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You hear it over and over again during board meetings at synagogues and churches: “How do we get more members, and how do we make sure that our congregants pay their full dues, tithe, contribute at Sunday services?”

These are important questions, but the problem is they approach the problem from the wrong perspective. Board members are looking at the situation from the inside-out, from their perspective. They see the issues of dwindling membership and dues and giving growth as something they need to fix by simply changing the dues structure, giving approach or by advertising more.

If the boards looked at the issue from the outside-in perspective, they instead would ask themselves these questions: “What about the experience of joining or being a member does not appeal to the community, and how can we improve the experience so that we are a welcoming place that fulfills the needs of these prospective members?”

The reality is you need to understand the full journey the members are taking and what they want their ideal experience to look like, so that you can create an institution the prospective members want to be a part of.

Religious institutions of the past, with their dues or giving structure, religious services and focused on a central building, do not necessarily appeal to members of the millennial, Gen-Y and Gen-Z generations. These younger generations crave spirituality, but don’t want the same experiences as their parents or grandparents. As a result, many synagogues and churches struggle to figure out how to change and provide these new generations what they want and need, while not alienating their existing congregants.

Congregations need to think differently about how their institution looks to those outside of it. The simple truth  is that these generations view all their experiences through a new lens. According to PwC, among all customers, 73% point to experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions, behind price and product quality. We need to remember that this mentality crosses all of their purchases, whether it is a new pair of jeans, a new car or membership in a religious institution.

One way to begin to answer this bigger question of how to change is to utilize the discipline of Customer Experience. Customer experience is the “the perceptions and feeling a customer has of the sum total of all touchpoints and experiences they have with your company, product or service.” It isn’t one single interaction, but all of them put together. By looking at the entire journey and pinpointing the areas that are most important to the target audience religious institutions may be able to solve this growth dilemma.

 To get started we need to look at the main elements of Customer Experience and how they can be applied to the issues facing religious organizations.

Use the Voice of the Congregant

Understanding how your future or current congregants feel about their experience is key to building the best experiences. This critical research, gained both through surveys and interviews, should get to what they are thinking, feeling and doing with regards to participation and how that does or doesn’t meet their actual needs. The key is to get to empathic conclusions that help you understand what the target member’s ideal experience looks so you can make more than incremental changes. 

Many congregations currently make small, incremental changes to their dues structure, holiday services, etc. based on what they think the needs are or what just a few voices say. This is helpful, but you are only adjusting the current experience. The real changes come when you use that voice of the congregant to envision something completely new that draws from that ideal experience. For example, you find out people feel your services are boring and don’t want to attend.  You can adjust the current services by adding new and lively music or you can completely reinvent your services in a way that draws people in for an entirely new experience.Do you conduct the service somewhere else, like a park or beach, or do you let the congregants lead instead of the clergy?

Map Out the Experience

Taking the information gleaned from interviews and surveys provides you with the basis to map out the end-to-end journey, starting from the point where they are looking to engage with a religious institution all the way through to where they are longstanding members. You also can look at micro-journeys, such as the process to becoming a bar/bat mitzvah or being confirmed. This mapping allows you to review all the touchpoints in that journey, looking at what the current and future members go through vs. what they envision their ideal vision of those touchpoints to be. Utilizing a cross-section of your congregants, board, and religious and lay staff will provide rich insights for a journey map that will begin to identify where changes are most needed.

Alexander Woodward, Cultivate Marketing

It is likely those participating in the journey-mapping workshops will have many aha’s as new insights are revealed and the key moments that matter most to the congregants are identified. By identifying the moments and their level of importance to the future and current members, the congregation can better prioritize where to focus. This is the point where you also layer in the overall resources and financial considerations of the congregation.  

Develop Solutions

Once you have mapped out the experience and identified where to place the focus for change, you can develop new and innovative solutions that result in this improved experience. Again, using a cross-section of congregants, lay people and clergy will provide richer ideas. Using the design-thinking approach, which focuses solution building on the people you are designing for and includes empathy, ideation and experimentation as its core pillars, you will be able to create opportunities that are completely new and address the needs of those you are targeting. For instance, you determine that you have a very digitally engaged audience that has no interest in going to your website because they are so app driven. Through the use of design-thinking, you determine you need to create an app with key dates and a quick way to sign up for events.

