Today's difficult economic conditions have made raising funds for all churches and non-profit organizations more challenging than ever before. At The Potter's House in Dallas, our mission is a global one that takes us beyond our local community to the far-reaching corners of the world. This requires us to continually seek out new ways to generate resources so that we can continue to be a voice inspiring spiritual and economic hope, encouragement and empowerment to people locally, nationally and around the world.
Ever since our pastor, Bishop T.D. Jakes, founded The Potter's House, we have had extremely generous and compassionate members—a congregation that now includes more than 30,000 people. Yet we know that we still must continually bring value to our relationship with them concurrent with appealing to their generosity. One way we have effectively accommodated both goals is through an affinity marketing partnership program.
Generating Funds and Adding Value
Stated simply, affinity partnerships help to form complimentary alliances between two separate entities that can seamlessly serve each other. In our case as a church, we've recently worked with Affinity4, a marketing company based in Norfolk, Va., whose mission is to help support charities' and ministries' goals by assisting in their fundraising and development programs.
The partnership works this way: Each time one of our members purchases a product or service, The Potter's House receives a 10 percent "give back." For example, every time members use their long distance service or their mobile phones, we gain new funds. It's an excellent tool for leveraging ordinary purchases and activities such as speaking on the phone. Moreover, affinity partnerships with companies that excel in the customer service area and offer high quality products/services at competitive rates also help strengthen the relationship between your church and its members. It works like a value-added benefit of belonging to the organization that, in turn, broadens our appeal and helps attract new supporters.
The Affinity4 partnership was not our first foray into affinity marketing. The Potter's House had prior affinity marketing relationships in the past with a member credit card company and another phone service provider. Our experiences with them, however, weren't as positive. We've since learned several important lessons that, in sharing, we hope will benefit other churches stepping into the affinity arena for the first time:
1) Don't rush things. For an affinity marketing partnership to work, it's essential that the proper due diligence be given to the selection process. Without it, the entire initiative can backfire, failing in its goal to raise funds and perhaps even worse—which jeopardizes relationships with valued constituents.
2) It's OK to be picky. Based on our experience at The Potter's House, we recommend that church executives considering an affinity partnership take the time to carefully screen your partners. Seek out partners who demonstrate a real commitment to customer service and customer satisfaction.
3) Ask questions. Inquire about a potential partner's products and services—their brands, quality, performance features, warranties and service policies.
4) Take a test drive. At The Potter's House, we always do an in-house trail run with the products and services before we roll them out to our constituents. In this way, we are confident that our members are only being offered high quality products and services.
5) Check the price. Be sure that these products and services are competitively priced so that you can honestly tell your supporters that they won't be paying any more than they would if they shopped around for comparable offerings.
6) Never forget: The customer comes first. It should be a given that your affinity partner is fiscally sound; yet equally as important (and often a true indicator of financial health) is the emphasis it places on supporting constituents' needs. Does it have a solid enough infrastructure to back up its product sales? Again, look for a partner with a dedicated customer service operation, complete with modern call center. This center should be staffed by trained customer service personnel who will respond promptly and courteously to address your members' questions or problems. This component of the partnership should be seamless and absent of any problems or issues that could potentially damage your image and relationship with your supporters.
7) Establish a tracking system. To assure that No. 6 is actually the case with your affinity partner and that they're not just offering lip service, they should have an efficient reporting mechanism in place whereby you are kept informed of all activities relating to your members. This includes their purchases as well as their service usage enabling you to track the funds being generated.
A Shared Value System
We believe that an affinity marketing partner should share similar values. An organization whose core values and business model reflect a mission to help churches and/or other non-profit and charitable organizations is a far better partner than one who is solely using affinity marketing as a way to target non-profit organizations. When the leadership of the affinity marketing organization also supports common causes—e.g., participates in missions to help the needy, feed the hungry and develop ministries where none previously existed—you can feel confident in the sincerity of this affinity partner.
Curtis Wallace, Esq., is the chief operating officer of TDJ Enterprises, Bishop T.D. Jakes' for-profit company, and a producer of faith-based books, movies, music and live events. As a lawyer, Wallace has represented large churches and ministry organizations nationwide and is a frequent speaker on church business matters.