All Good Things

After 20 years and more than 600 articles, videos, and blog posts on TntConnect, I want to let you know that this is my last post in and I am officially retiring from my volunteer role—and joy—of supporting TNT. And I want you to know how much I appreciate your enthusiasm and support over the years!

Read on and I’ll tell you what I’m thinking…

Greetings from northern Minnesota and the Greyhound Bus Museum.

Hibbing, Minnesota, is home to this gem of Americana. In 1914, two enterprising young men bought two new cars, Hupmobiles, with the intent to sell them to people in this small mining town.

They offered free rides and got many … free riders, but no buyers.

A friend suggested they sell these sample rides for 15¢ between Hibbing and Alice (two miles away), and the inter-city bus business was born. Prior to this, walking was the only option. They added more towns, and as ridership grew they started a side-business to stretch cars to make the multi-passenger vehicles that later became the buses we know today; by the 1940s, Greyhound was the largest transportation company in the world.

The museum traces Greyhound’s history from 1914 to the late 1980s, with the best part being the many classic buses they have on display. Greyhound is a rare company that not only invented an entire industry but also became the undisputed leader of it for decades.

Many innovations start as one person’s solution to a problem. It grows from there, first to early adopters, then gathering steam until it becomes mainstream, and then eventually it saturates the market where there are effectively no more customers. The innovation moves from highly manual to [in most cases] almost entirely automated. In some cases, these innovations were incremental over decades; for example, people used to pump water and carry it into the house which they heated using a fire they stoked; now they just turn on a faucet and hot water pours out.

The innovation AND adoption curves look something like this:

The steep part of the growth curve comes when the innovation, infrastructure, and mass production drive the costs down to where the [whatever] becomes affordable to the masses. Prohibitive cost was not the only obstacle to owning a car in 1914 in rural northern Minnesota… lack of roads and gas stations (infrastructure) limited the reach of this exciting new tool.

While many common household ‘technologies’ (such as indoor plumbing, telephones and television, electricity, air conditioning, etc.) are now universal and taken for granted, software technologies are the relative newcomer. And unlike those sweeping innovations, software adoption sometimes faces a “reverse adoption” curve (green) where both the number of users and the amount of usage declines even as the technology itself reaches a point of maximum improvement.

Software is not the only thing that faces reverse adoption. Diets, fitness apps / equipment / gym memberships, Netflix, restaurant chains, etc., all see this phenomenon as the newness wears off and reality sets in.

This reverse adoption happens when people try a new software tool/productivity product, often with great enthusiasm, but then over time either stop entirely, or at least revert to the way they used to do it. Usually the expectations were unrealistic (and for good reason: unlike TNT, most software home pages promise to solve every problem with little work on the user’s part!).

Lately I have been thinking about this “reverse adoption” curve, not just with TntConnect, but with other powerful productivity tools such as Quicken, Excel, and Word (all of which I have used for 30ish years).

In 2003 we did a survey of our staff about how they budget, and 80% of them used Quicken. Last year I surveyed 100 of our new staff under age 30, and exactly ZERO use Quicken. Fewer than half use any software, and those that do use 7 different products (several of which I had never heard of). You can imagine how difficult it has become to teach personal budgeting in such a fractured space! We’ve had to stop teaching software and focus only on principles; but the downside is that this leaves people having to learn software—and apply those principles—on their own; this is where the big gap is today.

So what changed? Quicken and TNT were in the family of “Killer Apps”, productivity tools that gathered all of the best practices into one powerful tool and had a near-monopoly in the market. Through the suggestion boxes from countless users and rapid innovation, these tools reached a point of near-perfection. People flocked to these tools in hopes of leveraging the new technology to ‘excel still more’. These tools were a quantum leap forward over the paper-based methods used before; they revolutionized how finance and PD were done. I can remember huge displays of Quicken at the office supply store, especially when each new release came out. I also remember a seminar I held after TNT had an upgrade, and more than 300 of our staff came to it. People would stop me in the hall to talk about it.

As these tools matured and the web/mobile began to grow, the software world began to splinter and proliferate. Instead of trying to compete with a single dominant tool, new software began to deliver only a piece, innovating on one element instead of trying to conquer the killer app. People now cherry-pick their tools, using just the most helpful features from a variety of tools rather than seeking to master one super-powerful tool.