Measure Success

The final step is to assign metrics to your solutions to determine your ongoing success (or failure) so you can continually adapt and ensure you are meeting your goals. If a solution is to create an app, then you need to set goals for downloads, usage, etc. If it isn’t working, find out why, adjust and measure again. Otherwise, the mapping and solutions development become something used once and put on a shelf. That map and the solutions coming from the efforts should be ever-evolving, just like the institution itself.

By utilizing customer experience methodologies to better understand the needs and desires of your congregants and creating solutions that are developed to address those specific needs you will be one step closer to growing and maintaining a vibrant and engaged community.

Once upon a time, consumers would clip their coupons from their Sunday FSI circulars, take them to the store and turn them in for their discount. Consumer goods manufacturers incented their consumers to try new products, buy multiples or use the FSI as another form of advertising. While the idea of the coupon has not gone away by any stretch of the imagination, how consumers want to interact with them has. Mobile has changed everything – sort of. People want to use their phones for everything including cashing a coupon.

They assume because they can pay for their Starbucks with a swipe of their phone or use a coupon on their phone when they shop at the Gap that they can do the same with coupons in the grocery or big box store. Manufacturers want to take advantage of this trend and deliver mobile coupons to their consumers. Unfortunately, reality makes things a bit more complicated. Consumers and manufacturers are moving faster than the redemption agencies and retailers can keep up and this has made the coupon landscape confusing especially for those either just entering or trying to re-enter after an absence.

So, let’s start with the issue of technology. Retailers and manufacturers work with redemption agencies to be the financial go-between these two entities for coupons. Retailers collect the coupons and send them to the manufacturer’s agency who records and then bills the manufacturer for the coupons redeemed so that the retailers are refunded for the coupon. This is all based on a physical coupon that can be audited and checked for fraud. Simple, right? Not so much when you involve the mobile coupon. The retailer would theoretically scan the mobile coupon and take the discount as they would with a printed coupon. But then what? They don’t have a physical coupon to send to the agency and there is no way to account for fraud. How does that discount get communicated back to the manufacturer? It can be done in theory, but at this point there is no consistent technology that all of the retailers can use. Internal systems are different and while the redemption agencies are working them to come up with a solution there currently isn’t one. What this means is that the product manufacturer needs to come up with alternatives to get mobile coupons to their consumers that want them. You may be asking – why can the retailers do mobile coupons for their stores? The answer is simple, it is their store and/or product so if a mobile coupon is used there is nothing that goes back to the manufacturer, it is just treated like a sale price.

What are the manufacturers to do if they want to engage in mobile coupons? There are options out there and the key is to determine which best meets your needs.

Coupon Apps
There are many coupon apps out there. Some names you may have heard of and others newer – RetailMeNot, Coupon Sherpa, Ibotta. These work by providing coupons to retailers such as Gap, Aeropostal and Babies R Us. The problem here is that it doesn’t support manufacturer’s coupons. A new company, MobiSave, is coming out with an app that allows you to choose your offer and then scan your receipt within the app. The consumer will then get refunded the coupon amount via PayPal.

coupons incLoad-to-Card
Coupons, Inc., News America and a number of others now have deals with the grocery and big box manufacturers to load special offers/coupons directly to your frequent shopper card. When you scan the product at check-out it deducts like a coupon.

Store Coupons
One way to bypass the coupon redemption issue is to create a joint partnership with a retailer such as CVS, Babies R Us, Target, etc. You create an offer that is pushed out to consumers so that it is downloadable onto their phone. The consumer scans the coupon at the register like they would any other retailer coupon.

The Future
One only hopes that the retailers and the redemption agencies get their act together and figure out a solution so that consumers can use their phone for manufacturers coupons. Until then, consumers will have to print coupons from their computer or clip them from the Sunday circular.

