Stop Convincing, Start Compelling

by Dustin on June 28, 2013


Most missionaries (and international workers) are limited by resources. You know that if you generated more income, engaged more supporters, or hosted more volunteers, you could help more people. After all, there are enough resources in the world to end hunger, cure diseases, and put an end to poverty as we know it. So why do we still have global poverty? Before this post turns into a real downer, watch this video and know that progress is being made.

Back to our point: whether you’ve ever accepted it or not, you are limited by your ability to get others involved in your mission. There are valid exceptions, such as God intervening, but you can’t really plan for exceptions. So the question becomes, how can you effectively become a voice for the voiceless?

Focus on why, not how

There’s a concept in marketing called the Golden Circle. It explains that at our core, people care about why, more than what or how. This is contradictory to how we usually communicate. Typically, we explain what we do or how we do it much better than why. One common technique for counselors dealing with shaky marriages is to help the couple articulate why they got married in the first place. Once the “why” is figured out, the what and how take a back seat (they become no less essential, just less foundational).

When communicating with your supporters, friends, and family, make sure you give ample space for why you do what you do. In Donald Miller’s famous book, Blue Like Jazz, he explains that he didn’t really like jazz until he watched someone else enjoying it. Seeing someone else’s joy awakened an unknown urge within him to share that same joy. There’s a TED talk about the Golden Circle that I highly recommend.

Connect people to people, not programs

There’s a famous study where people were brought into a room for a survey. They were each paid $5 in one-dollar bills for participating. Before they left, each person was given an opportunity to donate their new found wealth. The first group’s presentation was based on overwhelming facts and statistics like how many people lived in dire poverty and how many children die every day. The second group was presented with an opportunity to help a little girl, Rokia, who had a name, a picture, and a story. Which group was more generous? When there is an “identifiable victim” generosity increases significantly.

It’s vital to emotionally connect people to people if you want to get their engagement. I’ve heard CEO’s, publicists, and missionaries make this mistake over and over again. We talk about our Bible studies, our faith gardens, or our sports outreach programs. Here’s a little secret; people don’t care about your programs. People care about people, so make sure you are talking about real people.

For a quick side note, this is what makes child sponsorship programs so brilliant from a marketing perspective. It’s an incredibly scalable and profitable program with clear and identifiable victims. (These relief-oriented, paternalistic sponsorship programs are problematic for various reasons, but that’s for another post.)

It’s as much a part of your ministry as praying or baptizing

Most missionaries think that corresponding with their supporters and spending time on social media is a necessary evil. This view is tragic and detrimental. The bottom line I’m trying to get across with this point is: being a voice for someone without one is straight up Biblical. Advocating for the poor might be the most important thing you do today. The reality is, with our advantaged position in the world, our highest and best use could be sharing stories and compelling people to get involved.

My brother works in a corporate office in Phoenix. He’ll probably never have the opportunity to interact with a single mother of 8 living in extreme poverty in a remote village of Nicaragua. He wants to help, he’s capable of helping, but how can he? If I don’t share the stories with my brother, I’m stealing his opportunity to fulfill his Biblical mandate as a giver and I’m preventing countless opportunities for growth all across the globe. Share opportunities on behalf of those you are trying to serve.

What kind of stories do you find easiest to tell?

– – –

Dustin Patrick,  1MISSION in Mexico & Central America

Blog: GoodMud | Twitter: @DustinPatrick

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  • I loved this idea of connecting with people not projects. For us a large part of htis is helping people feel connected with us. Our struggles, and our pursuit of God. We share about those we work with too (with their permission) but we find it a real struggle to always feel we must tell supporters what we’ve done (like a checklist) we’ve had amazing feedback by communicating how we are and the day to day. We find this easiest to do on a weekly basis then monthly or quarterly. The stories that are easiest to tell are my own, not what I saw but how it impacted me and my relationship with God. Not why a culture acts a certain way (because the longer I am here the less I know) but how that behavior draws or sends me back to my Savior. It is all about God and pursuing Him…involving people in our story or rather struggle of obedience is one way we connect with our supporters.

  • Phil Wilmot

    I enjoyed so many thoughts in this post, some of which are new to me. Here are some questions that have surfaced in me while reading this post:

    1) I feel as though there is a tendency to promote ourselves using guilt, instead of hope. Generally, guilt seems to be “more effective” is generating a response from supporters/collaborators (especially among whites in wealthier demographics of the West)….I have a hesitancy about the ethics of this kind of marketing. (For example: promoting the “why” of a ministry as “the fulfillment of a biblical mandate” – or showing a sad picture/story of an “identifiable victim” which subtly perpetuates racism – or classism – or ableism – or another “ism”)

    2) Are there truly any people in this world who don’t have a “voice?”

  • Dustin, I really appreciate the heart of this post. I also think the links you gave us are invaluable. We have found that people connect more readily with people, rather than programs or projects, as we communicate about Bolivia.

  • This comes at a really helpful time for me! Thanks.

  • dustinxpatrick

    Amie – I think it’s so important that we “involve people in our story.” Most people want to get engaged with stories that are happening, not stories that could happen. Thanks for reading!

    Phil – Great thoughts and thanks for your comment! 1) I’m pretty much convinced that guilt is a short-term motivator, if we want people to be long-term supporters we need to motivate with the hope that things could get better; that usually includes explaining the problem thoroughly. I totally agree that the ethics behind “guilt marketing” are questionable and I try to help nonprofits I work with to see past the short-term gains in this kind of communication. 2) Voice is relative, I have more of a voice than someone in Mexico who have never seen electricity but I have less of a voice than my local politicians. It’s important that we’re advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves, regardless of what you call it. Thanks for reading!

    Angie – Thanks for the comment, I love hearing how this concepts translates into different cultures.

    Emily – Glad it helped, thank you for reading/commenting.

  • Dalaina May

    So True! We’ve found an incredible response from our church and supporters when we share stories about the lives of the people in our village (Peru). A number of times I’ve simply shared my heart about someone whom I love (like a baby born with hydrocephalus and abandoned by her mother) without any intentions, then I start getting e-mails back from people asking how they can help/get involved (in this baby’s case, a group of people provided money for formula for her aunt to feed her until she died a few months later). That is by far the most satisfying kind of co-laboring. But yes, it does take a willingness to be the voice to tell the stories in a respectful, non-paternalistic way and be the bridge between those we serve on the field and those we serve from back home.

  • dustinxpatrick

    Great example Dalaina, thanks for sharing!

  • cindyfinley

    Absolutely! The problem with funding is not a scarcity of resources. It’s helping people connect the resources God has entrusted them with to the causes/passions that align with their hearts. I totally agree that hearing specific, HONEST, individual stories is absolutely key.

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