Congraduations!

It’s that time of year… graduations abound!

Graduations are a great time to connect with our ministry partners because for those who have teens graduating, it is usually a festive time. There are four common areas with our partners’ children where we try to exert ourselves:

  • Birth of the child (for younger partners)
  • High School Graduations
  • Mission Trip appeals
  • Marriage

As we and our partners walk through life, these tend to come in waves. We don’t see as many births nowadays as we do graduations, for example.

There are other events too, of course, such as college graduation or when a partner’s child has their own child. But I view those as stemming out the relationship I am building with that child. By the time they are graduating from college or having their own children, I need to have a personal relationship with them to consider giving a gift or card.

TntConnect offers a broad range of Dealing With Gifts, including gifts we give to our partners. I use the Present task type to record sending these gifts. If it is for a mission trip, I just write the amount of the gift. If it is for a graduation or marriage we often send a gift card.

The Present task type:

2018-06-01-PresentTask1

Recording a graduation gift:

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Recording a gift for a child’s mission trip:

2018-06-01-PresentTask2.jpg

When we do a graduation gift card, it is usually a token gift of $10 or $15 to a restaurant near them, such as Dairy Queen or Chick-fil-A, or occasionally a retailer like Walmart. And as a general rule, I try to send it as soon as possible after receiving the graduation announcement… to do this I plan ahead with a supply of Congratulations cards and the gift cards I want to use.

Here’s one other thought: When you receive a graduation announcement, you may want to send a separate happy note to the parents too… they got them there! I just thought of that this year. 🙂

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Ask No Ask

  • “There’s an exception to every rule.”
  • “In a multiple choice test, ‘always’ or ‘never’ are absolutes and are rarely the correct answer.”
  • “We should always challenge everyone on our partnership team when doing a Special Ask Appeal.”

In my early years in ministry I used to spend a lot more time fretting about who to ask (for special gifts), what to ask for, how to word the ask, and when to ask. After reading excellent support raising books like Funding Your Ministry (Scott Morton) and The God Ask (Steve Shadrach), and The 7 Deadly Diseases of Ministry Marketing (Brendel), my view on asking for support broadened.

And an ancillary benefit of that expansion is that creating fund appeals is a lot faster than it used to be… because I am not wasting as much time culling my list for just the correct set of people to ask in any given letter, or spending literally days crafting the letter as if that was the magic bullet.

As a general rule, I do this with special gift appeals: “Ask everyone except those I do not ask.”

I have a special Saved Group titled, “Ask Exclude”. In this Group I have a small number of contacts (under 10 currently) whom I never send an ask to. This list includes three types of contacts:

  • Organizational/church contacts for whom a special ask may seem inappropriate. That is, these recipients want ministry updates, but I want to reserve special gift appeals to individuals within the organization or church, not the entity itself.
  • Relatives who may not be believers, or might have a narrow view of fund-raising. Or, to put it another way, these are people who may have reservations about fund-raising, or may have a negative view of churches or mission agencies who do fund appeals. If I send appeals to them, it may reinforce their negative views.
  • Contacts who have specifically indicated to me that they do not want to receive appeals.
  • Contacts who I am concerned that due to their age they may not interpret the ask correctly.

As I said, in my current list of Ask Exclude I have fewer than 10.

[ I also will typically exclude people who recently gave a special gift for some other reason or had a very recent change in their giving up or down. But that’s not the focus of this post. ]

When I am creating a new Campaign and want to generate the letter, I do the lookup for paper newsletter, then Lookup | By Group, and use “Take away from the current group” to remove the Ask Exclude group.

2018-05-29-AskExclude.jpg

I am a firm believer in presenting our special needs to our partners (as you are aware from our recent vehicle ask). I send at least one special ask appeal every year, sometimes two.

I am not saying that every appeal I send is always “to my entire less minus the Ask Exclude”. Sometimes I do send a special appeal to a select group of partners. But I generally start with everyone, remove the Ask Exclude, then tweak the list from there.

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:

2018-05-08-Tools1

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:

2018-05-08-Tools2

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:

2018-05-08-Tools3

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?”