Author: Len Moisan

Why Churches Decline, Fail to Grow and Sometimes Close

Over the last several years there has been an increasing amount of research studying churches. Consider a few facts:

  • 62% of all churches in America have experienced either no growth or declines in their congregations.
  • 65% of churches have less than 100 congregants including children.
  • More than 2 million people have left the church every year for the past 7 years.
  • In just 8 years the percent of Americans calling themselves Christians has decreased from 78% to 70%.

So why do people either leave church, fail to return after a visit or not attend at all? Research demonstrates and our work with churches confirms at least 12 conditions that negatively affect attendance. These include the following:

  1. Churches are not united in prayer…1 Timothy encourages us to make petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving for everyone. Encouraging collective prayer not only brings answers, it also builds unity around common purposes. Churches that don’t preach, teach and practice prayer don’t unify their people around it. Therefore congregants have less of an incentive to stay.
  2. Churches are places of conflict, gossip and judgmental attitudes and actions and refuse to deal with sin…This is the number one reason people leave. Often there are factions, disagreements and dysfunction that get ignored. It festers and grows, resulting in disunity and gossip. In one study, 78% of the people who left church cited this as a problem.

In our church leadership consulting, we once worked with a church that was dealing with an abundance of issues. The elders didn’t trust the pastor and eventually fired him. Meanwhile, the staff didn’t trust the elders, and the elders didn’t trust the staff. Needless to say this all had a negative effect on congregants. In fact, they lost members left and right, and still the political bickering and finger pointing continued. Elders openly gossiped about other church members, and a spirit of humility was definitely lacking.

Not surprisingly, when we conducted a church survey, the ratings were well below average on almost every item we measured. Likewise, the open-ended responses regarding church weaknesses and critical issues were just as bad. The results offered a clear explanation of why people were leaving. They lost confidence in the leadership and they were tired of all of the drama.

3. Churches are not friendly…Some 66% of people who leave churches report that the lack of hospitality and concern caused them to feel as if they didn’t belong. Accordingly, they had very little reason to stay. Churches, above all other organizations, should be places of caring and hospitality. 

Leviticus 19 tells us…”When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger…as the native among you…you shall love him as yourself…I am the Lord your God.”

And then there’s this in Hebrews 13…“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” Being friendly and hospitable is not a suggestion; it’s a mandate.

4. Churches do not empower their people…a lot of pastors talk about the importance of engagement of members but few actually do that. You can have engagement or control, but you can’t have both. The more control pastors attempt to impose, the less people will be engaged. People want an opportunity to use their gifts to serve others, and if the church doesn’t provide an outlet for that, they leave.  In fact, a study of people who left their church revealed that 66% left because they couldn’t fit in.

These are just 4 of the 12 reasons. We’ll look at more next week!


Growing Church Giving

This Sunday at church I found out that we are upgrading our online giving platform, making giving easier and more secure for me. I’m pleased, but not surprised that my church is so avant-garde in stewardship. The problem is that many churches are not, so I did a bit of research and found some interesting data.

Church Giving is Growing and Changing

Last year of the $410 billion in total philanthropy, the largest share (31% or $127 billion) went to church or Para-church organizations. And that doesn’t include faith-based giving to religious schools, hospitals and social service agencies.

Almost 7.5 % of that was given online. Online giving has increased by more than 50% over the last several years, growing from $19.1 billion in 2012 to $31 billion in 2017. In addition, the average online gift was $128 and 67% of nonprofit organizations are set up to receive donations online.

What I find interesting is the fact that the largest recipients of online gifts have been faith-based organizations. I also found other important church data:

  • 49% of church giving happens using a credit card.
  • People attending church regularly are 11 times more likely to give.
  • 8 of 10 people who give to churches have zero credit debt.
  • Tithers comprise 10-25% of a normal congregation.
  • Churches that accept tithing online are increasing donations overall by 32%.
  • 37% of regular church attendees don’t give to church.
  • 17% of American families reduced amounts they give to churches.
  • 77% of tithers actually give 11%–20% of their income.
  • On average, Christians give 2.5% of income.

So what Can Churches do?

What does all of this mean for the church…or how can we use this data?

First, since we know that increasing numbers of congregants or parishioners prefer giving by credit card and online, if they haven’t done so already churches need to adapt to accommodate that. Develop online giving platforms and also include credit card options on giving envelopes.

