My Splintered World

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” ~ Romans 12:3

If the technology world would just sit still for a little while, maybe we all could catch up. I guess we can only dream. But “sober judgment” as it relates to software means knowing what we can and cannot do AND being content with where we’re at instead of constantly wishing for more.

This blog post falls into the “theory” camp without specific “tips”. Our frustrations with software (as well as relationships, consumer products, and our walks with the Lord) are often based on the conflict between expectations and reality.

The evolution of tools

In the world of consumer software, I see three broad phases from the 1990s to today.

In 1990 few homes had a home computer; by 2000 nearly every home had one. Now, every person has multiple computers (phone + computer + tablet).

In the early 1990’s, DOS was king, Windows was just going mainstream, and a Mac was a tiny box used by a tiny fringe of designers. There was a lot of growth of small software tools built by tinkerers, with limited focus, and almost exclusively for PC computers:

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In every genre (personal finance, Bible software, spreadsheets, word processors, and support raising software etc.), over the decade a main player came to dominate. The natural growth trajectory was to consolidate all of the individual features of the many stand-alone products and add a lot more, and the one who did that best came to saturate the market:

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Power users loved this explosion of functionality, but many tools alienated the everyday user because they were literally overwhelming.


Note: Don’t get me wrong… just because a software is extremely powerful does not mean it is only useful to power users. The best “awesome software tools” (like TNT or Excel) provide power to those who need it and simplicity to those who value it.


As we saw great tools available yet average people not taking advantage of them, the natural problem (it seemed) must be the individual software’s complexity. So over the past ten years we have seen the rise of “Apps”, first for mobile devices but more recently for tablets and regular computers as well. These tools focused on just one piece of a puzzle, but promised astounding ease to solve our problems, with the assumption that if we could [fix/master/focus on/track] “this one thing”, it is the missing link between us and success. (Sounds like “the watermelon diet”… or a Fitbit!)

So, broad strokes, what we see is individual apps performing few functions, but linked seamlessly together:

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Think about the health & fitness genre where countless food/calorie apps link with countless fitness apps which link with a handful of wearable devices, and combined they are supposed to magically make us lose weight since we obviously couldn’t do it before (hmmm).

The barrier for entry is low—anyone can write a web software or app—compared to trying to get packaged software in every store. But the “promised” integrations are not always seamless or working (or free).

Yet I find that the more separate tools I use, even if individually they are easy, collectively my effectiveness goes down because I am constantly bouncing between multiple tools.


Beware of any software product that claims to make a typically difficult process “easy”.


Any software that promises you will raise more support because of the software itself or any support raising software that promises to make partnership development “easy” is probably promising what it cannot deliver.


Spoiler alert: Support raising IS hard work. Don’t confuse the difficulty of support raising with the difficulty of the software.


Personal finance tools are the most closely related to support raising tools because both habits require continual ‘touch’ to be successful; the longer you neglect the tool, the less helpful they will be. Look at some of these claims for popular personal financial web-based tools:

  • “We help you effortlessly manage your finances in one place.” (Mint.com)
  • “Don’t just track your spending. Fix it.” (Mvelopes)
  • “Gain Total Control of Your Money. Stop living paycheck to paycheck, get out of debt, and save more money.” (You Need A Budget)
  • “Simplify complexity around your constantly evolving life” (Personal Capital)
  • “Budgeting Just Got Easy” (Every Dollar, from DaveRamsey.com)

And are these tools easier than Quicken? I’m not sure… because now there are entire web sites devoted just to helping people decide which of the hundreds of personal finance apps are best! And frankly, they all promise the same thing!

Furthermore, when Quicken was king (circa 2000), I could teach Quicken classes. Now every person I know who needs help with personal finances is using a different tool… or none at all… so I cannot help them. And when I recommend a software product, they try it for a few days and then abandon it “because it isn’t working for me”. The curse of overwhelming choices is that there is a lack of commitment to one. My failure is because I have the wrong tool, so I’ll keep searching for a better tool… because they all promise to solve my problem. Elusive.

This year I am actually retrenching and doing less with less. I am focusing more on those things I do best—communicating regularly with my partners using paper mail, and calling them just to say Hi and tell them I appreciate them.

This is also why I use these blog posts, occasionally, to give you an idea on how to do something clever or unique with TNT; I want you to avoid the “promise trap” that there is some other software just out of reach that will take you to Support Raising Utopia.

This blog post was generated from a few questions on December’s feedback survey about why there are different support raising tools and “Why doesn’t TNT do everything on every device?”

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Urgent Campaign, Part 2

In my previous post, I shared about an urgent campaign I am working on related to the purchase of a new vehicle. I used TntConnect’s Campaign Builder to help me categorize my team into four groups. That was the easy part.

The harder part was building my challenge. I have a specific amount I need to raise, and I asked myself how to spread that need across a list of ~150 people. I do not need to go into exhaustive detail because I am not “teaching” you how to do this, but just sharing an idea to spur your thinking.

