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5 Rules of Engagement for Ministry Marketing By Shannon Litton

Mission-minded ministry leaders often overlook (or choose to set aside) the critical job of building a sustainable and effective brand. Ministries must not underestimate brand management’s vital role in engaging and sustaining relationships with those who make their work possible.

Your audience today requires authenticity. The shiny, perfectly packaged messages of yesterday are no longer trusted. Before they engage, they want honest details — like where the need is and how they can participate beyond just giving. They also require more accountability, such as knowing the impact of their gifts and seeing transformation take place. They want regular engagement in small bites, not just through a quarterly newsletter.

Here are the five rules of engagement you must understand:

Know Your Audience

“But our people are older and they don’t ______.” I so often hear this statement followed by any number of digital terms: “tweet,” “donate online,” and even “e-mail.” Our perceptions and preferences usually shape these feelings and have no factual basis. Worse, they can tremendously impact our ability or inability to build a strong brand.

Don’t underestimate your audience. New research continues to support the trend that aging populations are active and increasing their technology adoption. A recent Nielsen report says that boomers make up 40 percent of all customers who pay for wireless service and more than 40 percent of those who purchase Apple computers. Corporate America recognizes their importance and aggressively creates ways to engage them in all digital mediums.

Build advocates. The most trusted form of marketing today is personal endorsement. Your audience should be viewed as your most significant avenue for new supporter acquisition. Give them simple tools to share, advocate, and introduce others to your mission.

Embrace Change

If only yesterday’s strategies still worked today. But they don’t. The only thing consistent is change. To move your ministry forward and shape a brand that connects, you must shift the perception that change is a burden and view it as an opportunity.

Try something new. The good news is that the commitment to try something new isn’t as costly as it once was. Digital strategies allow us to segment, test, make quick changes, capitalize on what’s working, and end what yields no return. In fact, if you haven’t tried one new tactic that has failed in the last year, you probably haven’t stretched yourself far enough.

Empower the learners. Tomorrow’s strong brands will be built within learning organizations. Some of us are wired for change and thrive on innovation. You can encourage, resource, and empower the “learners” within your walls or accept that they will eventually take their curiosity elsewhere. Build a culture where they can thrive.

Keep It Simple

While the estimates of marketing messages we see on a daily basis vary from 1,600 to upwards of 20,000, one thing we can all agree on is that we are bombarded by communication clutter.

Please keep it simple. To combat the clutter, we’re tempted to over-communicate. Make the details available for those who want to go deeper, but don’t exhaust your larger audience by over-communicating. Ideally, every communication touch point should have one clear message and one ask. The more you add to the formula, the less likely you will get any message to your audience.

Have a clear brand promise. I can’t tell you how many ministry leaders I talk to for five minutes — and still have no idea what they do. Create a written, defined document highlighting in simple phrases the core of your brand — what you do, how you do it, and what the impact is. What are you promising your audience? Have every organization member post it at their desk so everyone speaks the same simple language.

Show the results. Facts don’t move people to action; results do. Simplify your brand to include compelling visuals, videos, and concise stories. One well-told, or better yet, well-shown tale of transformation is more powerful than all the statistics you can generate.

Learn Their Language

Many ministries are rightfully concerned about not alienating their aging donor base. But are you as passionate about engaging a new one? Today’s thriving organizations understand that growing a new audience isn’t about changing their message as much as it’s about changing or supplementing message delivery.

In a recent study of young evangelicals aged 18–35, we asked, “What communication methods/styles do you think have the most impact on younger adults like you?” Almost six in ten pointed to relationship-based methods, such as one-on-one relationships or personal stories.

If we lived in an ideal world, we would build a personal connection with every individual young adult we want to influence; or we would have surrogates who share our brand, ideas, or messages in the context of a personal connection. Since it is not always possible to do this, we must focus on building genuineness into our communications and messaging, answering the question young adults will ask, “How has this made a difference in your life — for you?”

Think Global

According to (, only 11.4 percent of the world’s Internet usage comes from North America. That means your branding strategy must work beyond your neighborhood. Depending on the nature of your work, your potential reach is global. Tomorrow’s thriving ministries will embrace multilingual, multicultural strategies that engage an international audience.

Now is the time for evaluation and action.

Be sure you are changing with the game.


Shannon Litton is president of The A Group, a marketing and technology firm helping ministries, churches, and Christian resource organizations better tell their stories and build influence. This is an excerpt of Shannon’s article in Outcomes Magazine, Spring 2013.



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