Identity is an essential aspect of mission success. When you know who you are, what you stand for, and the way in which you will do your work, and then stay consistent with that identity in terms of hiring, program design, and service delivery, people will trust you, support you, and partner with you. It is crucial, therefore, that you carefully define what your ministry’s identity is.Whether you’ve consciously thought about it or not, your identity is normally defined by your strategic statements: vision/mission/End statements (whichever you use), corporate and team values, purpose or call statements, and other self-identification statements you may have.
However, if what you actually do does not align with what you aspire to do, then your identity will be defined by what you really did. And people will remember what you did a lot longer than they will remember what you said!
I surveyed 350 pastors for my church-agency relationship research and was surprised that of the 46% of pastors who had had at least one bad experience with an agency, 84% were able to remember the name of the ministry and/or person involved! (My book, The Church At Work, uses this research to help churches and Christian agencies work better together.)
But there is one other important, strategic statement you should have that tells donors and beneficiaries what they can expect from you. It also tells your staff and volunteers what you expect from them — a value proposition.
Why a Value Proposition?
You may have heard of a value proposition under one of its other names: Unique Selling Proposition, Brand Promise, Customer Value Proposition and similar variants. I like value proposition because it is modest. It doesn’t claim to be unique, so it doesn’t imply that you are better than anyone else. As you know from a previous post, I don’t think Christian ministries should have a competitive stance towards each other. They should be devoted to their missions, doing the very best they can at program delivery and fundraising, and depending on God to provide the necessary resources.
A value proposition is simply a definition of the contribution your organization makes to Christian ministry that others value.
It isn’t what you value, because that by itself will not help you achieve your mission.
When others value your contribution, then you are on your way to mission fulfillment! Of course, it greatly helps if you are passionate about the same value that others are, because it will become core to everything your ministry does, and you and your staff need to eat, sleep and breathe it so that everything you do is infused with that value.
When you know your value proposition, you will:
- know where to focus your planning
- be more committed to aspects of your work that you may formerly have under-appreciated
- change your messaging to donors and beneficiaries to highlight what they value about your ministry
- not accidentally lose something of real value because you will pay attention to ensuring the value proposition permeates everything!
Developing a value proposition
Even without a value proposition you probably have a pretty good idea what it is. I know we did at CCCC. For the nine years I’ve been here, these words have been used many times in our management discussions. We knew they were important, but over the last year as we’ve been thinking about strategy in a particular way, the four words of our value proposition jumped off the page as the four critical words to describe our value proposition to our members. We confirmed them when we looked over our theory of change and asked ourselves what our members really needed from us, because the same four words came to mind. So while none of them are new to us, our commitment to them over and above many other good and valuable things we do, is new.
Our value proposition is only four words (with brief definitions):
- Credible: What we produce is correct and no member should feel the need to get a second opinion
- Theological: Wherever appropriate, members expect a Christian perspective as part of our commentary
- Practical: Anything we produce must include how to apply the knowledge in real-life ministry situations
- Affordable: Our pricing philosophy is based on the premise that any Christian ministry that wants to use our services can do so in an affordable way
To test whether or not our members agree that this is our value proposition, we reviewed what they have said to us over the years through:
- member surveys
- “thank you” emails we’ve received
- our visits to member ministries
- stakeholder consultations held by the board
- program evaluations by us
- event evaluations by our members
- comments made in response to communications received from us
If you don’t know what your value proposition is, start asking outsiders. Use the above bullet list as a starting point. It may be you could provide better value than you currently are, so be sure to ask outsiders what they would value that you currently do not provide. You can also have an internal discussion, because some of your staff and volunteers likely have a good idea of what it is.
Using a value proposition
Once you have a value proposition, it becomes one of the lenses through which you assess the quality of any proposals you develop, programs you evaluate, training that would help staff and volunteers provide the value, and the way you promote your ministry to external audiences. It may also help you identify areas that need development.
As always, comments are welcome!