Tag Archives: communication

help people see how their help can help.

$1,276,144.44

That’s how much our church owes the bank.

It’s a mortgage. We doubled the size of our building a few years back, with classrooms and offices and youth space and a gym. The people here did a great job of seeing what they needed and planning it and raising funds.

But this isn’t a story about the building. It’s a story about the number.

We are in the middle of a capital campaign. On the first Sunday of the campaign we wanted to tell the story clearly and simply. We wanted to tell the amount.

In early drafts, we talked about the fact that we had said $1.3 million in one place and $1.2 million in another. As we started to decide which it was, we agreed that the best thing to do–the simplest line to draw in the sand–was the loan balance as of the Friday before.

$1,276,144.44

And so we showed that number on the screen, read it a couple of times. It’s a long number to read.

It’s also a very powerful number to show to a group of people who are all ages and socioeconomic levels. I didn’t understand how powerful until I watched the video.

Sitting still, listening to my own voice, I realized that if we had said that we were raising $1.3 million, most people watching would have struggled a bit with how much they could give, how much their little bit would matter.

As soon as we needed $144.44, everyone could see that they could help with at least forty-four cents. Everyone. Even the person with only two quarters in their pocket.

When you have a big project, see if there’s a way to simply describe it so anyone could say, “my little bit matters.”

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If you are curious, here’s the video.

age before beauty

I work in a church building. We have Sunday school classes for adults.

When I started two years ago, there was a folder that listed them all by class title. It told the name of the class, the age bracket, the location, the teacher’s name, and a brief explanation of the group written by the group.

hope and meI made it pretty. I turned it into a trifold, put a catchy title on the front, put a picture on the back. I edited the copy a bit, but didn’t want to mess with what people said. All the classes are interested in helping people grow and learn and build relationships. Most of the classes don’t talk about what makes them demographically and microculturally distinct.

It was a nice, generic piece.

And I put the name of the class in bold type.

Yesterday while I was pouring dirt on a table in the middle of the hallway, a friend said, “I was talking to a couple people last night. Someone was visiting last week. The people trying to help the guest figure out what class to go to couldn’t find anything that told about the classes. They found a list of the classes on a map, but nothing about them.”

As I drove to work today, ready to address that problem with information for our welcome center people (the people that had been trying to help). I thought about my pretty brochure, the one that had been on the counter, right where they were. The piece that no one saw.

This afternoon, I took the pretty brochure and turned it into a two page, front and back piece that in 20 point type says “9:00am” on one side and “10:15 am” on the other. Then, in 18 point type I list the age bracket/life stage for each class. And then, in 12 point, I list the rest of the information.

It’s not pretty design for the people in the classes. There are no pictures. There is no cute title.

But that brochure didn’t work.

Now it’s functional design for people trying to help new people find a starting point.

Age before beauty. It’s the polite thing to do.

For more on communicating, here’s my teaching and learning page.

For more on communicating in churches, here’s my free ebook called Unchurchy: reflections on communication and church

100 percent savings and a free ebook

I had a coupon for 40% for Borders this weekend. The book I wanted wasn’t in our local store. (I need to read Outliers: The Story of Success for my deliberate practice, um, practice).

I thought about just buying some book because the coupon was so great. But saving 40% on a book that I don’t exactly need, just because the coupon is great isn’t much of a savings.

So I renewed my hold at the library and realized that I had saved 100%.

And then I realized that I had saved 100% of the time that I would have spent either reading that other book or worrying about having one more book on my pile of books to read.

And then I realized that I had saved 100% of the focus that I would have diverted from the projects that I need to focus on.

And then I realized that I had saved 100% of the energy we would have spent going to the store.

And then I realized that I had saved 100% of the emotional struggle that would have happened from spending 60% more on a book than we had planned to spend yesterday.

And so that 40% off coupon saved me 500% of resources that are limited.

That, my friends, is an amazing coupon.

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Now for an offer that may be a savings to you and may not be.

Here’s the back story. Kathy Drewien sent me a tweet the other day:

kdrewien @jnswanson Do you have posts on church communication? I just agreed to head team of new committee to enhance communication at church.

