Radical Change Is Coming

The following is a great and thought-provoking article by non-profit marketing expert Chris Forbes in "Outcomes" Magazine:

Radical Change Is Coming: Reaching the Next Generation

How can our ministry reach the young adult generation? Has that question started to take over your organization yet? Everywhere you go, it seems ministry and nonprofit leaders are in near panic trying to figure out the solution to the "young adult problem.” Many are congratulating themselves on their forward-thinking strategies for reaching the next generation. The problem is, reaching young adults is only one of the challenges your organization needs to address. And the questions are going to come faster as the next decade unfolds. Will your organization be prepared to solve other big problems that are just as urgent?

Here is a sample of other facts and questions your organization will face in the coming years:

  • Competition from other nonprofits for donors and volunteers has already increased by 65 percent in the past decade and shows no sign of slowing. How will your organization remain viable with increased competition for donors and volunteers?

  • Starting this year (2010), birthrates are shifting to "minority majorities,” and non-Caucasian groups will need more prominent representation in your organization’s leadership. How will you involve and recruit these new leaders?

  • What will your organization do as the population of people age 65 and older increases by two-thirds in the next 10 years?

  • In the next five years, new forms of communication will proliferate through mobile technology. GPS-based advertising will be commonplace. How can your organization afford to invest in new media with an already overtaxed communications budget?

There is no need to panic, as some are doing. But how can your organization or church be ready to reach this next generation and beyond? The answer is not found following every fad that comes your way. A stronger strategy is to reinforce your organization’s commitment to sound communications principles and to remain flexible as the changes come. Here are three major waves headed your way and how to respond to them.

You must adapt to the marketplace’s continual changes. You can be ready by having clearly defined target audiences. Lead your organization to study your target communities first-hand. No one should know your community better than you. To have a better picture of the groups in your marketplace, research and create written "persona profiles” of those you want to reach and use them to inform your strategies as you are developing advocacy, education, and outreach resources for or from your organization.

You must learn how to communicate with new groups of people. Cultivate the skill of listening within your organization. Sound research and testing of ideas can help keep your communications effective in the future.

Start each ministry as a missionary would. Missionaries start ministry with learning, not with marketing. Cultivate the habit of testing ideas before rolling them out. Even if you don’t know it, you are doing research. When you try ideas to see if they work or fail, that is a form of research. Why not embrace research instead of pretending you don’t need it? Instead of working on hunches and letting ministry programming become driven by the personalities within your organization, use surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews to give you insights while you are developing resources from or for your ministry.

You must continually embrace new forms of media. Overcome any phobias of technology in your nonprofit. Take full advantage of the new communication channels available in social and mobile media. It would be insensitive and unwise to not use social and mobile media when a new generation uses these media heavily. Embrace social and mobile media as a normal part of your communication and outreach instead of treating them as a novelty. Social media are not going away, so adapt your organization to them now while they are relatively new.

The future will bring new and bigger challenges. By keeping a clear head and using basic communications strategies, you will be ready for what lies ahead. You can position your organization to survive and thrive and reach beyond the next generation if you are willing to adapt to, learn from, and roll with the changes to come.