Coach your tribes: how nonprofits and churches can all get along, part I

‘It’s a fact of life: birds flock, fish school, and people tribe.’

That’s the opening line from the book jacket of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright. The book arrived in the mail today, and I resent the fact that I have to work instead of being able to stand in my driveway in the 43 degree Colorado sunshine and read it.

If it is a fact of life that people tribe (and I believe that it is), it’s a fact sorely overlooked (or at least underutilized) by nonprofits. For decades, ‘tribes’ has translated into ‘endless referrals’, as in: ‘Hey, Joe Donor just invited me over to his house for a dessert with his friends!’

Our thought in such a circumstance: ‘Joe is finally using his connections to get me in front of people who could potentially become good donors to my organization.’

Much better thought in such a circumstance: ‘Joe Donor’s tribe is gathering, and I have the opportunity to coach the whole tribe in how they as a tribe can impact the cause Joe and I both love.’

Is that really so far-fetched?

Matt ‘I’d rather contribute to your blog than to do the hard work of writing my own’ Bates sent the Mission Increase Foundation GTO team a great excerpt from Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone in which Putnam blasts charities for thinking they can build tribes (I’m retrojecting that term back into Putnam’s writing) through direct mail apeal letters. Putnam cites the case of direct mail juggernaut Greenpeace, which tripled its membership to 2,350,000 in the years between 1985 and 1990…and then promptly lost 85 percent of those members in the next eight years.

(‘Well, yeah. But we’ve really cut down on our attrition rates since then. In fact, we’re unveiling an amazing new reactivation strategy…’)

Rather than mining Joe Donor’s tribe for interested individuals that I can add to my organization’s donor file, let’s instead focus on deploying a whole tribe  on behalf of the cause in one fell swoop–a tribe that already exists and naturally hangs together even without the benefit of a reactivation strategy.

This is so alien to our thinking as nonprofits because we tend to think that until an individual is corralled into our organization’s donor file (as ‘our donor’), we haven’t truly ‘acquired’ them.

(What odd and objectionable language, don’t you think? Why do we do this stuff?)

Such a donor seems ever in danger of slipping away. Why, we don’t even have their name in our database!

Given that people naturally ‘tribe’, is the individual really more safely and securely tucked into our cause when we manage to kidnap them out of their natural tribe or tribes and insert them into our donor file?

(Interestingly, most nonprofit donor files can’t truly be considered a tribe by Logan/King/Fischer-Wright’s definition, since members of a tribe are those who would stop and greet each other if they passed on the street. You could fill a mall with the donors of a larger nonprofit organization, and they could probably blissfully shop side by side for eons without realizing they were part of the XYZ Ministry donor file-cum-tribe).

(I got that definition by standing in the driveway an extra three minutes reading Tribal Leadership, by the way. Dang. This looks like a good book. Tracy, please cancel all of my meetings this week.)

Among the most natural tribes frequently encountered by Christian ministries?

Local churches.

What would it look like to coach an entire church-tribe at once, rather than seeking only to kidnap the immediately interested members and corral them into our donor file for further cultivation/solicitation? (Please cue the Invasion of the Body Snatchers music.)

We’ll turn to that in our next post, with nothing less than twelve excruciatingly specific recommendations.

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 the former 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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1 Response to Coach your tribes: how nonprofits and churches can all get along, part I

  1. Pingback: Coach your tribes: how nonprofits and churches can all get along, part II « Transformational Giving

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