Those Dreaded Words

Had an expiring plane ticket I needed to use by August 31, so I took a lightning trip to my home state and saw a handful of partners. I wasn’t trying to raise new support, just connect.

Those few appointments brought some unexpected OUCH moments. Over the last seven days, I heard three partners say some of the most dreaded words you can hear in partnership development:

How are things going? I haven’t heard from you in a while!”

(Maybe those were not quite the words you expected, he he. But they certainly alarmed me because I have always viewed myself as a good communicator.)

I just checked my history log in TNT, and I see that I have sent four newsletters this year, which is a little less than my norm; I would normally be on my sixth about now (e.g., roughly every 6 weeks). Every organization has a different vibe on newsletters. Some are particular about “monthly”, while other organizations promote a quarterly cadence among their members. I would say as an overarching principle that the exact frequency is not as important as the consistency.

But for me to hear those words three times in seven days was unsettling.

Yes, I have been a little behind in my normal letters. But more importantly, it is possible that what I am writing is not connecting with them in some way. That is, it may not be standing out to them in the sea of inputs they receive. I am thinking that I need to do three things immediately:

  1. Write more frequently (as I had before),
  2. Be more consistent (same day each month, and better personal branding that is visible), and
  3. Improve the quality of my storytelling. I may have gotten a little sloppy.

Related to this, I’ve written in this blog before that my personal (unscientific) opinion as a PD coach is that, “The very best time of year to do partnership development is between Labor Day and November 15th.” As I am looking at my partners suggesting I’m not communicating as effectively as I could be AND going into what I feel is the best season for PD… I want to be particularly intentional these next eight weeks to actively reach out to my partners, not just by improved letters but by direct personal contact.

I write this post to share my own hiccup this year. But from the TntConnect perspective, what was really helpful was being able to use the History Log to see my Sent Newsletters for the past 20 years. It’s a bit telling (that is, honest) to see what I’ve actually done. Not what I wished had happened, but what actually happened in terms of my mass communications, which is the core of my communication strategy.

Without my history log, I’d just be guessing at what I had done. I may not like what I’ve seen this year, but at least it shows me the reality.

Full disclosure: In addition to newsletters, I do send a lot of handwritten notes. My goal is that each financial partner gets a touch at least 10 times per year. Those have been harder for some reason over the past 18 months, and combined with the fewer newsletters, it is easy to see why my partners feel disconnected. šŸ˜¦

UPDATE: I completed this blog post and clicked Publish. But while it waited overnight to publish to the audience, I got yet another text from one of my top 3 partners. It said this: “Bob. I don’t hear much of anything about your ministry anymore. And I get concerned when I don’t hear from missionaries we support. I have no idea if your traveling, sitting in the office , or whatever”. First, I called him immediately. And then I (a) determined to get a letter in Tuesday’s mail to all of my partners and (b) determined to over-communicate over the next 16 weeks, way more than I normally would in the fall of the year. Over the span of ten days, to have two of my partners reach out to me (their initiative) and two others say it in a face-to-face appointment is, honestly, probably the most painful experience I’ve had in ministry this year.

Chronicles and “Fun with Numbers”

Pamela Klein is a professional reader. She has 25 books on Audible, including best-sellers such as Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ Lies Women Believe. It would take 185 hours to listen to all of these books… and you would want to because Pamela’s voice is wonderful. I can listen to her for hours, which I have, but not on any of these books from Audible.

Pamela is the reader for 1 & 2 Chronicles in the new women-read her.BIBLE. It’s the first audio Bible read entirely by women (surprising in itself!). In many cultures where women are not treated respectfully, hearing a man read the Bible is a very different experience than hearing a woman read. her.BIBLE has about 30 different readers representing a variety of ethnic and regional voices, creating a very rich experience. (Available online and on iPhone and Android.)

her.BIBLE uses the New Living Translation, and there are approximately 559,390 words in the NLT Old Testament. The history books are heavyweights sinceā€”along with Psalmsā€”they are the four longest books.

I have not met Pamela, but I think it is safe to say that her 25 Audible books were a walk in the park compared to reading Chronicles. Here’s why: Of the 2,620 proper names in the Old Testament, more than half of them appear in Chronicles:

Reading Chronicles can feel like reading a phone book, since every eighth word is a name. Those 1,471 names are used more than 5,000 times:

Here’s a ‘heat map’ of proper names in Chronicles. Each square represents one verse, and the darker the blue, the more names, while pink is a verse with no names.