It was a great question. My first reaction was to say “no”, because I haven’t written or tagged any posts with “church communication.” But then I search my blog for “church” and realized that I have, completely inadvertently, written a number of posts that could be useful for church committees to use if they don’t want to sound churchy.

I spent a little time on the project and now have a new ebook: Unchurchy: reflections on communication and church.

It’s a collection of seven essays (posts) on communication, including “The Next Sentence” and one of my Emilio posts.

Here’s what I would love:

  • Download it if you or someone you know needs a way to help churches think about communicating differently.
  • Download it if you feel like helping me with layout and design.
  • Download it if you feel like adding one more book to your reading pile.
  • Don’t download it if it will add to your list of things that you want to get to but never will.

I’d love to save you 100%, but I’d love your feedback, too.

Make sense? The link for my new ebook again? Unchurchy: reflections on communication and church.

how far could you go to help?

Thinking about being helpful.

1. I got an email today about a post I wrote on Monday. I talked about making calendars. I gave a sample calendar page to play with. I asked for feedback.

Even as I was writing that post, I thought, “I’m assuming a lot of knowledge.”

And my friend wrote and said, “How do I do that?” What is second nature to me isn’t to him (and to 90% of you). In my rush to write a post, I didn’t think about actually helping people do what I was talking about.

2. I got another email today from another friend. He was asking a question in reply to an email I sent him.

As I looked at my original email, I thought, “This is the worst looking, most confusing email ever!” It led with an incredibly ambiguous question. It was followed with typos beyond belief.

Don’t believe me?

Look:

keller

Was I offering a personal interview with Tim Keller? (No.) What was I asking, really?

In my rush to get out the email, I didn’t think about what a really busy person would need to know.

3. Nancy and I were talking about seminars and training sessions yesterday. She said, “do we ever change what we are doing because of them?” I think about all the seminars, all the traning, all the books, all the classes that I have taken, read, written or taught. And I’m not sure how to answer her question. Most of the time, we don’t change what we are doing because there isn’t any followup or follow through or accountability or encouragement. We don’t change because it’s too hard to work on the implementation and it is easier to take another seminar.

As I look at these three conversations, I realize again that it is not enough, as I have said before, to take the approach: when I have finished speaking I will have spoken (when I have finished asking I will have asked. When I have finished a post I will have posted.) That is a performance approach to communication rather than a helping people learn approach.

If it matters that you can make a calendar or listen to Tim Keller or have the tools to change how you think, then it matters that I do everything I can to help. And there is way more that I can do.

Even if it is as simple as proofreading my emails.

I almost succumbed

I’m working on a couple enewsletters today. One goes to an increasing percentage of our congregation. Since the first of the year, we’ve been sending it weekly. It will eventually replace the mailed biweekly version. The other goes to our leaders. It hasn’t gone out for several months. (I got distracted.)

Today I decided that I needed to send out an edition of the leadership enewsletter.  It’s on my todo list. I have information about a seminar for everyone in that role. I have a PDF of the information. I started thinking about how to attached the PDF, how to cut and paste, how to upload it so that our people could download it.

I started thinking, in short, about the technical aspects of delivery.  But then I realized that I had completely forgotten about the implications of an article I had read not an hour before.

John Jantsch talked today about narrowly defining your ideal customer. He wrote about identifying the people you are trying to reach. He talked about finding a picture of a representative of that group. And then, he said, think carefully about them, as people rather than as a demographic.

  • What brings them joy?
  • What are they worried about?
  • What challenges do they face?
  • What do they hope to gain from us?

There are more questions, but they take us deep into thinking about the people we are trying to serve, to help, to invite, to involve.

Somehow, in the middle of my figuring out how to upload the brochure, John’s questions came back to me. As I think about our leaders, what are the challenges they are facing and how will this seminar help? As I think about their joys, and I think about asking them to spend a Saturday away from their families, a day in between their full-time jobs and their very active church involvement, do I know enough about the seminar to know that it will help increase that joy? That it will be worth the investment? As I think about their worries, about what is keeping them awake at night–people the manage, companies they work for, unemployed people they are helping–do I know enough about the seminar to be able to say, “This will help you!”

