Development as Donor Catechesis, Part II: Include a Required Test in Every Newsletter

Those who come from a high church background will be familiar with the concept of the “church year”–the liturgical calendar that runs from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to Ordinary Time and back around again, forming a three-year cycle for the recurring study of specific Scriptures/themes of faith.

As Halden Doerge notes in a truly killer post in Imitatio Dei, the point of the liturgical calendar is to grow Christians to full maturity in Christ. Problem is, Doerge posits, it doesn’t really, um, do that:

In light of what I’ve experienced in practicing this way of keeping time and in the many theological and philosophical books currently in vogue that have a strong emphases on the liturgical year, I’ve come to have some doubts about its ability to do all we tend to hope. The Christian year we are told, forms us differently than the secular calendar, it immerses us in the story of Jesus and the church, training us to resist other loyalties, allegiances, priorities, and practices. This is commonly accepted in certain theological circles these days.

This claim, however, somehow seems to avoid being put to any empirical testing even though it is an empirical claim. The argument is made that liturgy does in fact form and shape a people that resist global capitalism, aren’t seduced by American militarism, and so on, and yet when asked where this particular liturgy-formed people is, there is usually just some quick excuses and then a return to extolling the virtues of the liturgy. Maybe the reason is that the liturgy that most Christian communities practice has been corrupted by secular calendars and methods. But empirically there’s not really any evidence for churches with untouched, uncorrupted liturgies birthing people who live more faithfully. There’s no sign that high church liturgies that haven’t been influenced by “the world” inherently produce social bodies that do all the things liturgical enthusiasts insist are encoded into the liturgy. One could cite the massive amounts of pristine and pure liturgy that went on in the Medieval Crusades, Hitler’s Germany, Pinochet’s Chile, or the famous scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone renounces Satan and all his works as his minions slaughter his rivals.

So what’s the connection between the liturgical calendar and donor development?

Just this:

The liturgical calendar is supposed to grow Christians to fullness in Christ but doesn’t. But we wouldn’t know this because we don’t measure the maturity of individual Christians in churches.

In the same way, as we contend in The Whole Life Offering, donor development in Christian organizations should be undertaken for the purpose of growing Christians to fullness in Christ in relation to the cause the Christian org has been entrusted to steward. Because most Christian organizations don’t measure the maturity of individual donors (instead, we measure their financial giving), they simply don’t know what grows donors…and what does not.

Interestingly, research suggests that one thing that definitely grows individuals…is testing. Witness the recent piece in the New York Times entitled To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test:

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.


Why not include a test in every newsletter you send to your donors, one that they’re required to take–and pass–in order to stay on your donor file and receive the next newsletter?

Why not take things a step further and create a short essay contest in each newsletter, letting donors/readers vote for the winner who is then awarded with a paid ministry opportunity?

Lest you sputter and scoff in protest too much that “Donors aren’t going to want to do that!” consider:

  • whether a development program driven by donor desires is going to be effective in growing people to fullness in Christ
  • whether donors’ lack of interest in such an approach may point to a fundamental flaw in how and where we recruit donors in the first place, and what we tell them as we’re recruiting them

In other words, perhaps the problem is that we recruit donors by appealing to their immediate emotions rather than their desire to grow to become a certain kind of person, e.g., a mature Christian?

Do we really believe that it would not be possible to build a development program by saying:

Look, we’re not here to tug on your heart strings. We’re here to say, if you’re genuinely interested in making a difference in the lives of North Korean Christians living in concentration camps, we can help you do that. But it’s going to involve your willingness to become a student and head back to school for a while. We don’t do a newsletter like a typical charity. Instead, we send a monthly educational brief that contains a quiz with several short-answer questions at the end of each issue. Fail to send the quiz in and we’ll remove you from our mailing list, no questions asked. But send it in and we’ll interact with you on it and help you identify and overcome your blind spots and be trained to give effectively to the cause–your money, your prayers, your volunteer time, and your network of influence.

Granted, some donors would prefer to receive address labels or groveling letters or tear-laden testimonials that induce momentary fits of emotion-laden generosity.

But should Christian orgs really want to build a development program on such a platform? And is it even effective over the long term?

Perhaps it’s too ambitious and prideful for us to try to build a successful donor development program. Maybe we should focus first on growing just our most committed donors to fullness in Christ in our shared cause.

Maybe if we did that, making the process challenging, rewarding, and anything but solicitous, we’d find that we attracted a higher quality of donor such that we could accomplish a lot more with a lot fewer people anyway.

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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