Perhaps you’ve even said it a few times. (We have too.)
Surely, sometimes this is terrible advice. After all, no one drives around in a car with four medieval wooden cart wheels hugging the road.
Similarly, “let’s not reinvent the wheel” is terrible advice when it comes to building new experiences for your audience members, including your monthly sustainer program.
Reinventing Sustainer Programs
In the 1990s, monthly giving programs were simple, monthly check writing, snail-mail operations that promoted the opportunity to “receive less mail.” This may not seem inspiring today, but it worked quite well for Christian nonprofits of that era.
In the 2000s, there was a “reinvention of the wheel,” focusing monthly giving efforts on Electronic Funds Transfers. This provided direct access to donors’ bank accounts for monthly withdrawals, on the ministries’ reasoning that “it’s better for us and more convenient for you.” That worked too.
In the 2010s, consumer preference for online purchasing and monthly subscriptions drove the "reinvention" of simply launching a web page with a basic monthly giving opportunity. Often, that grew monthly sustainer programs quite quickly.
The 2020s started out wonderfully for fundraisers, with two exceptional years of remarkable donor benevolence. Signing up donors for your sustainer program was suddenly easy.
However, that has faded.
The New Reality
You’re going to need to reinvent the wheel – over and over.
With COVID now largely in the past, slow growth is back, and family budgets are tight. Nonprofits are going to need to care enough to give prospective sustainers the motivating opportunity and intriguing experience they can’t get anywhere else.
You’re going to need to reinvent the wheel – over and over.
That’s the job.
Perhaps it’s not your job, but “wheel reinvention” needs to be someone’s responsibility for your organization. Not only for sustainer programs, but also for all kinds of audience experiences.
Reenchanting Your Audience
Human beings get bored of things.
C.S. Lewis wrote of this human reality in a delightful essay titled “Talking About Bicycles”:
“As a little child I was Unenchanted about bicycles. Then, when I first learned to ride, I was Enchanted. By sixteen I was Disenchanted and now I am Reenchanted.”
Perhaps you might relate to moving from unenchanted to reenchanted in regards to bicycles — or in such matters as a favorite book, parenting, your hometown, or any number of other aspects of life.
This Enchantment Cycle certainly exists between your organization and your supporters.
Young Life has thought about this quite a bit.
Young Life has thought about this quite a bit. Applying C.S. Lewis' excerpted construct, we might imagine a Young Life alumnus saying: “As a young teen, I was Unenchanted about Young Life. Then, when I attended Young Life Club in high school, I was Enchanted. Into adulthood, I became Disenchanted and now I am Reenchanted.”
There over four million Christian adults in the United States who say that Young Life played a major role in their faith. Yet this mere recognition of Young Life's role in their life doesn't necessarily translate into "now I am Reenchanted.”
Just Imagine… and Discover
However, imagine if we could reenchant those wonderful people. The impact would be incredible! So Young Life and Masterworks set out to discover what monthly sustainer program experience might provide this vital and momentous reenchantment for the vast Young Life alumni audience.
Sure, we could have simply deployed a conventional sustainer program and done just fine in year one, with the already-enthusiastic, current donor audience signing up in large enough numbers to make us all feel good.
For long-term, exponential growth, the goal is to create a sustainer program that does more than convert the converted. It must reach the many more people who might be activated to monthly giving but need more than just a pretty donation page and a request to "make it monthly.”
They need to be reenchanted with a great opportunity, a unique experience, and a bigger story that fires their imaginations.
How can we be sure we are developing the sustainer program that’s going to reenchant our many semi-bored, slightly disenchanted donors?
Learn What Fires Your Audience’s Imaginations
Using research and ideation, Young Life and Masterworks identified dozens of great hypotheses for what the internationally famous ministry’s millions of alumni and thousands of donors would most love in a sustainer program focused upon their international work.
For example, we wondered:
- Is there interest in live participation with a Club meeting on the other side of the world?
- How might giving be motivated by nostalgic feelings toward their own days of participating in Young Life?
- For alumni, to what degree is Young Life about evangelistic mission versus long-term discipleship?
After interviewing donors and alumni, we gained useful and surprising insights for constructing our initial concepts, including:
- They love that local leaders rather than Americans run Young Life International programs.
- Despite their "kingdom advancement" motivation, they view their giving as helping one kid know Christ.
- There's little interest in learning about or supporting a specific country's ministry, unless there's a pre-existing personal connection to that country.
With many such insights, we came together in a two-day summit to co-create potential sustainer program concepts.
Some concepts were straightforward. Others were a real departure from the ordinary, involving Young Life’s skit culture, poetry, loneliness, and nostalgic sentiment for alumni.
The Say So
In particular, spurred by one alumnus' impassioned recollection of a turning-point moment,
Masterworks asked what that moment might be for Young Life.
“Oh, that’s the Say So.”
“Say So? What is that?”
“On the last night at camp, around the campfire, kids are given the opportunity to stand up in front of their friends and proclaim what God has done in their lives that week. It’s incredible."
“Amazing. Why is it called the Say So?”
“It's taken from Psalm 107: ‘Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.’ Meaning, let those whom God has saved tell their stories.”
Based upon what we were hearing from the audience and the inherent power of the Say So, there was a palpable sense of real potential.
In all, we moved six sustainer concepts on to the prototyping stage for feedback from audience members, including the Say So concept.
Balancing Audiences, Experiences and Brand is No Easy Task
Being entrusted with a huge ministry’s well-established brand means it is sometimes not as simple as “what do the audience members love most?” There is more to consider.
Masterworks' experience studio has helped dozens of faith-based nonprofits create, launch, and scale big ideas in the marketplace, to donors and other key audiences. The moment of moving from design (“Here’s what we should create”) to build (“We’re creating this”) is always a pivotal step in which multiple factors simply must be considered.
As we go to print, Young Life is working through this process.
In second round interviews, the donors loved the Say So focused concept. Several interviewees were even moved to tears.
It’s Going to Be Marvelous
Leadership must consider other factors. Can the Say So concept clearly convey the international nature of the monthly giving opportunity? Does the sustainer concept fully integrate with the larger brand campaigns coming down the pike? How much field support is there for this concept? There is a lot to consider.
Rightly determined to balance the reenchantment of their donors and alumni with brand stewardship and operational harmony, Young Life is working through the adaptation of the winning sustainer concept to these factors and others. They’re boldly reinventing the wheel, while ensuring they’re producing a vehicle they can support.
When the sustainer program launches later this year, it’s going to be marvelous. We can’t wait.
Allen Thornburgh leads Sublimity, Masterworks’ experience studio, helping faith-based leaders bring bold experiences to life through Imagination Marketing that maximizes the audience Enchantment Cycle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Jamie Hanson serves Young Life as the VP of International Development. His responsibilities include supervising the KNOWN Campaign for International Young Life, a $1.5B initiative, and training indigenous staff in personal support and sustainable funding models
Allen Thornburgh and Jamie Hanson are co-teaching a workshop “Stoked Sustainers > Monthly Donors” at The Outcomes Conference 2023 in Chicago, March 28-30. >> Register to Attend