Don’t Treat Everyone The Same

We are not accustomed to thinking about our congregation as an aggregate of nested sub-cultures, each with their own unique identity, characteristics, and needs. I have on a number of occasions on Sundays during my Center Update segment talked about three primary sub-cultures: Stewardship (the Board culture), Ownership (the financial and volunteer core) and the culture of Receivership (those who are participating in only community activities like the worship service, pot-lucks, celebrations, and classes).

I explained to the congregation that those who are relatively new to the church have no authentic connection to the ministry as an organization. Their interest and focus is on their experience within the context of the spiritual community, not the organization. As long as they are spiritually fed, welcomed, accepted and valued for their mere presence in the community, they hang out and journey with us for a while. In time, 90% will leave the ministry in one year. This is normal. Nothing is broken. Don’t try to board up the revolving door!

Then there are those that have been with the ministry over the years. This smaller group of faithful supporters are interested in the relational dynamics of the community as well as being concerned about the well-being of the organization. They know that the vitality of the community is linked to the health and sustainability of the ministry as a whole (community and organization).

I also explained that the culture of Stewardship (the Board) is all about taking care of business, planning, fundraising, risk management, paying the bills, setting policy, etc. This small group of volunteer leaders are tasked with the ultimate responsibility of ensuring the overall integrity of the ministry.

My guidance with respect to what I share during my Center Updates  is to help the entire congregation understand the not-so-obvious dynamics of ministry. It will be Jane and my intention to interact and work with each of the sub-cultures in a way that honors their individual identity, characteristics and needs. For instance, we will work with the board, the culture of ownership and the culture of receivership differently because each of these sub-cultures has their own context and perspective in relation to the ministry. Those in ownership have different needs that those in receivership.

Not Your Parents Offering Plate

Clif Christopher explains that the biggest mistake churches make with respect to their donors is that they treat everyone the same. Everyone gets the same announcements, the same financial report, the same donor letter, etc., when actually and depending upon the sub-culture of the donor, each will have a different expectation or need with respect to their financial involvement.

As I studied the giving patterns in this ministry, I discovered four distinct tiers among all of Unity Spiritual Center’s donors. I ended up writing a different donor letter for each group in an effort to align with their particular cultural identity.

The same principle is applied to the classes and programs Jane and I are conducting. We send out a private invitation to a class or a training to a targeted group of people. Then, we repeat the same program over and over until everyone is included. The classes and trainings are very coherent and transformational because each group’s participants are by design in the same sub-culture.

It may seem counter intuitive to treat people differently based on their financial support, involvement, tenure or stature in the ministry, but the reality is that until we align with their cultural identity we are missing their mark. We are very good at treating everyone the same, giving them the sense that they are valued and loved. We begin with this but the problem is that we end with it as well. In reality, people deep down inside don’t want to be treated the same. They want to be treated as an individual for their specific expressions of gratitude and support. When we are able to align with their identity by speaking their language, meeting them in their world-view, we succeed in creating empathy and understanding. The takeaway is that people in receivership will upgrade and become owners. And the people in ownership will become owner / partners.

Blessings, Gary


3 thoughts on “Don’t Treat Everyone The Same”

  1. I could not agree more, Gary. One thing that might be helpful for a future post is for you to explain how you determine who is in each of those four tiers of giving. This is a skill that few ministers have, and the tug of wanting to be egalitarian is strong.

    1. I consulted with our bookkeeper who created a printout of all who have made donations within the past year. Then I observed the range and possible groupings of donors. For instance, let’s say that 20 people gave $10,000 a year or more; then the next grouping is 30 people who have given around $5000 a year. The third grouping was $1000 a year, and the fourth group was comprised of those who gave less than $500 a year.

      Next, I was able to determine the donors on the list that have both the means and the desire (if properly engaged) to help us with any shortfall especially with the summer months on the horizon. This group was deemed the high tier donors. This group got a letter that appreciated their generosity, but in addition, I explained our plan for raising the qualifications bar for leadership roles and establishing financial benchmarks for Trustees. In this letter was also the invitation to help us close our shortfall with a special gift to the church if so guided. This is the group that is most concerned with how leadership manages the organization. If they have confidence in the minister(s) and Board, they are more open to the request for financial assistance.

      The next two groupings got their own individual letter as well, but no ask for more money or an increase in giving. The ask was to become a consistent donor by authorizing automatic credit card donation or direct deposit to our bank account. Studies have shown that even those in the culture of ownership only give when they are present. Automatic donations realize a 30% increase in annual income simply by virtue of the consistency principle.

      The remaining groupings are not asked at all for more money, but rather more involvement (ownership opportunities) i.e. invitation of classes and trainings.

      Thanks, Jim, for asking the question. It enriches the blog experience.

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