I have a bone to pick with recruiters!  They all seem to ignore me and I have never gotten a full-time position through one.  They all say what a great resume I have and what great experience I have, BUT they don’t have anything for me.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that phrase and how frustrated it has made me, especially in this ridiculously tight job market.  I know what you are thinking – its probably my resume or gaps in my career.   Neither is the case (at least according to the recruiters I have spoken to).  So what is the problem ? 

I don’t fit into the normal marketing or sales box and given the extreme specifics of job descriptions these days, people who don’t fit an exact mold find themselves outside looking in.  What is the mold – traditional CPG experience in brand management at a Fortune 500 company.  Why don’t I fit?  While I have marketing experience at Fortune 500 companies like Revlon, Cadbury Beverages and Energizer, my experience is in either sales, trade marketing or integrated marketing/promotions and not brand management.  I have extensive digital, but I am not a digital only expert.  There are plenty of others like me.  Many end up back on the agency side or transition early on over to brand management.  You may be one of these, but you also may be like me and don’t want to be in brand management or at an agency.  So, what do I and others like me do?  See some ideas below for how to make that less traditional background work for you.

Realize It Isn’t You, It’s Them

The first thing to do is realize that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a more creative, more broad background.  It just means you don’t fit into the standard box and there are fewer positions that may be suited for your experience.  This current job market has so many people available that companies can ask for detailed and specific backgrounds that they feel are ideal for their company.  I recently saw a job description from a recruiter that listed the companies the hiring company wanted to hire from.  If you didn’t have that specific background don’t bother applying even if your experience is completely relevant.   These recruiters also have so many people looking that if you don’t fit the box they may not actively look to place you especially since they are paid by the hiring companies.  Don’t take it personally.

 Think Outside the Box

If you don’t fit in the traditional box, don’t look for jobs there.  Look at smaller companies or unique situations.  I once interviewed for a Marketing Director position at a not-for-profit healthcare facility that wanted to leverage my corporate marketing experience and apply it to their organization.  I didn’t get the position, but someone with a similar background did.  Smaller companies and entrepreneurial situations need people who can do a lot of different things and a broader background is something that will appeal to them.  You just need to sell yourself well.

 Network, Network, Network

If I’ve never had success using recruiters how have I found my jobs and interviews?  Often I have had the most success networking, which is what job hunting is all about these days.   People at companies have told me about jobs they have or have submitted my resume to their company for a position I found out about.  The reality is that there are fewer integrated and promotional marketing jobs these days and the competition for them is fierce so using someone who knows you and your work is often essential to landing the right role.

 Move On and Don’t Focus Your Energy Where it Isn’t Going to Drive Results

So many of my friends have provided me with recruiter names.  I have followed up with them, but ultimately I have found spending time working with them has not helped in my job search.  In fact, some haven’t even had the courtesy to call me or email me even after I had sent them my resume.   I won’t turn down an opportunity presented by a recruiter, but I have also not made the recruiters the focus of my job search.  I have a number of friends who have been working very closely with recruiters and even have more traditional backgrounds.  One, a brand marketer, ultimately found a position networking with  a fellow college alumnus and the other is close to a position working for someone she knew earlier in her career.    The message here is don’t rely solely on recruiters and don’t waste time with them if they aren’t working for you.

 My message to my fellow marketing services and integrated marketing folks is to soldier on and realize that finding a job may take a different path than your brand marketing friends.  It is a tough job market, but what makes you good at your job is what will benefit you in your job search.  Sell yourself, promote yourself through different means and look for unique opportunities that will leverage your background.


Boy, did Susan G. Komen blow it last week.  When news spread of its decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood, support for this decision and positive feelings about Komen dropped like a stone.  Every female friend of mine and many male friends lambasted them on Facebook and Twitter.  ABC’s The View had a raucous debate with only Elizabeth Hasselbeck showing any support for Komen.  Donations for Planned Parenthood went way up and Komen board members threatened to quit if they don’t reverse the decision.  Apparently, they did reverse the decision, or so it seems.  They are letting Planned Parenthood apply to funding, but that doesn’t mean they are going to give it to them.  Even more telling was that the person behind the decision and the new policy that resulted in the decision resigned due to considerable pressure from inside and outside of Komen.

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