Second, if regular attendees are more likely to give and only 10-25% of the membership tithe, there is much room for growth. However, capturing that growth requires well-planned strategies that include but are not limited to the following 7 suggestions:

  • Create a friendly church culture, so people return. Also plan 3-4 messages on stewardship and in particular on tithing. A lot of pastors are reluctant to do this, but it’s part of the full counsel of the Gospel.
  • Don’t just pass the plate on Sunday. Allow people to use smart-phones. Change your website. Choose digital giving software that allows people to give by text, mobile apps., etc.
  • Generate thank you notes to people who give online, through text, or directly. Use online responses or hand written notes. Currently, most churches aren’t good at showing appreciation.
  • Incorporate personal testimonies of church members into the messages on stewardship.
  • Offer financial classes for members. If they can manage funds better, they‘ll have more to give.
  • Create church annual reports that are transparent about outcomes and how funds are used.
  • Appeal to the 37% who don’t give by clearly articulating your needs and how funds given are used.

Finally, giving begins with your church leadership. Leaders set the pace. If the elders or deacons or parish council members (those closest to the church) aren’t willing to give, it’s difficult to motivate other church members to do so. While it’s difficult to tell what people have given individually, it’s much easier to say that the leadership group has 100% participation and collectively they have committed X amount of dollars.


Can’t We All Just Get Along?

They’re at it again in the news and Congress. Of course, there were “discussions” of the pros and cons regarding the ongoing Brett Kavanaugh investigation. Schumer attacks the judge; Graham defends him. What did he actually do in high school? That query alone would keep me from ever seeking office.

Sensational News

It reminded me of another high school “scandal,” when Mitt Romney was accused of bullying a classmate. Later his wife Ann wore a $990 blouse that set off a media firestorm. Then Michelle Obama met the Queen of England wearing a $6,800 jacket. I thought both women looked great, but really I could care less about who wears what clothes. Yet, I did wonder where this is all headed.

I heard Christine Ford make uncorroborated accusations and Brett Kavanaugh respond to them. After that, Jeff Flake called for a seventh investigation, Matt Damon mocked Brett Kavanaugh on SNL and President Trump mocked Diane Feinstein’s body language. Kanye West supported President Trump and was booed by some and applauded by others. Senators grandstanded on both sides of the aisle and the Supreme Court appointment lingers on in a circus of finger pointing and delay.

At another site, I read more joyful news. An injured pro football player flipped off his team while being carried from the playing field with an injury. Evidently the team brass wouldn’t give him a contract extension. Then I heard that a college coach was fired for politically incorrect language, and Rosie O’Donnell was criticized for using a “gay slur” towards Lindsey Graham. There was also a story about Twitter wanting to crack down on dehumanizing language and asking for public feedback (Congress and the media might be good places to start). A social media star is shot and killed, and on and on.

A Violent Response

I’m reminded of a news saying that rings true, “If it bleeds it leads.” Not that we should avoid important stories, but as I watched these sites I was struck by how sensational and negative they were. Certainly these things are happening, but the news is also distorted towards the negative. There are plenty of positive things occurring that are either unreported or under-reported.

The danger is in how people respond, and some respond violently. In fact, CNN reported that in 2017 alone there were 307 mass shootings in the US involving four or more people, and that didn’t include the Congressional baseball practice shooting. I wonder, are the media and social media complicit in any of this?

A Simple Solution

So how do we get around this anger and violence? We begin talking to one another again in a civil manner, and not just with people who agree with us. We must engage with others who may have opposing viewpoints. I’m reminded of both anti-Catholic and anti-protestant criticisms I’ve heard from people who know little about either denomination. The way that abates is by sitting and talking; yes, about our differences but also about our commonalities.

No doubt, some Democrats really care and are reasonable, but we seldom hear of them on Fox News. They desire to protect our borders, care for individuals, improve the job market and support a strong national defense. And contrary to what we hear on CNN, there are Republicans who want to create higher paying jobs, improve access to quality healthcare, and protect our environment.

However, that image of people compromising and working together doesn’t fit the narratives of either side so it goes unseen. Yet restoring civility can start simply by turning off the news, walking around our neighborhoods, sitting in restaurants and coffee shops and getting to know the people around us.


