Marking Donor and Member Development Through Ritual

Nice piece by the folks at Hanopolis on the recent coming-of-age ceremony of a group of Korean students as they finished their college exams. Has me thinking about what occasions we mark–and don’t mark–for our donors and church members as they grow to fullness in the cause.

High school seniors who took their college exams in November in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, participated in a ceremony marking their transition from childhood to adulthood, Dec. 7, Tuesday.

Participants in the so-called “Coming-of-age Ceremony” included both male and female students who put on traditional clothes intended for “grown men”, strictly speaking.

In a world with fewer ceremonies marking life’s transitions, the event was arranged with the help of a Confucian school in order for teens to experience traditional culture as well as help them in the next phase of their lives.

While ceremonies are often seen as pointless and empty, acts pregnant with symbolism and metaphor have important psychological impact on participants.

What “acts pregnant with symbolism and metaphor” do we undertake with our donors?

Gayle Gifford and Jonathan Howard at Cause and Effect have written one of the few posts on this subject of donor rituals:

“On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.”

All Girl Scouts events, with donors or volunteers, include a flag ceremony with a reciting of the Girl Scout Promise. Through this simple ritual, donors internalize Girl Scouts’ values and symbolically re-affirm their support for the history and tradition of this 90 year-old organization.

The Jewish Foundation of Manitoba set out to create a meaning experience for donors when it created its Endowment Book of Life. Donors create a written story of their lives which they sign at a special Signing Ceremony in front of family, friends and peers.

Their story is then displayed at the Foundation through an interactive, web-based kiosk and the stories are also posted on the organization’s website. Signers receive a commemorative gift of their story mounted on specially-designed plaque.

Since 1998, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba has averaged 56 new signers a year and generated $2 million in received gifts with legacy commitments from 255 more (as of 2004).

Sadly, however, the only donor development milestones that are marked in most organizations are donations, which are marked through receipts and thank you calls, and annual years of volunteering, marked through appreciation banquets. These are generally not bad things, but they hardly exhaust the possibilities.

Peter Bregman just did a thoughtful post in HBR on The Value of Ritual in Your Workday. He notes that the first step in marking development milestones is really just paying attention to the development that is happening around you.

Rituals are about paying attention. They’re about stopping for a moment and noticing what you’re about to do, what you’ve just done, or both. They’re about making the most of a particular moment. And that’s something we could use a lot more of in the business world.

True, that.

But what is it that we notice when it comes to donors and members?

Typically only the actions of direct and immediate benefit to our organization. As a result, our donor and member development programs bear more resemblance to operant conditioning schemes than efforts to help people grow in the cause. That is, we pay attention to whatever leads to greater and more frequent giving.

But donor and member development rituals should be something more and other than self-serving moments. At its heart, Transformational Giving (TG) is about recognizing and ritualizing moments of growth for donors and members. What is recognized and ritualized in TG is any step intentionally undertaken by the donor or member on the path to full maturity in the cause.

Are you paying attention to those? Do you have the kind of relationship with your donors or members that you would know when such steps happen? Would they even think to share those with your organization?

As Bregman notes, the first step in that process is to commit to a mindfulness to pay attention to the donor’s/member’s relationship to the cause, not just your organization’s needs.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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4 Responses to Marking Donor and Member Development Through Ritual

  1. Roy says:

    Eric, any ideas of what such a “mark” might be? We have a sponsorship program and celebrate things like graduation, first day of school, etc. But those are steps that the kids take, not the champions.

  2. EFoley says:

    A key question, Roy–definitely one that deeply depends on the particular cause of the nonprofit. It also needs to flow out of a comprehensive plan to grow the champion to maturity in the cause, so that’s where I’d recommend you start (with the overall discipleship strategy) rather than with the marks, since the marks should be derivative, not determinative, of the overall strategy.

  3. Yes, you do have the kind of relationship that you would know when such steps happen. And yes, they do think to share those with you.

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