The summer season is upon us and many mission angencies and Christian charities are pitching their exhibition stands at New Vine, Detling, Soul Survivor, Grapevine... you name a Bible week and some agency's eager volunteers will be there armed with brochures, name acquistion postcards, newsletters, standing order forms... the whole lot.
The question is: how can Christian charities get their message across the different audiences at these events?
Let's start with what's not working - in my opinion at least.
Having spent a day at the Detling Conference in Kent here are some observations about Christian charities at Bible weeks...
1. Stands and literature everywhere but not one idea or campaign that stood out - well maybe one that stood out, that is Compassion's stand. My point is if you are going to do an exhibition at a Bible week you have an opportunity to connect with hundreds, even thousands of people. So, your stand and volunteers serving there should have something memorable, compelling and inspiring to say or give away that will make your charity stand out from the crowd.
What I saw hoever where bog standards stands with bog standard messages of 'we take the gospel to the nations... we feed hungry children... we do social justice...' - well good for you - but so do hundreds of other charities out there so why should I give to you?
2. Mountains of literature but not one decent involvement tool - I am not talking here about the direct debit or standing order form as an involvement tool. I am talking about some object, some activity, something you can give away to people who stop at the stand and let them experience what your charity is about...
People are not coming to a stand to get all your brochures or newsletters - but when they come by a simple involvement tool might be to ask them to pray. bring some prayer cards about the ministry ... distribute them around... tell people that there i a special 5 mins prayer time for a country or a project at your stand every hour... get them to do something rather than listen to someone saying: have you heard about us? Do you want a free book?
3. Volunteers galore and not a staff person in sight - I love volunteers. They are wonderful dedicated people who have a great passion for the charities they support and represent. But, are they the right person to be standing at a charity's stand all the time? Where are the charity's fundraisers or communication's staff? - Too busy in the office writing the next appeal or newsletter... well, if you are a charity fundraiser or communication officer you are missing out on all the action... which is not at the office ... but at these events.
If you went to one of these exhibitions even for one day you can meet all sorts of Christians, listen to how they talk about things they are passionate about, gauge their views and opinions on your charity and its work... wondering around a site and striking conversations with people at the coffee queue, around a dinner table or after one of the sessions is a good away of keeping a finger in the pulse in what's happening in the Christian community... The point I am making you are not at the exhibition simply to sell your cause but to buy as well... to listen, to learn, to be inspired by real Christians - the ones you are so desperately trying to reach with your communications...