What Pastors Need for Successful Church Campaigns

Recently, I wrote about how our church capital campaign model functions. Consider that over a 20-year period we’ve had a 99% success rate with only one church failing to achieve its goal. No doubt the model works well, but there are other factors beyond our model that influence success in church campaigns. Primary among those factors is the church leadership, which starts with the pastor. Simply stated, the pastor affects greatly the results of any initiative in the church, and this is particularly true of campaigns.

We’ve found that successful pastors have at least 4 characteristics. They include being:

Credible

Several years ago James Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote a best selling book on how leaders gain and lose credibility. They wrote, “Leadership is a reciprocal relationship between those who lead and those who decide to follow.” The authors argue that the kind of reciprocity they mean is achieved only when leaders earn and maintain credibility. That credibility comes first from their integrity, “saying what they mean and meaning what they say.”

When pastors make clear what they mean, communicate it broadly and then follow through with action consistent with what they’ve said, they build credibility. When people believe pastors mean what they say, they’ll trust and line up to follow them. Of course, the pastor’s thinking needs to be realistic, but fulfilling promises is where trust and credibility begin.

Grounded in Reality

This relates directly to credibility. There’s a fine line between stretching a congregation and breaking them, and effective pastors know the difference. For example, one pastor wanted our help in generating $3 million. After conducting a church survey and then interviewing several church members, we were convinced that the church couldn’t generate anywhere near that amount.

They agreed to put the basic goal at a much lower level, and the church exceeded it by 10%. We continued to work with leaders after the campaign on increasing donations and the final number went even higher. They had raised 33% more than the stated goal. It didn’t complete the full vision, but this realistic approach proved successful, and it allowed them to celebrate. It also added greatly to the pastor’s credibility.

Teachable

This pastor was successful because he was teachable. He listened and acted upon our informed estimate of what he could raise, and he achieved success. In fact, his teachable attitude allowed us to help them raise an additional $275,000 towards the larger goal after commitment weekend.

The opposite was true with the one campaign that failed. They didn’t want any due diligence before the campaign because they were in a hurry. Additionally, they wanted a shorter pledge period than recommended, and they failed to follow through on several other recommendations. In other words, they paid us, but they weren’t teachable and didn’t follow our direction (points they freely admit in retrospect).

Visionary

If leaders desire to be successful they have to be visionary. I love the story about Walt Disney being fired from a newspaper because he, “lacked imagination.” A recent Forbes article was entitled, “Leadership success always starts with vision.” Among several examples the author provides there was one about John F. Kennedy. He once cast a vision that we would safely land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. In July of 1969, Neil Armstrong achieved that vision.

Pastors aren’t just caretakers; they’re visionaries casting a shared vision about where the church is headed. Campaigns then, are a means to that vision that helps advance the kingdom of Christ. When pastors understand this and are credible, grounded in reality, teachable and visionary, they usually succeed in whatever they endeavor to do.


Leadership Should be Graceful and not Vengeful

In Les Miserables Victor Hugo shows the transforming power of grace and forgiveness contrasted with the legalistic quest for justice and vengeance. Eventually forgiveness overcomes vengeance, but a main character (Javert) could neither give nor accept forgiveness and it destroyed him. In this sense, forgiveness is as much about leaders giving up their right to vengeance as it is about giving the gift of forgiveness to others.

Grace, Humility and Forgiveness not Retribution

It’s interesting that when mistakes occur inside organizations, would be “leaders” sometimes seek vengeance rather than resolution, particularly when they’ve been hurt in some way. Instead of forgiving, they get angry, seek revenge and demand justice that makes offenders pay. Of course, payment is extracted by hurting careers, assaulting character or even excluding someone spitefully. Regardless of the form, it still comes from an unforgiving heart, which causes relational rifts. You can’t trust someone who chooses not to forgive. Unfortunately, according to Business News Daily, just 40% of workers trust their bosses. Yet, high trust organizations outperform low trust ones by 2.5 times in revenue growth.