So I stopped. I sent an email back to the seminar team saying, “tell me more.”

I may not get an enewsletter out to our leaders today. And that’s okay. As much as I want to put a checkmark next to “publish the enewsletter” on my list, I think the “build and equip people to serve” item is more important.

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For more information on MailChimp, the enewsletter provider we use, click here. Powered by MailChimp

reverberant silence

St John the Evangelist is an old church. It’s the oldest church in Indianapolis. It feels like “church”. High ceiling, stained glass, candles, long and narrow.

“Ubi Caritas” is an old hymn. Fifth century old. Though the setting is newer, when sung by a children’s choir, it feels like “church music”.

When you put the two together, the music and the building, some of us end up in tears. The music is full of spaces, silences. The room is full of spaces, resonance. Each silence in the music draws music from the building.

The two are perfectly built for each other.

Other pieces don’t work in this room. Pieces that pour piano notes into the space cause them to pile up, colliding with each other. Pieces with long smooth melodies seem to weave together and trip and get muddled.

When we create content, whether in writing or in speaking or in conversation or in powerpoint decks, we are wise to think of the space which will receive what we make. The physical space, yes, but the space in hearts and ears and thoughts and noise.

If there will be much mental noise, then short, loud, striking, simple.

If there will be interaction, then winding, provacative, reflective.

If there will be hurting hearts, then soothing, healing.

If there will be newly aware or thoughtfully seeking, then clear unassuming explanation.

Composers, at times, write for kinds of space.

Shouldn’t, couldn’t we?

slowly, but still, learning

For the past eight years, almost every month I’ve walked into a board meeting carrying a sheet with numbers on it. The numbers reflect the previous month’s income and expense.

Most months the news has been marginal. Non-profits are frequently no profits, and because giving to churches and other non-profits is usually highest in December and spending is highest in other months, I have often had to do some explaining.

I am an explainer. It is what I do. However, I have a confession. It wasn’t until this week that I realized that my explaining would benefit from pictures. I always do pictures to help people understand, whether with photographs or words. Except when it has come to these reports.

I spent yesterday making graphs that would give perspective, that would give context, that would help us understand the numbers.

It sort of worked.

As I talked about it this morning, trying to figure out what to do better, a colleague said, “with all the differences in learning styles, how do you make the information understandable to everyone?”

It was a great question.

But, I said, there are only 10 people. It wouldn’t be that hard to spend the 30 days between meetings thinking about the audience and considering how to express numbers as trends, as relationships, as investments, as changed lives.

That would take all your time, she said.

After the first time, it wouldn’t. I would know what I was doing. And they would help each other understand in their own styles. And they, these other leaders, would feel like they owned the information.

And isn’t understanding some of the key indicators of your organization, whatever they are, pretty important?

On one hand, I feel annoyed with myself. Eight years and I just figured it out. On the other hand, I find myself still learning. And that is a key indicator itself.

crowdsourcing old media

Last Friday I showed you a couple pictures of our church sign. What I was most showing is how clever or something I was. But, as often is the case, other people knew better than I.

Amy pointed out that the OVER would make more sense with parentheses. Meg agreed and pointed out that there are two parens in the letter O.

So today it was time to change the sign. Again there were two events and not enough lines. So we went with the same theme as last week. Two different sides with OVER. But today Kim made parens by printing an O on a n overhead transparency and cutting them out.

And, of course, it works.

Please understand. This is a sign in front of a church in Grabill, IN, with characters made from overhead material, recommended by people from Fort Wayne and from Portland, Maine.

Sometimes we talk about using social media to make the monkey dance. We look at someone on a webcam somewhere else and send them a text to make them move. And that is, really, quite silly. But helping people smile as they drive by a sign is not so silly.  In this case, the connection between the blog comment and the church sign isn’t technology…it’s people. Relationships are making the sign better…and the relationships stronger.

