Book Review: Coach Your Champions

I've been hearing about this book for month's now. "Have you read the cookie book?" people keep asking me. "No," I kept having to answer, "Not yet."

Coach Your Champions is a book about a "new" approach to fundraising. In my work with InterVarsity, I've had to raise funds for my work on campus and for the work in my Area. For years, I've been talking about how we will need to make a fundamental shift in our fundraising practice if we're going to be able to develop thriving ministries on community college campuses. That's why people keep telling me to read this book.

Coach Your Champions is a story about Josh, a non-profit director who is struggling to keep his ministry funded. Over the course of the story, Josh's thinking about fundraising changes dramatically. He begins to value people differently and his ministry broadens to include volunteers.

There are a lot of great ideas in the book. But three of them most stood out to me on this reading.

Create opportunities for people to see and own

At the start of the book, Josh runs from major donor to major donor, trying to drum up cash to keep his ministry afloat. He crosses the train tracks to go to business places and mansions, looking for large gifts to bring back to his struggling neighborhood ministry. Through a twist of fate, Josh ends up inviting a potential donor to visit the ministry. The donor accidentally gets invited to kids birthday party and the ministry clicks for him.

I've realized that this was important for years, but haven't quite had the right grid for it. I realize that people want to see the ministry (and not just hear about it). So, I've created Special Guest Tracks for them to observe our conferences. And though those are nice, they don't quite work for us.

Instead, what's working is inviting people to serve alongside us. Lead a Group on campus. Prayer walk a campus. Help out. People are much more eager to participate than they are to observe. Shannon Marion put it this way: "No one comes when I invite them to a Special Guest Track. But I can get a line out the door to peel potatoes."

We need to create opportunities for people to own the ministry, to get their hands dirty, to engage more deeply. This seems incredibly wise.

Keep the problem/question out front

There was one scene in the book where a grandmother-figure was helping Josh write their latest newsletter. She wrote an obituary for a kid that had been killed in their neighborhood, then turned to chastise Josh for his newsletters. Josh's newsletters - like my newsletters and updates - have tended to put the ministry on display. Here is what we're doing. Here is what God is doing through us.

In a way, our ministries are solutions to a problem and answers to a question. Unreached college students. Who will reach them? InterVarsity. College kids without mentors. Who will invest in their lives? InterVarsity. College campuses ignoring spiritual reality and truth. How can we show these campuses the importance of spiritual things, the importance of God? InterVarsity.

Our ministry is the solution, the answer. But if we focus on the solution and the answer, people begin to forget the problem and the question.

A great deal of ministry communication - mine included - ends up sounding like this:

  • Problem: We can't charge students. Question: Where will we find money to pay the bills?
  • Problem: We don't have money. Question: How can we get money?
  • Problem: Money. Question: Money?
When we assume the problem and the question, we set ourselves up for the problem and the question to be co-opted. Money becomes the problem and the question. And why should anyone have any motivation to help us solve that problem or answer that question?

Think about levels of involvement

The last great idea had to do with involvement. Ministries usually track involvement by the size of people's gifts. A person is a major donor if they give a gift with a lot of zeroes in it. This happens in almost every non-profit: the opera, the Red Cross, churches ... we all do it.

But this thinking ignores deep, biblical truths: percentage matters more than size, people can give more than money, playing favorites is playing with fire.

In Coach Your Champions, the main character begins to value things other than money. It starts when he asks one of the bake sale volunteers to consider taking leftover cookies to a local school to help build relationships with the kids. When that takes off, Josh starts to realize that the lady who coordinates the cookie drive is a major donor, even though she doesn't have much money to give. She's a major donor because she's a major owner. She owns the ministry.

At the core of the book is the idea of a donor development process. How do you take someone who participates and help them become engaged? How do you take someone who's engaged and help them become an owner?

Too often, we ministries assume that just because someone gives a gift that they feel ownership of the ministry. This just isn't true. People can give significant financial gifts and still stand at a distance. We need to help them get involved more deeply in the ministry.

My one major concern about the book

My one major concern about the book as someone who fundraises and supervises people who fundraise is that this model may or may not produce funds.

I've been working in this vein for the past two years down here in South Florida and we've seen phenomenal results. We went from having 2 volunteers in our Area to having 23 volunteers in our Area. Our work is thriving. But our budgets are stretched and slammed.

I'm grateful that my supervisors are willing to give me time to develop this new system. They've allowed me to build up deficits because they agree that this strategy will lead to a healthy ministry and a well-funded Area, eventually. But not everyone has that kind of time.

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