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. ūüė¶

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.

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Power of the Written Word

I blog. I develop electronically-delivered training. I created a social media network with a team of missionaries–more than 25 years ago.¬† So naturally, my preferred newsletter style is: PAPER.

Bait and switch: This blog post is actually about email newsletters.

This came to me after receiving one or two dozen “Privacy Policy Updates” from companies recently. I decided to write a humorous email newsletter to my partners to let them know that *I* had updated *my* privacy policies. I wonder how many of them read it?!

What struck me as I wrote this email newsletter, however, was that four of my email newsletter recipients do not receive my paper newsletter. This is a bad sign for me, because I am not very consistent at sending email newsletters. I used to be, but got out of the habit during a really crazy period about 4 years ago, and my email newsletters since then have been sporadic.

Ideally, I would be systematic about the email newsletter, sending it every month at the same time as the paper newsletter. But in practice I find that is not true.

Of the 90 people who get my email update, only 15 are financial partners, and only 4 of those 15 do not get the newsletter on paper. So for me, the email newsletter is a low value communication device.

By the way, I am not even hinting that what I do is a best practice! I know many missionaries who only send email newsletters. But for me, paper is best.

The point of this post is “information”–how TntConnect helps me stay on top of my complex partnership team.¬†In a quick export I was able to get a snapshot of all of my email newsletter recipients.

Here’s what I did:

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  1. Press the Newsletter Tools Helper button and select the Email tab
  2. Select Group Actions | Export Current Group
  3. Select these fields to export:
    1. File As
    2. Newsletter Media Preference
    3. Twelve Month Total (to see which people are financial partners)

The export box shows the newsletter preference in words…

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…but when it goes to Excel it appears in code:

2018-06-02-EmailExport2

In an upcoming blog post I will be sharing more about the newsletter preferences and how they work, but an email newsletter list contains only three preferences:

  • +P+E | “Paper and Email”
  • +E-P | “Email (preferred) with Paper Backup”
  • +E | “Email only”

As a ministry axiom, my partnership efforts are focused on those who financially support my work, so when I exported my list, the first thing I did was sort by Column C (Twelve Month Total) so I could see how I am communicating with my financial partners.

Unlike the example list above, on my personal list as I said I only have 4 partners who are not receiving paper. I decided to re-add them to my paper newsletter list to ensure consistent communications… at least until I get my email newsletter more systematic.


Communicating with our partners is so significant that the last major overhaul of the TntConnect online help changed the entire structure to be focused on “what you do as a TNT user”. There is an entire section just to¬†Communicating: Newsletters and Mail Merge. (Previously the help manual had been indexed feature-by-feature.)

You can read more about Managing Newsletters here.

My Puzzling Newsletter

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Sliding Tile Puzzles like the above always drive me crazy. I don’t have the logic skills to manage them well. But I find myself using a lot of logic when I play with TntConnect’s astoundingly powerful Lookup tools. Sometimes I have made super-complex lookups by using a combination of adding and taking away until I get just the right result.

Last week I was preparing our annual family update, which is different from our monthly newsletter, and I had to do a bit of this Lookup puzzelry to make it work.

The monthly newsletter is easy because I can use the Newsletter Tools Helper to find my list of newsletters, then I merge and go.

But the annual family letter is more problematic because of some nuances. I have multiple groups I send it to:

  • Everyone who gets my paper newsletter
  • Relatives and friends who get only this letter but not the monthly letter
  • Neighbors and co-workers who get this letter but not mailed
  • People who get a PDF via email

I manage this complexity using a special set of Saved Groups specifically for the newsletter.

I start by looking up my regular newsletter list:

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…returning this Current Lookup:

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Then I¬†Lookup | By Group to add the non-newsletter recipients (called “Christmas Letter” in this example):

2018-05-23-LookupByGroup

I have two other exclusive saved groups related to this newsletter:

  1. “Local Delivery” because I am going to print but not mail them (I don’t want their envelopes mixed in with the mailed ones)
  2. “Email Christmas Letter” because they will not receive a printed copy.

In my own database I have six¬†“newsletters” saved groups reflecting different ways people get the family update (Canada, email, paper, local delivery, expanded family version, and co-workers in the office).