Building trust requires leaders to recognize that people have flaws and everyone makes mistakes. Since folks spend half of their waking hours at work, at least some mistakes will occur there. Fixing blame and demanding retribution renders a person incapable of leading or inspiring others. Leaders who maximize potential, also give individuals freedom to take risks and make mistakes without being lambasted every time they try something and fail. Like the Bishop in Les Miserables, leaders who are effective in transforming followers and maximizing their potential, extend grace and tolerate mistakes. When leaders do that, followers usually feel safe enough to trust them and take risks. Forgiveness builds trust and draws people together; retribution diminishes trust and separates people, while destroying the person who refuses to forgive. Leaders are able to move past mistakes, give up retribution and thereby free up an individual’s potential to prosper the organization.

Admitting not Controlling

Leaders must also be willing to humbly admit mistakes, which requires a leader’s trust in the integrity and goodwill of others not to violate that trust. When that happens people usually respond in kind, because they receive an honest view of the leader. For example, Stan Gault was a premiere CEO of the 1980s and 1990s. At Rubbermaid he helped generate 40 consecutive quarters of earnings growth. After completing that turnaround, he did the same at Goodyear. A “Forbes” article suggested that Mr. Gault was a controlling “tyrant.” He responded jokingly that while he can be a tyrant, he’s also a “sincere tyrant.” However, even this self-proclaimed tyrant humbly expressed the danger of too much ego (BTW I found tyrant hard to believe after hearing his philosophy of leadership). He noted the importance of leaders being willing to admit mistakes:

“No one is always correct or has all the bright ideas. I don’t think one has to encourage conflict, but you also cannot shy away from it. Poor information originally used to support a hypothesis may have changed…unexpected changes in the market or competition and therefore, what was correct back a few months ago may not be the appropriate course of action today. You have to be willing to step back and say things have changed and we must change our direction and not get hung up emotionally. That you can’t afford. Sometimes your ego won’t permit you to either admit you made a mistake or that you should be changing course.”

Finally, eliminating ego requires humility on the part of leaders, and that humility begins with grace, forgiveness and admitting mistakes. Is it hard? Yes! Is it appropriate? Always!


The CEO Disease Revisited

Much has been written about abuses of power and violations of trust by would be leaders. In a classic Business Week report, “CEO Disease,” Byrne, Symonds and Flynn cited examples of many CEOs who seemed to change dramatically once they came into power. The seductive nature of the self-serving power shift has negative effects on the organization. “Pampered, perked and protected, many American CEOs have developed an unhealthy love of power which threatens their companies.” They note that power to control this “CEO Disease” rests with shareholders, but by the time it gets to them the damage is often irrevocable.

Lacking Accountability

Often, CEO Disease emanates from a lack of meaningful accountability and a shortage of effective communication. The CEO wants to hear only good news. Subordinates are reluctant or even afraid to ask questions, challenge decisions or bring bad news until it’s too late. In fact, the afflicted CEO often demeans people who bring bad news. Since there’s little accountability, the CEO operates in an alternate reality that can lead to organizational demise.

It’s important to realize that this condition can strike anywhere. Consider the case of Mark Driscoll, Pastor/Founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Between 1996 (the founding date) and 2014, Mars Hill grew to some 13,000 members and created 14 branch churches. Driscoll also founded several other organizations including the Gospel Coalition and Acts 29 Network. While he was successful, that success also revealed a harsher side that was unchallenged for years.

According to Christianity Today, when Driscoll finally was challenged, accusers claimed he was, “…guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech…He led staff and elders “in a domineering manner…” Driscoll was also accused of plagiarism for one of his books, and a group of former Mars Hill pastors confronted him about his behavior. Pastor Tim Keller commented that, “The brashness, arrogance and rudeness in personal relationships—which he himself has confessed repeatedly—was obvious to many…and he has…disillusioned quite a lot of people.” Eventually Driscoll resigned and church attendance dropped from 13,000 to about 8,000 in less than a year. By 2015 the doors were closed.

Living a Double Standard

It shouldn’t surprise us when organizational heads abuse power for self-serving purposes. Actually, Driscoll’s behavior wasn’t terribly outlandish, but it was enough to close several churches and hurt organizations with which he was affiliated. It also diminished trust and increased cynicism because his behavior was contrary to the Gospel values taught by the church (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).

According to one former congregant, “He had always made very clear that he was accountable to a board of elders…that if at any point he needed to step down or change, he’d submit to a democratic process. But on the sly, he had the bylaws rewritten, reconfigured the elders, and pushed out certain people.”