Kim and Amy and Meg haven’t ever seen each other. They probably won’t. But because I decided to talk about something low-tech, something small, something simple, they were able to work together quite well.

So what? Talk. Write. Share about life. Give examples. Be off the wall. And comment. Together we are figuring out how to do lots of things more effectively. Even humor. On signs. In Grabill.

not everyone likes coffee

I was raised well by my Swedish family. I always offer coffee. (and then take some myself, thank you very much).

Some people like tea. My offer of coffee is misguided. Some people are opposed to caffeine. My offer of coffee is an affront. Some people aren’t thirsty. My offer of coffee is irrelevant. Some people like coffee, but not the way I make it. My offer of coffee forces them to be polite.

I could, of course, only talk with people who like coffee the way I make it. I could (implicitly) demand that they conform to my tastes if they are going to talk with me. But that would be come tedious after awhile.

I thought of this today when someone said that a group of people didn’t understand something that I had written. I realized that how I write here, where you choose to drink the coffee, where an audience gathers because they have acquired a taste for the way I brew ideas, will be different than how I write elsewhere, on behalf of others. When I am writing on behalf of my organization, I have to remember that the audience isn’t my audience, it is the organization’s audience.

That audience is part of a microculture that has formed in this organization over the past century. While I’ve been forming elsewhere for half that time, I’ve only been here for a year. And while I can use my voice and perspective, there is an edge in my personal writing that is not part of the organization’s persona.

I read today about buyer personas in a case study of rightnow.com. The post talks about identifying clear profiles of the buyers you are seeking. Once you have this picture, you structure your communication strategy, a website, for example, to answer the questions that this buyer has. the company is an IT company, but the application became clear for me.

On my blog, I always offer coffee. But what if I help our church think about our people. There is a group of people in our church who are parents of young children. They really don’t care much about coffee. They pretty much want to know what time and where and how long the children’s events are. They want to be able to find that information quickly and really don’t care about my odd photos and clever wording.

There is a group of people in our church who are committed to learning and want to know where the learning opportunities are and whether we have anything online and what we have offline.

There is a group of people in our church who want to serve other people. They need to know when and where and how and who.

And as I think about those buyer personas, I realize that we haven’t been thinking that way. I realize that if we did, we could help them very well and could be much clearer in our website and all of our communication. And that’s a good thing.

I think I’ll get some more coffee and work on that. Can I get you some?

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That ringing sound? It’s my virtual Red Kettle.  But it’s okay to give at the office.

somehow just say it

Today Nancy bought and canned half a bushel of tomatoes. Eleven quart jars are cooling on the counter for 8 dollars and time. It’s an old-fashioned thing to do. But we eat a lot of foods that use tomatoes as the main ingredient and so it makes sense. Besides, she knows how to do canning and likes the process and uses the outcome to say “I love you.”

Friday night Andrew went to a football game. Every other game in his life, he’s had to walk around the field. Friday night, he walked across the middle of the field. He’s working as a freelance reporter. He had a right and responsibility to be there. By the end of the night, he got his byline through old-fashioned reporting and writing.  A bunch of high school kids who spend time online got to hand a grandmother a newspaper with their names in it, using the outcome of Andrew’s work to say, “be proud.”

Friday morning, I spent time licking envelopes. We have friends in Europe. They need financial support. We mailed out their newsletter by snail mail. They will be emailing them in the future, but this one needed to get to people who may or may not have email, who may or may not be online. Letters are arriving in houses this week saying, “Invest in signficance.”

For years I have been very aware of how many choices we have for messages. I end up paralyzed by the options at times, wanting to maximize the use of the information, wanting to balance timeliness with attention with authority with laziness. I have, I confess, often not passed on a message because I couldn’t figure out how to say it. And I spend time exploring new avenues for saying things.

What these three examples are reminding me, however, is that figuring out what needs to be said is essential. Nancy always will find a way to say, “I love you.” Whether through tomatoes or texts, the message resonates.

When we are testing microphones or cameras, we start by focusing on the technology, “Just say something.” To have significance, to change the world, to touch people, we need to turn that around.

That message you have?

“Somehow, just say it.”