  • You have to read 200 verses before you get to one without any names in it (1 Chr. 7:4).
  • For those verses with names, there are an average of 3.4 per verse
  • 2 Chr. 29:12 is the winner with 16 names in a single verse
  • 86% of the 1,713 verses have at least one name

I helped Kathy put together the list of proper names, in the order they appear (seriously, is there anything you can’t do with Excel?!). This helped Pamela during her recording, and helped ensure she pronounced each name the same way every time it appeared.

Tying this together

As profoundly fascinating as this is, at this point you are (wisely) asking yourself, “How in the world can this possibly relate to TntConnect?”

Not all names in my TNT database are easy to pronounce

My own last name (Mac Leod) is a case-in-point. It’s Scottish (Gaelic), and it’s simply not pronounceable in English. It’s generally pronounced “McCloud” or more technically, “Muh-kloud”.

We have ministry partners whose first or last names are similarly challenging to pronounce. This was especially true with partners that I inherited upon marriageā€”people whose names I saw in my database but had not met yet. When this happens, I make a note in the top of the Notes field so that it is very visible to me. I have 11 such notes in my database. This really helps me when I call them because I see it front-and-centre while making the call.

Pronouncing someone’s name correctly is an important part of a good relationship.

Isaiah 43:4-5 “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darknessā€“secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. And why have I called you for this work? Why did I call you by name when you did not know me? It is for the sake of Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen one.”

Can you be your spouse’s Superhero?

[Imagine here an impressive copyrighted photo of Christopher Reeve playing Superman in the namesake 1977 movie…]

I think Christopher Reeve had a pretty big impact on my life… Clark Kent is the “signature staff memberā€ in the TNT sample database. Superheroes and fictional characters populate this teaching database, but the core characters are Clark Kent and those in his circle.

Christopher Reeve portrayed Superman and Clark Kent in the four Superman movies between 1978 and 1987. In some ways, this series launched the superhero movie genre which is now Hollywood’s top genre. (I’m listening to John Williams’ great Superman soundtrack as I write this.)

Reeve was an avid horseman. In 1995, at age 42, he was thrown from a horse and completely paralyzed. He and his wife Dana started the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The foundation has distributed more than $138 million in grants ā€œto finding treatments and cures for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders” (Wikipedia).

On Friday, October 8, 2004, the foundationā€™s leadership team held a routine planning meeting. They talked about some worst-case scenarios. They considered an action plan if/when Christopher Reeve died unexpectedly. One of the staff noted that it was morbid to even talk that way! After all, besides his paralysis, Christopher Reeve was a healthy 52-year-old.

Two days later, Christopher Reeve died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

That’s a distant story, but another one came closer to home.

Burt was a college student at my church when I was in middle school. He and the other college students involved in campus ministry were a real inspiration to me. Their influence led me to get involved in the campus ministry at my university, and then follow Burt into full-time ministry. We weren’t friends (he was 10 years older than I). I doubt he even remembered who I was. Some of my partners were also ministry partners with Burt and his family.

So it was with great shock and sadness when I heard that Burt, then 41, died in an accident on the way home from an out-of-state partnership development trip. Burt’s wife engaged in ministry in a new way and is still on our staff more than 20 years later.

Youā€™ve probably known a handful of co-workers who died suddenly, either through accidents or a health issue. These unexpected deaths are followed by a chaotic scramble to figure out what the future holds or even how to produce a letter to pass this news on. The spouse is missing key information such as logins and passwords, financial accounts, newsletter lists, et cetera.

Thereā€™s NO best ratio of who does what. BUTā€¦ when one person does it all and the other is clueless, that’s a risk. If one person handled key things like managing the household finances, or doing partnership development, their unexpected death brings grief and chaos.

I’ll come right out and ask the difficult questions. If you died today…

  • Would your spouse know how to keep raising personal support?
  • Would she or he be able to produce your monthly newsletter?
  • Would she or he even be able to send out the very difficult first letter?
  • Would she or he know where the payroll forms are and the ministry reimbursement forms are? And how to prepare and submit them?

In our organization, weā€™re encouraged to create “The Red Folder”, primarily for personal finances. This should be our one place where all the most important family financial information is stored. When one (or even both) spouses die suddenly, those left behind should then have the ability to immediately engage in finances.
Consider how difficult it would be for your spouse to make financial decisions and do ongoing reimbursement and tax paperwork. Can he or she continue with MPD and communication with your team all while under a lot of emotional distress?

Be your spouse’s superhero by engaging him or her in your regular partnership development. At least expose them to TNT and how to do the basics.

Disclaimers:

  • This blog post came out of a conversation with a co-worker who has this exact concern because she is the one who does all of the admin for their family PD. She also gave extensive editorial assistance in producing it.
  • The story about Christopher Reeve is one I recall from memory; however that was 20 years ago… so my recollections may not be perfect.