Absent any sense of human obligation grounded in core values, we’re left with a culture driven by preference and power. That’s why consistent alignment of behavior with values is so important. It brings stability and often prosperity to organizations and communities. It also mitigates the misuse of power. Conversely, when individuals and particularly leaders operate using double standards it creates disruption and instability. It also undermines trust, enhances cynicism and lowers productivity.

One has to look no further than government and the media to see a lack of trust that brings cynicism. Consider that recent Pew Research polls reveal that just 22% of Americans trust their government and 24% think the media are believable. That’s why alignment of a leader’s behavior with core values is so crucial, and why its absence is called a disease.


Leadership, Moral Truth and Organizational Sustainability

A few years ago, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said, “Today, it seems that those among us who are skilled at rejecting our culture or criticizing the status quo are exalted over those who just do the best they can.” His comments seem to capture the spirit of today. In fact, a simple view of criticisms in daily news reports provides plenty of evidence that Justice Thomas is correct.

What’s worse is that many believe America is so divided, that we’re moving towards a civil war. We read and hear daily about words and acts of opposition parties. The rhetoric rises beyond the point of hostility with chants like, “Impeach 45” or “Lock her up.” Fights break out…people are shot…violence occurs on campus… murders continue…and the rhetoric intensifies. Increasingly Americans appear to be drifting from their moral compasses and the result is a loss of civility.

What Young Adults Think

In 2008, famed Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his team interviewed 230 young adults across America. Their questions centered on moral life, and the results were surprising. When asked about a moral dilemma they faced, 2/3 of them either couldn’t answer or they described issues that were neither moral nor a dilemma. Of course, rape and murder were considered wrong. However, beyond that moral reasoning was lacking. Questions regarding drunk driving, cheating on tests, partner infidelity, were not considerations. Essentially, they seemed to have no basis for judging right from wrong.

One might wonder how this happened, but a good look at college curricula may provide some answers. The late Richard Rorty was one of the more prominent post-modern philosophers. He taught at Yale, Princeton and other schools. He once said, “Responsibilities to others constitute only our public side of life, a side which competes with our private affections.” According to Rorty, “moral obligation” is just one of many considerations for individuals, and it doesn’t trump all others in motivating behavior. In Rorty’s world then, my power allows me to do just about anything I desire. But that raises an important question. If moral obligation (i.e. my obligation to be civil) doesn’t trump private affections, then what happens to justice or civility when “private affections” result in racial or gender bias? Further, what happens when “private affections” result in dominating others, without the slightest regard for their wellbeing?

Where This Leads

If Rorty is correct, then human obligation always clashes with “private affections,” because at times fulfilling human obligation as a leader requires self-denial. Rorty also argues that objective moral truth “cannot be out there…independently of the human mind,” which means good, evil and moral are all relative terms. That leaves only law and power to mitigate differences. At its extreme, we get Hitler and Nazi Germany. The scandals and abuses (sexual and otherwise) we see regularly in the press are clearly motivated by private affections with no consideration for human obligation. Unfortunately, declines in human obligation (honesty, kindness, work ethic, church attendance, etc.) always bring declines in civility, particularly if morality is relative.

Under Rorty’s assumptions, because “good” and “moral” are primarily individual constructs, there’s no transcendent moral truth to mitigate differences or reconcile competing ideas. So if my opinion of “good” differs from yours, then we settle in a Darwinian form of organizational gamesmanship or we file suit. People lacking power who don’t comply with the prevailing culture (no matter how corrupt) are punished, ostracized and often eliminated. Consequently, the primary result is less organizational productivity and more power accumulation. While power-driven organizations and societies do exist, research and common sense tell us that they’re not sustainable. The choice seems simple, but leaders still must make it.


Worthy of Your Calling… Integrity to Lead

I recently read a disturbing article about abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. In fact, I actually listened to a Catholic Priest who preached a related homily from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians on leading a life worthy of your calling.

What happens with an unworthy life

The central point of this thought-provoking homily was to ask and answer the question: “What happens when you fail to lead a life worthy of that calling, particularly when you’re a leader?”

The pastor highlighted what happened in six Pennsylvania Dioceses. Evidently, a recent grand jury report includes dozens of testimonies from victims (mostly boys) amounting to decades (over 70 years) of sexual abuse by some 300 clergy. The report also uncovers a pattern of systematic cover-ups by senior church officials.