Of course, power users still swear by the killer app because they relish the excellence, power, speed, and control over data that these tools offer, much of which is sacrificed by the leaner, web-based tools. For them, these super-tools fill a “sweet spot” and are, in fact, a sheer joy to use.

But the audience has shifted.

It’s not that those missionaries care less about PD. It’s just that they are not looking to software to do it. One of my opening lines when teaching a TNT class to new users was: “TNT will not do PD for you. You still have to do the work!” In my research over the past 8 years, the single-most popular PD tool by far is … a spreadsheet. I use a spreadsheet for PD work!

A few months ago, I sensed it was time for me to wrap up my hobby supporting TntConnect.

Recently I had lunch with Troy Wolbrink and was chatting about this. He made an astute observation: “You’ve written everything you could write about TntConnect.” And he was spot-on. As I looked at the 100+ blog entries in my future blog calendar, every one of them was something I had previously written on.

This won’t change my own use of it, of course. I usually have TNT open on my computer whenever I’m working as it is my primary personal management tool. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that using TNT has actually shaped how I do partnership development.

TntConnect continues to serve thousands of missionaries effortlessly, but the real innovations coming from TntWare are the organization tools that help ministries do online giving and/or collect/deliver donation information to their missionaries.

Conclusions and Concluding

It was never, ever, my primary goal to get people to use TNT (as an end in itself), either growing the number of users or helping the users “be better users and love it like I do”.

My primary goal has always been to help people build better relationships with their partners and be fully funded so they can thrive in mission. The intangible impact of TNT is that the collective usage of it worldwide, by freeing up some hours each month for every user, equates to sending hundreds of additional missionaries into the field.

If I may be so bold, my work in TNT resulted in some of my greatest friends in my ministry career: Troy Wolbrink, Martha and Duane Conrad, Horst Reiser, and Sus Schmitt.

I met Troy while writing my first book on TntMPD (as it was called at the time), Exploding TntMPD, and today he is one of my closest friends.

I met Martha (a USA staff member with our organization) in Germany in late May 2006 when Troy and I did the first international rollout of TNT; we stayed a week with Martha and her husband Duane for a week. Martha personally translated both the software and my book into German. Horst came from Switzerland for that rollout and became a TNT champion across Europe from a team/fund-development perspective.

As I look back, I consider that week to be the most pivotal week in the entire history of TNT, at least for our organization. Returning from that one week, I immediately switched to our international division, spearheading the launch of TNT and TntWare’s other ministry tools all over the world. Because of that week, thousands of missionaries started using TNT to support their PD efforts.

Duane (left), Martha, and I discuss the training guide. Martha not only translated TntConnect and my book into German, she also translated for hours during the training. Later, she spearheaded the launch of TntConnect across Europe. Her passion is caring for people and helping them thrive. Duane was a champion of Crown Financial Ministries stewardship training in Europe for many years, but maybe more importantly, has an intuitive sense into how people think and work.

The crucible of growth. Long nights and lots of food led to some of the most transformative developments in the history of TntConnect.

Horst Reiser came from Switzerland to attend this rollout. His passion for tools and excellence left a huge imprint on TntConnect: He was the guiding force behind the development of the robust Campaign features in TNT 4.0
Sus Schmitt has been a TNT champion as long as I have, and has personally ministered to thousands of missionaries in helping use lots of software tools to be more effective.

I’ve also become good friends with Sus Schmitt whose blog eQuipping for eMinistry has been a huge encouragement to me and many other people. She is like my tandem bike partner, doing what I do but for ministry tools in general. She loves TNT as her core PD tool and has really helped me hone my teaching and writing by giving me solid “outsider” feedback. Her blog audience is way bigger than mine!

Thanks so much for reading and your support over the last 7 years of this blog, and even for the last 20 for those who have been with me since I first started this work.

Yours in Christ,



I’m stuck on you (or, More Fun With Numbers)

I’ll make this easy for you so you can stop reading here: USA stamps increase on Sunday. Buy more NOW.

Many missionaries who read this probably send a lot of letters. Some use newsletter services and many are migrating to more electronic communiqués, but even so—compared to most people—it’s my guess that the average reader of this blog uses substantially more stamps than anyone else they know not in ministry.

Part 1: A little rate increase history

ALERT: The U.S. Postal Service on Sunday, July 10th will do their next periodic first-class rate increase, from 58¢ to 60¢ (a 3.4% increase).

This shouldn’t be news to you, nor particularly concerning: U.S. postal rates do increase from time-to-time, but they have stayed very close to inflation rates.

