Sharathon killers (and how to prevent them)
When I was in Houston it seemed like more bad things happened to our staff just before Sharathon. From car accidents to financial issues to serious health issues, they all seemed to happen at one-time just before Sharathon. It got to the point that when ANY problem would happen – even if it was really small, we would jokingly say – you know why this is happening? It’s Sharathon. Bad things do happen and honestly in an effective radio ministry, they happen year-round. But there are some things that happen around Sharathon that can have a major negative impact on the event which are preventable. Let me share a few of them with you.
Phones don’t work. Through my fundraising travels throughout the country, this has happened at several stations where I have been. There is nothing more frustrating than when people can’t call. Of course, you can redirect them to giving on-line. But one fundraising principle is true – any inconvenience to giving means less people give. And that’s not a good thing. Yes, more people are giving on the web, but some still prefer to give on the phone. Add to that a bank of phone volunteers sitting around because the phones don’t work and frustration is in the air, which unfortunately, can be felt on the air. So how do you mitigate this risk? Test your phones well in advance of the event. I like to have it done a week out so bugs can be worked out – if there are any. You don’t want your IT guy trying to figure it out the day before or worst yet, the morning of. In one event I was at, the phones worked but the system couldn’t handle the volume of calls. How do you fix that? At a staff meeting, have everyone bring their cell phones and call the number at the same time.
Donor software crashes. Just like the phone crashing there is nothing that kills a Sharathon than for donor software not to work. A great way to prevent this is to let your software company know you are having an event. If you can afford it, ask for one of them to be on stand-by for your event. Better yet, fly them in to help. We found having them on site not only provided great support but also helped them better understand our event so they could make improvements on their software.
Major weather event (or major news event). We know the importance of being relevant to our audience and it is difficult to fundraise when the audience’s mind is somewhere else. Many of us have just experienced this due to our current public health crisis. So how do you prepare for this? Two key items. You need to have financial reserves on hand. I recommend at least three to six months of operating cash on hand so that you can “weather” any storm. It may take some time, but have your board allocate cash for an Expense Reserve. The second way to prepare is when you schedule your event (and I recommend you schedule at least 6 months out), allow a time buffer on both sides of your event so you can move it if necessary. Sometimes staff want to schedule vacation after an event. Let them know vacations can’t be approved within that time buffer. I remember one time in Houston we had scheduled our event only to have an unexpected Tropical Storm show up the week of the event. Thankfully, the storm wasn’t as strong as expected but we were able to slide the event back a week because we had that time buffer.
The big gift. There is nothing more joyful than getting that big gift during Sharathon. You know, it’s day one and your goal is $200,000. An unexpected donor calls with a gift of $50,000!! The staff goes crazy. The room is alive! People are dancing and leaping and praising God. But on the other side, that means that the potential for new donors and the hundreds of smaller gifts won’t happen. It also means that next year, if that person doesn’t give again, you may have to work harder to raise the same amount of money. What do you do? I would recommend a plan beforehand. Look at your giving history and how many larger gifts come in during your event. Most major donors don’t give big gifts towards operations. They normally like to give towards capital projects or campaigns. Decide up front what would be the largest amount you want during your event. Above that amount, when the donor calls have a plan in place and see if they would like to give that gift towards a capital project or if it can be used in another way. Let them know the goal of the event is to get a lot of people involved. I know this can be delicate and I don’t ever want to manipulate the event. So be honest with your communication with them. This may be God’s way of providing, but at least have a plan so you can be prepared.
The board member. I have worked with boards for over 30 years and as hard as the staff works and as important as the event is, sometimes I don’t know all board members understand this. It’s like something inside them is activated during a fundraiser – and they decide they want to get involved in a managerial way so they decide they want to discuss a major issue during the event. But I can say – firsthand – from numerous episodes I have experienced and other leaders where I have helped them, there is nothing more distracting and hurtful to an event when the leader has to deal with this during the event and be on the air. I remember one time one board member felt we weren’t giving a message on the air that he felt was important. To my surprise, I discovered he had contacted one of the air team who was recording his seven-minute fundraising message. I got involved and we cut it down to 30 seconds. How do you prevent that? Have the board chair remind the board before the event how busy everyone is including the General Manager. Have the board chair let them know beforehand the board can best help the event by volunteering, praying and giving and not interfering in the event operation or bring up other items that can wait.
The long-winded, not-good-at- fundraising guest. Having well-known influencers and artists on during an event can take the event to a new level. Having them ramble on and on for ten to fifteen minutes can kill fundraising. So how do you know if they are a plus or a minus at fundraising? While recording someone can be a good thing, it’s not the same impact as having someone live. I believe the best way to approach this is to set up expectations with the guest before they arrive – and set them low. Ask them up front if they would be willing to say a few things about the ministry on the air and if they would be willing to answer the phones. I love having someone start by being on the phone bank because it is the least threatening way to get them involved. If they are a good on-air fundraiser, then you can always pull them off the phone and have them on the air more. If they aren’t, you can leave them on the phones. We had one artist come by one of our events years ago and we thought he knew he would be on the phones. In his mind, he was there to promote his project and be on the air. Let’s just say it didn’t go very well. He was very upset and wound up leaving early. A real Sharathon killer.
The little things. Solomon said it’s the little foxes that spoil the vine. Sharathon can be a very stressful time. As a leader let your team know the biggest Sharathon killer can be words spoken to each other. Because of the time pressure, financial pressure and really just getting tired, words can be spoken in a way that come across as unkind or hurtful. The last thing you want is two people with HR issues during a fundraiser. Encourage your team to offer extra grace to each other. Create space with your staff in your building where staff can relax and be together. Encourage them to get away from the building so they can clear their heads. As much as you can, provide an atmosphere where there can be balance. When words of correction need to be offered, make them extra gentle and wrapped in love.