I will spare you with the gory details, but in his remarks the priest called out church authorities, and said that when we fail to lead a life worthy of our calling, people stop listening to us as a respected authority. That’s because leaders lose credibility when they fail to act according to the very principles they espouse.

It occurs in other places

This criticism is not limited to one Christian denomination. Consider the series of articles recently appearing in the Chicago Tribune. They documented the actions among leaders at one of America’s largest protestant Mega-churches, Willow Creek. Founded by Pastor Bill Hybels, the church has grown exponentially both in membership (26,000 weekly) and influence.

In his writings and seminars Hybels himself has said, “Every time you compromise character, you compromise leadership…your culture will only ever be as healthy as the senior leader wants it to be.” If that’s true the culture at Willow Creek must be both compromised and sick right now. Consider that a group of former pastors and staff (backed by several accounts from alleged victims) confronted Hybels, accusing him of a long pattern of sexual misconduct and harassment.

Though he denies it, Hybels recently resigned from the church, as did his elders. Right now that community is reeling. It’s understandable, particularly when leaders entrusted with the lives of others, abuse their power and take advantage of their position for their own selfish benefits.

What the priest said in his homily is absolutely true. When leaders fail to lead with integrity, they lose credibility and people stop listening to them. Why should they listen when leaders violate a sacred trust?

Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples where leaders have done just that and it’s not only limited to the church. Consider Presidents Nixon and Clinton and their indiscretions; Lance Armstrong using steroids; Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults; Brian Williams fabricating his Iraqi experience, or the Enron executives. The list goes on and on.

Leaders Influence Others Beyond Themselves

It’s not just leaders who are affected by unethical actions. It’s the many people around them; their family members, parishioners, associates and workers. Leadership indiscretions cause uncertainty; uncertainty about what happened…uncertainty about the future. Leaders are responsible for the culture, and when the culture is askew stakeholders suffer.

I know many priests, ministers, teachers, healthcare specialists, businesspersons and more who are mostly hardworking people of integrity. They respond to their calling and work selflessly. Unfortunately, they too are painted with the same brush as the violators.

Clearly, what leaders do has a multiplied effect. But leaders also have a choice that should always be considered. They can act with integrity and create far reaching positive effects or they can do the opposite. The problem is when they willingly do the opposite, they also run the risk of hurting themselves and a lot of other people in the process.


Humility at the Top Adds Profits to the Bottom…Line

For leaders to achieve success it certainly requires some strategic planning in their actions. However, beyond that they must strike a balance between corporate priorities, personal self-interests and responsibility to and for others. That demands a certain amount of selflessness and even humility.

These traits were apparently quite foreign to John DeLorean. According to Fortune, his ego destroyed his automobile company. He complicated matters further by trying to secure funding for the failing company by illegally shipping 220 pounds of Cocaine. When DeLorean was arrested, evidently he was unrepentant. Conversely, when Apple fired the late Steven Jobs for his unrestrained ego; he eventually repented, worked hard and resolved the ego issues that originally caused his downfall. DeLorean’s auto company is now defunct, but Apple recently became the first US Company to reach $1 trillion market valuation.

Advancing the Larger Purpose

Researcher and author Jim Collins discovered this secret in his now classic study of “Good to Great” companies. He found that the most effective leaders (level five leaders) are a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” However, “Personal Humility,” doesn’t mean weakness. Instead he’s talking about leaders being secure enough to check their egos at the door and do what’s best for the organization. In other words what happens in high performing organizations is not necessarily about accommodating leaders and raising their individual profiles. It’s about advancing the organization and its well being first. According to Collins, the lack of humility among high profile leaders is why they’re not nearly as effective as the level 5, “humble” leaders.

What Collins found is simply that in order to achieve long-term sustainable results, leaders must be more focused on the larger mission of the enterprise and less focused on themselves. Recognizing and acting on one’s responsibility to others and to a larger mission is an essential part of covenant leadership; it is also how leaders build credibility and motivate people to follow them. It sometimes requires sacrificing self-interest in favor of the common purpose and/or delaying immediate gratification in favor of longer-term success.