I first started sending my “family newsletter” when I was 9 years old (1977) and remember stamps being 13¢ at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that 13¢ is worth 66¢ today, so in some respects today’s prices are comparatively lower than before. As a penny becomes less valuable each year, it is easier for the postal service to stay close to inflation. In 1932, the first increase in 47 years was from 2¢ to 3¢, a staggering 50% jump that must have been very painful for many during the peak of the Depression.

That 1932 increase was the only permanent increase between 1885 and 1958 (73 years!) when it finally jumped a penny again from 3¢ to 4¢… but that time it was only a 33% increase (wink). Since then, prices have increased sporadically in both time and amount, from as quickly as three months to several four-year breaks and from 1¢ to 5¢ each time. Until recently, Congress often didn’t approve the amount of the increase until the last minute so the postal service couldn’t print billions of new stamps in advance. As a result, everyone had to buy sheets of 1¢ or 2¢ stamps to combine with their existing pile of stamps, or until the postal service could print the new stamps. Painful. I felt sorry for the postal clerks selling billions of sheets of penny stamps.

The invention of the Forever stamp in 2006 (Canada) and 2007 (USA) was a real game changer. It made life easier for everyone, and of course self-stick stamps—originally derided by purists—are both wonderful and now the only stamps available. The fears of people stockpiling huge stamps in advance was never realized, and the savings from not re-printing and/or destroying billions of stamps far outweighed the lost revenue from stamps being used at a former rate. One time in Canada (in 2013) the single stamp price increased 58%; CanadaPost stopped selling Forever stamps the day the rate increase was announced and resumed after the new rate came into effect months later.

Part 2: The Math of Buying Stamps in Advance

The beauty of the forever stamp goes beyond just making life easier for us all. It actually gives us an opportunity to hedge against inflation! The largest face-value jump in USA history occurred on January 27, 2019, when prices went up a whopping 5¢ (a 10% increase).

Thanks to the powerful history engine of TntConnect, I see that over the past seven years I have averaged 104 letters per month. If stamps are going up 2¢ this week, buying six months’ worth of stamps today instead of Monday will save $12.48.

ALERT: The USPS is trying something new by pre-planning rate increases every six months for the next 10 years, with the actual increase being announced one year in advance.

Since rates will go up at least an additional 2¢ at that time, buying 12 months’ today saves a minimum of $37.44.

Over the years as I have had this same conversation with people, some financially astute folks suggest that the long-term gain is diminished because those funds could be invested at a rate greater than inflation. That would be true if I was using personal funds, but these are non-taxed, non-personal funds, so the net savings is only against future partnership development costs. I will either be reimbursing these funds in one big block now, or in smaller chunks every few months over the next X years.

The value equation increases on a fairly straight line into the future, so buying ten years’ saves a minimum of $2620 but likely hundreds more because the long-term increases could be 3¢ or 4¢ each time, especially if this current inflationary period continues for a while.

Will I actually purchase 60 or 120 months’ worth of stamps? Probably not. However, in 2019 with 7¢ in rate increases over the year I did buy 36 months’ worth of stamps and I’m down to my last 100. So it’s not just theory for me.

The only real downside of purchasing stamps so far in advance is that I do not get to purchase some of the new designs that will come out between now and my next purchases. Given that the average recipient gets exactly one stamp on a letter, and that very few people send any first class mail at all, I doubt anyone but me would notice that!

If by some chance I should leave the mission field, I’m sure I could find some willing friend to acquire stamps at a discount!

Part 3: Other Rate Increases

ALERT: Postcard and ‘second-ounce’ stamps are increasing 10% and 20% respectively.

You may occasionally send postcards or include inserts that make your letters more than one ounce. You should know about these greater increases. From left, above, on Sunday:

  • Postcard stamps will increase from 40¢ to 44¢ (10%)
  • Additional ounce stamps will increase from 20¢ to 24¢ (20%), which means the…
  • Two-ounce stamp will increase from 78¢ to 84¢ (7.6%)
  • International (or “Global”) stamps will increase from $1.30 to $1.40 (7.6%)

Part 4: Take Action Now

If you are in the USA, you can take advantage of this opportunity right now. Buy stamps online and they ship quickly for a very low flat rate no matter how much you buy. Be warned, though: Some of the forever stamps are dated after Sunday, so they are already selling for 60¢. Be sure to buy the correct stamps!

