Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Systems, structure and software

To review:

1. UUism is underfunded because it relies on the local pledge campaign, both for congregational operations and for APF funds for the UUA denominational operations. And the local pledge campaign is a fundraising amateur hour.

2. The fundraising and growth problems in the local congregation are linked, and visible if we look at them using the ladder of engagement tool.


Most congregation are not introducing themselves to people in their community who are unaware of them, but should know them. They are also not bringing enough people who are observing their congregation from afar into active support. Without a constant flow of new people up to the supporters rungs, the natural process of attrition slows the income stream. 

3. The way to introduce the congregation to previously unaware people, and activate the observers is to offer them ways to act on the values they share with us, and establish a relationship with them, out where they are. Most congregations do not establish a relationship with someone until they visit a worship service, in where we are.

Why? Why aren't we out there, creating the opportunities for people to stand on the side of love, to join UU spiritual practice groups, to rally for the minimum wage, to hike in the woods together? Why aren't we creating and nurturing relationships beyond our immediate congregational circle. 

I will leave it to others to speculate on the shadow side of our collective psyche: our snobbery, our insecurity, our Calvinism in denial. 

I might suggest that we don't have the tools, the systems and structures, to do that work. And since we don't have the tools, we imagine the task to be impossible and the solutions unimaginable. 

As I said, I have returned from the Non-Profit Technology Conference. There are software systems out there called CRM systems: C_________ Relationship Manager systems.  ("C" can stand for Customer, Contact, Constituent, Contributor, Convert, Citizen or whatever. We can call it a Community Relationship Manager. Here are some examples: CiviCRM, Salesforce.

We need a "Community Relationship Manager" system to do the work that we need to do. It's just a database of contacts but it is integrated with marketing, event, communication and fundraising software. So we can identify community people who are aligned with our public ministry and nurture our relationship with them over time.  It integrates our contacts with people on social media and in "real life."

As social media becomes the infrastructure of community interactions (as the telephone system was at one point, or the mail before then), CRM software becomes a necessity. 

The organization of data sets the boundaries of an organization. That xeroxed Church Directory of Members and Friends, their mailing addresses and phone numbers, defines the boundaries of the local congregation, in effect. It is a slight update over the membership book that has defined congregations since the early 20th century, replacing the pew map which used to define the congregation.

Now, for the controversial part: 

The kind of software that congregations need to have to do their jobs in this new era is beyond the capability of most local congregations. The expense, the staff skills, and the structure needed are too much. Perhaps our largest congregations could pull it off, but most cannot. It may be that the great cross-denominational church drop-off, especially among the young, is as much technological as it is consumerism, secularity, or individualism. 

We have to change our structures. 


2 comments:

Steve Cook said...

Alright, I'm listening. Using, as I do, only about 5% of the power of my computer and its capabilities at any time (as do most most non-"power users" I am told) and recognizing that most congregations are similar, I want to hear more about the hardware, software and staff now considered necessary to overcome the obvious decline we are facing. Also, I'd like to hear what successful congregations are doing that appears to be happening without all of this new and needed digital wizardry. What to they know, what are they doing, that the rest of might have been doing all along?

Scott Wells said...

Yes, those examples of CMSs are beyond most churches: in scope, management, cost and capacity. (As for cost: the cheap or free-to-use or free-and-open-source ones need a lot of pro customization to work with nonprofits, and more for churches. And that's not free.)

For the average UU church with dozens or low hundreds of members and hundreds or low thousands of contacts, it's overkill and an unnecessary headache.

I know of other, more managable options and will blog about them later.