A Lesson from our Founders

For example, the vast majority of Americans agree that our founding fathers were leaders who sacrificed self-interest in favor of common good. Consider John Witherspoon, Abraham Clark and Richard Stockton, New Jersey delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Witherspoon had been president of a college that eventually became Princeton. He fled with his family as the British occupied college buildings and burned many of his most prized books. Abraham Clark left his wife’s sick bed because of the British, returning to a ruined farm, a dead wife and missing children. Richard Stockton had been a well-esteemed, distinguished and wealthy man. He went into hiding but an informant revealed his location. The British dragged him out in the middle of the night, stripped him and took his property. They destroyed his home and threw him into prison where he was malnourished and regularly exposed to cold weather and disease. Towards the end of his life he was deathly sick, financially depleted, dependent on friends and suffering from depression.

It would have been easy for the founders simply to ignore the quest for liberty. Many were wealthy and lived quite comfortably. Still, wealth was not their primary motivator; it was the common and ethical purpose of liberty they served. It bound them together and led them to sacrifice self-interest in favor of this larger purpose. When leaders recognize their responsibility to others and sacrifice this way, it inspires followers to serve that same purpose in ways that endure and contribute to the bottom line. The same is true in nonprofit fundraising.  Selfless leaders inspire generosity and support of the mission.


Valuing and Empowering People Pays Big Dividends

Meaningful Work and Recognition Pays Big Dividends

Numerous studies demonstrate that trust, high productivity and engagement are not only related, they’re interdependent. Often they come from simply giving people meaningful work and treating them well as they do it. That builds trust, particularly when people understand how their jobs relate to the organizational mission and vision and why their contributions are important.

Giving Meaningful Work

When leaders communicate this way, employees’ learn that their work is meaningful and important to organizational success. They see themselves as valued team members, and they usually produce at high levels. This is particularly true with successful coaches. They build trusting cultures to maximize productivity and encourage ownership for roles and outcomes. Of course, players must believe that the coach is competent and has their best interests in mind. They also want to know that their individual roles play an important part in overall team success.

During my brief career as a college basketball player, I was a role player. My role was to rebound and play defense. It wasn’t very glamorous, but the coach spent considerable time talking about the importance of my role to overall team success. And he showed interest in me as a person beyond my playing responsibilities. Coach helped me understand my role’s importance and he let me know I was a valued member of the team. As a result, I assumed ownership and worked hard to improve my performance. My coach also proved he trusted me, by often assigning me to guard our opponent’s best player. In turn, my trust grew because I knew the coach believed in me.

Effective leaders in organizations build trust and ownership in the same way. They clearly communicate to people the importance of their work and then they trust them as they do that work. This also means giving people the necessary resources, decision-making authority and appropriate recognition as they make contributions.

Acknowledging Contributions

What starts as a trusting relationship can fail when people take each other for granted. For example, high employee turnover rates can sometimes signal a lack of appropriate recognition. The same can be true in fundraising when we see low donor retention rates. Often it boils down to a failure to acknowledge contributions. Again, building trust requires not only giving people meaningful work, but also treating them well as they do it. Acknowledging contributions so people know they’re valued is part of that.

John Wooden was arguably the most successful college basketball coach ever. He guided UCLA to ten national championships in eleven years. When I interviewed Coach Wooden, he explained to me that he believed it was essential to acknowledge contributions of all players on his team, regardless of how small their role was. He illustrated this point by using an analogy with his players,

“I’d say, ‘We’re like a powerful automobile and this player…maybe Jabbar, is the powerful engine. You now, are only a wheel; and you over here are only a nut that holds that wheel on. Now which is most important? What good is that engine if we don’t have wheels? What if you don’t have the nuts holding that wheel on…You all have an important part…And I made a special effort to let those who aren’t playing know how much I appreciated them.”

Sometimes giving recognition means sharing the profits. In 2003 the San Antonio Shoe Company made national news when the owners recognized employees by announcing they each would receive a one-time bonus of $1,000 for every year of service. In their announcement, they thanked employees for their loyalty and dedication and for helping make the San Antonio Shoe Company a success. Similarly, during fundraising campaigns it is also crucial to acknowledge and appreciate donors by letting them know how their gifts have made an impact.

What we’ve really been talking about here is the “Golden Rule.” Try applying it, and you might be surprised at the response you receive.