Part 5: The Sad Story

My father was an avid stamp collector and had an almost-complete collection of all first day of issue stamps in Canada from 1884 on. After he died, a young niece indicated an interest in the collection and we all agreed she could have it, but that we wanted to wait until she was a little older. The following year the entire collection was lost when my brother’s apartment in Iowa was buried in a flood.

Part 6, Wrapping it up: Two of my favorite stamps from all time (among many):

The 1998 CanadaPost stamp celebrating 125 years of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police:

The 2020 stamp celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower crossing. I was teaching U.S. History to our homeschool co-op and taught on the Mayflower the same week that stamp was released.

The Alluring Fallacy of Improved Productivity

This is a Part 2 of a previous post on the efficiency I gained from eliminating customization in both my regular monthly newsletters as well as regular (one/two times per year) special ask letters. And, humorously, in one sense it actually says the exact opposite of the point I was making.

In brief, so you can stop reading here if you want to get the whole gist of this post: Any time-saving software, process, production, even ‘outsourcing’ will not actually free up time for you to relax more.

The classic cartoon of a world like the Jetsons where all labor was done by robots completely freeing up the owners to lounge in a life of leisure sounded great in the 1950s. But those shows / advertisements / promises were based on the assumption that each person had a finite amount of work to be done, so any time/labour-saving device or practice would naturally “free up” more time for leisure and “enjoying life”.

What burst my bubble on this was reading the incredibly helpful book I now [jokingly] hate, David Allen’s Getting Things Done. For much of the 1990s/2000s, I was working hard at improving my skills as a leader, and Getting Things Done was the capstone of a long list of very helpful books. My other “most helpful book”, by the way, was Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out and its companion Time Management from the Inside Out; I regard them as a single book because it’s the same principle applied two different ways.

Why did these books both help and hinder me?

  • Morgenstern’s tips helped me eliminate—forever—a massive amount of disorganization that was endemic in my house. I hadn’t handled the transition from single/apartment to married/homeowner very efficiently, and her book helped me bring order to the chaos (and, 20+ years later, I am still grateful for!). The constraints of being single with little stuff in one room vs. multiple people in a house with garage required new skills.
  • Allen’s method, then, helped streamline tasks / email / day-to-day. The main downside of his book was that it was written in a 1990’s era of paperwork, filing cabinets, etc. Adapting it to an entirely virtual world is possible but not nearly as clean and neat.

The end result of both books was that they reduced a massive amount of mental clutter and wasted/redundant effort.

So I could have more free time.

Not hardly. So I could do more. David Allen helped me become so much more efficient that I could say YES to so many more things.

Don’t get me wrong… improved productivity resulting in more work is the goal of any company and any good manager/leader. I don’t want my staff wasting their time doing something the hard way when it could be done easier. Nor do I have an only finite amount of work for them. If they free up a full day thanks to new software or even new skills, that increases their value and ability to do more. A well-skilled and efficient employee is infinitely more valuable than a new employee who is just learning.

My point is that the premise of improved productivity resulting in more free time is usually based on a forward-looking ‘from this point in time’ perspective: “I have X amount of work to complete now; if I complete it in half the time, I free up that time permanently.” (There are countless cases where that is true, of course. If I’m in construction and I can complete the job faster with better tools, then I get paid the same for doing less work; or if I’m working at a summer camp and wrapping up the week requires X number of tasks, completing them faster starts the weekend off sooner.)

We have long taught a similar principle in financial stewardship: If a person does not decide IN ADVANCE what they are going to do with their next raise (or next debt payoff), those now-available funds will be absorbed into the spending with no long-term gain.

So what’s the connection with this concept and partnership development / TntConnect?

Ultimately, the value of TNT is to help me maintain better relationships with my partners. When I do that, the long-term benefits of those relationships are profound. I do NOT use TntConnect to help me “Get all that hard work done more quickly.” Partnership development is hard work, but it is good work. When I free up 4 hours a month by using a newsletter service, I [should] reinvest that 4 hours into a more valuable to me PD activity, such as handwriting notes or calling partners.

For me, the reality with PD is not that I have a finite amount of tasks to complete (thanks, newsletters, phone calls) but that I have a finite amount of time available to spend on PD, so any way I can be more efficient with that time makes the results of the finite time more beneficial.

Our attitude towards PD is often the driving factor in how often and how much we do. But the PD work itself is not the goal.