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4 Monster Mistakes

Al Newell

MONSTER #2: The Desperation Dilemma

My mother, who lived alone for years, received countless ministry appeal letters. She'd ask me to evaluate their credibility. One such envelope arrived with an "Urgent" stamp on the outside. A ministry wrote that unless she responded quickly and generously, it would have to close its doors. I noticed that over the years, the same ministry had sent her many such letters, each proclaiming a dire prediction of the ministry's imminent demise. Unfortunately, they survived, and the letters kept coming. One problem with these desperate approaches, as marketing experts know, is that donors who are recruited through emotion-laden appeals are unlikely to stay very long. Similarly, arm-twisting recruiting methods attract volunteers whose commitments are short-lived.

Faced with the lack of Sunday school teachers, a pastor may resort to a similar tactic: "We'll have to shut down classes if no one responds." Another desperation method may be to parade all the third-graders in front of the congregation. Don't get me wrong; desperation messages do work. They almost always garner some new prospects, but once a leader has succeeded by using desperation or manipulation, he or she will likely rely on that technique whenever a need arises. The temporary fix will keep a leader from addressing real issues, such as the lack of an ongoing recruitment strategy or poor selection and training practices -- problems that may've caused the desperation in the first place.

Besides reducing volunteer retention and covering up deeper problems, desperation messages also withdraw from our leadership credibility bank. Years ago when I was playing basketball at the YMCA, the fire alarm sounded four or five times in a two-month period. The first time, everyone proceeded out of the building in a hushed, orderly fashion. The second time, we stopped playing basketball for a minute, looked around, and restarted our game. Only newcomers responded the third time the alarm went off, and we continued right on playing. Think about it -- an alarm sounded, indicating that our lives might be in danger, yet the false alarms had so deadened our sensitivity that we didn't even stop playing. Even if rarely used, desperation messages empty our credibility banks, rendering our recruitment attempts dull.

Slaying Monster #2

How do we solve the desperation dilemma? Resolve never to use desperation messages in the first place. Realize that these appeals bring only short-term relief at best. In addition, adopt a long-term approach that anticipates recruitment needs long before they arise. Many leaders struggle to recruit because they focus on recruiting only once a year, but recruiting is a year-round ministry activity. Be prepared to select and train volunteers throughout the year. Finally, realize that desperation appeals may be symptomatic of deeper problems. A person on the verge of bankruptcy may seek a quick cure-all, but good financial advisers will tell him, "You didn't amass this debt in one day's time; you can't get out of it in one day's time either."

If you already use desperation messages, reduce your reliance on them one step at a time. If you right the boat's path in one big turn, passengers may end up in the water.

MONSTER #3: Fishing With the Wrong Bait

While desperation messages deaden prospective volunteers' sensitivity, other messages scarcely get a bite. Imagine you've come with me on an unusual fishing trip to land some trout. Trying to get a lead about effective bait, we approach a couple fishing from shore. "Whacha fishin' with?" we inquire.

"Peanut butter," they respond. "Catch anything?" "Not a bite."

Concluding that they might be a little strange, we walk a little further. Two teenage boys are fishing. We again ask, "Whacha fishin' with?" One boy responds, "Pizza." "Pizza!" we shout in disbelief. "Why pizza?" "Well," the boy responds, "we like pizza. We figure if we like pizza, the fish ought to like it. Right?" "Catch anything?" we ask. "Not a bite."

Fishing with the wrong bait is another monster recruiting problem. A trout's keen sense of smell would render a hook baited with peanut butter or pizza worthless. Most of us, even if we don't fish, know that most fish haven't acquired human tastes and therefore don't eat what humans eat. We often approach volunteers with the wrong bait. It might be a bait that we understand and enjoy, but it doesn't contain a message volunteers relate to or even understand.

As a consultant, I'm frequently asked to review recruitment brochures. One bulletin insert championed the need for children's workers. A large picture of a bunny sat in the bottom corner of the ad. I have nothing against bunnies, but we're trying to attract adults, not small children. While the use of bunnies might be fun for children, it's "peanut butter" to a volunteer prospect. Another brochure to lure tutors sported three cartoon-like children on the front. Also fishing with the wrong bait, the brochure unintentionally appeals to children and not to the prospective adults.

When a wild and wacky children's staff comes dressed in crazy garb to recruit volunteers for an upcoming children's event, it's the wrong bait. Immediately those of us in the audience -- even those who might otherwise be interested -- turn a deaf ear, assuming the message isn't for us. Or we think, "I'm thankful I don't have to act like that in front of adults." While the "wild and wacky" approach is just what kids need in their classes, the approach may kill the interest of the prospective adults in a sanctuary. At the same time, it's not the creativity that needs shelving. We desperately need creativity, fun, and humor in our recruitment, but the kind of fun and humor we use should connect with adults who are uncertain about becoming children's workers.

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