Developing What, Exactly?

In June of 2003 I joined the team of folks in the North Wisconsin District office of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

The office was in Wausau, a good 90 minutes from our home in Augusta, but the planned giving counselor for the District had an office just outside of Eau Claire and I was given office space there.

The 20 minutes drive was a good commute each day.  But for much of the time, this job was spent on the road.

My AAL/Thrivent job also involved a lot of windshield time - 3,000 miles a month - but the job as Direct Gifts Coordinator with the District included traveling North Wisconsin from Lake Michigan to Minnesota and north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  As a result, I was on the road and spending one to two nights a week away from home.

My first task was getting acquainted with the missions and ministries of the District to better be able to share their story and make a case to potential donors to consider supporting them.  Second, was doing a lot of writing - updating brochures and writing the quarterly letters sent by the District President asking for gifts to keep things moving.

The development part?  It's really developing relationships.  It's looking to build strong relationships between donors and prospective donors and the organization they support.

Without a strong relationship, the loyal support is lost and the mission is damaged or lost.

As amazing as it sounds, even the most faithful church members rarely knew more than one District mission that took place away from their home congregation.  No relationship meant starting from scratch.

It was a good learning experience in discovering what donors were concerned about and looking for matches among the projects where we worked.

At the beginning of my position, it was shared financially by the District and the national church body.  The national body changed its mind after one year, and with relationships barely in the first or second date status... my stay with the District was limited to two years.

The best experience was a long weekend spent with a missionary who served in Vietnam.  Ted flew into Green Bay where I picked up at the airport.  He got off the plane with a backpack - enough clothes for the weekend, including three church services where he preached.  Me?  I had a mid-sized suitcase in the trunk of my car.

Ted talked about running into Christians on a visit to Burma and how exciting it was to meet Christians in a land where Christians are a tiny minority.  It was interesting to me how little denomination distinctions and differences made in such places.  His message was from Micah 6:8
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Ted also quoted St. Francis of Assisi - "Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words."

Simple - clear - distinct.  A message I can recall nearly 10 years since my extended weekend with Ted.  Good words for all of us today.

A few paragraphs earlier I referred to the process of development to dating.  Think about it, like our first dates - we want to get to know the other person, find out what they like, why they like those things, and see if we share those ideas.

In a good development relationship, the donors concerns and desires find a match in an organization that is looking to solve a problem the donor is concerned about and doing it in such a way that makes the donor feel good about investing in it.  That's when a second 'date,' if you will, can start and see if it's a relationship that makes sense for both long term.

It was a good introduction to development, and while I wasn't with the District a long time, those two years with Ron, Dennis, Gary, Dwayne, and Arleigh changed the professional direction in my life.

That job propelled me into development job #2.