One option, of course, would be to just send an open-ended ask, which I have frequently done with a year-end appeal or a summer training conference appeal; but I ruled that out because open-ended asks (in my experience) do not work well with a significant and specific need.

There are several other options, but in this case I tried something I have never done before: I individually challenged each partner to give based on the amount of their giving over the past year. I used the Campaign Builder to categorize my newsletter list into four Groups:

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  • For  Prospects ($0 average giving over the past two years) in the campaign], I challenged all to give “$25 or $50”. This list represents about 1/3 of my newsletter recipients, so any gift from them will be new and unusual.
  • Entry-level partners (monthly average $1 to $100), the challenge went up in $25 increments relative to their giving, so roughly equal to their monthly average. I also hand-wrote a short note on the bottom of each of these letters.
  • Mid-level partners (monthly average $100 to $200), I challenged to give similarly but with a bigger spread: “$150 or $250”.
  • Top-level partners I held back to give a personal challenge to. For these partners, I plan to verbally present the need and let them decide.

This ask involves a little bit of Excel work, because I needed to know their “Average Monthly Giving” to determine how much to challenge each person.

From the “idea” perspective, I’ve reached my maximum words, so please stop reading unless you want more details and some preliminary results…


Some practical details…

I used Group Actions | Export Current Group to send the list(s) to Excel, with both of the letter/envelope merge fields (Greetings and Mailing Address Block). But I also exported the Average Monthly Gift field to help me determine the challenge amount.

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  • Columns A & B: Greetings and Mailing Address Block for the letter and envelope
  • Column C: Average Monthly Gift field from TNT
  • Column D: My suggested gift #1
  • Column E: My suggested gift #2

My ask was easy to calculate because I am attempting to raise about 25-50% more than one month’s average giving. Since I challenged most of my partners to give an amount roughly equal to their average monthly gift—which is an amount they can easily relate to—if 100% of my partners respond I will meet that goal.

But my experience does not suggest that will happen. By challenging those who never give, and offering a challenge roughly double each person’s monthly gift, the ‘maximum challenge’ is about 50% more than I actually need.

I included the challenge amount in the letter and also a mail merged response card that has their name and amounts (so that the right card gets with the right letter). [Note: Printing those response cards also involved a little bit of Excel-wizardry.]

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Preliminary Results

Just in the time I was writing this blog I had to live my real life, so between the time I started writing two weeks ago and now I have sent the letter and already received 23 responses. As always, God has surprised me! I received the first gift notification (an email from my organization) on the first business day after I mailed the letter and the first paper gift (in the return envelope) the day after that.

Of those 23 gifts, 17 of them (about 75%) have given the higher amount I suggested! And 7 of the responses (30%) are from those who have not given at all in the past year. And for 1 of them, it is the first gift they have ever given to our ministry. Finally, we are just under 1/3 of our total need so far and I have yet to pick up the phone to reach out to our top-level partners. Thanks, Lord. 🙂

Bob

p.s. Shout out: We purchased our new vehicle from mats.orgIt arrived two days ago, and we are delighted.

 

Two (or four!) is better than One?

“Hi. My name is Bob. I’m a TntConnect junkie. It started out simple, just one database. It really helped me with my personal support and I was happy. Then I created another database to manage my “personal ministry” (separate from my support raising). Then I created a sample one to teach from. Then I helped someone with their database. Pretty soon I was going crazy… at this moment I have 212 TntConnect databases on my computer. I can quit anytime. Really.”

Seriously, I do have four TNT databases that I use all the time (e.g., daily, or multiple times per week).

Why would I want to have multiple databases?

The most common reason for multiple databases is for anyone who manages both personal support and a local “team” or what I call a “corporate” database. [In this context I use the word “corporate” to differentiate from a “personal” database, not to imply a database for the whole corporation.]

There are hundreds of TNT users who are raising funds for a local team, and sometimes sharing that team database with others (but not sharing their own personal database). And some of them may have more than one local team database. For example, I know a fund developer who had one corporate database for his local team and a separate corporate database for the national fund development department.

Here are the four TNT databases I use multiple times per week:

  1. My first, oldest, database that made me fall in love with TNT in the first place: My personal support database.
  2. A personal ministry database that I have used for 14 years to manage my personal discipleship and teaching ministry. I take advantage of the task/history features, but do not track any donations in this database.
  3. A corporate database that my team uses in our fund development efforts. I manage more than 100 separate giving designations in this one database.
  4. The sample ToonTown training database that I use for creating documentation, writing this blog, and testing new features in TNT and other support raising software tools.

I have frequently created temporary databases to test new other new features, try importing tests, etc. And finally, I have helped people setup new databases from their old Excel files, etc. I don’t really do that anymore, but I used to do that a lot more 10 years ago.

I can move between my TntConnect databases using the File | Open Recent list (similar to the Recent Files list in Excel or Word):

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As a reminder, I use my personal support database for more than just my ministry partners, which you can read about here:

TntConnect: Not just for support raising