Updated: Sep 15, 2020

When it comes to Vision Dinners, one of the most frequent pieces of feedback that I hear from TeamGold’s most seasoned users is that after a few years of growth, their dinner feels like it’s stagnating. Obviously, this is a great challenge for teams - especially if they’ve grown to depend on their dinner for funding each year.

This is the part one of an ongoing series of articles where I will dive into this phenomenon. Future posts will tackle this issue from a wide array of angles so that you can ensure your dinner continues to be an exciting and effective strategy year in and year out. For this first post, I’ll cover the most common reasons your dinner might feel stale and some quick changes that can be made in the short term to give lift to your Vision Dinner.

First, I’ll just come right out and say it: your dinner probably isn’t the problem, but a symptom of the problem. It’s totally natural that over the years you and your team will grow some bad habits and picked up some incorrect views when it comes to Development. There’s no ‘silver bullet’ to identifying or solving the underlying issue, but here are some of the most common warning signs I see in dinners around the country along with some suggested course-corrections.

There’s no ‘silver bullet’ to identifying or solving the underlying issue

Warning Sign #1: You’ve stopped getting new Table Hosts, so you’ve stopped getting new guests.

If you’ve been doing a dinner for years now you’ve hopefully heard the spiel about Table Hosts many times, so I’ll just touch on it one more time. The Table Host Strategy is vital to the growth of your dinner. By far the biggest pitfall that teams fall into is failing to find new hosts each year. Every year, the same 25 people serve as Table Hosts, invite the same 500 people, and the same 175 people fill the venue. Those people may be motivated to give for the first few years, but eventually they ‘get it’ and don’t feel the same drive to attend or give. Your attendance and giving will both fall without a healthy influx of new potential partners. The worst version of this problem is when all of your Table Hosts are on staff with your organization - this is the opposite of how it should be by this point!

Course-Correction #1: Keep your old, reliable Table Hosts, and challenge at least 20 people to host a table who you have never asked before. The power of the Table Host Strategy is found in mobilizing new partners to invite their communities to your dinner. By asking new people to host, you will gain access to new communities and get connected to new financial partners.

As a case study, I’ll give you some numbers from a local dinner that I’ve helped to coordinate over the past few years. This specific dinner is longstanding - it’s happened every year for over 10 years until it was cancelled this past year due to COVID-19. Attendance has remained the same (200-250) for the past 5 years, and giving is always around $50,000. Over those 5 years, we’ve had around 1,000 people attend our dinner - over 600 of them have only attended one time. That may sound concerning - why aren’t people coming back to our dinner?? - but the reason is because every year we find new people to host a table and invite new guests. Don’t think of it as ‘over half of the people never come back’ - think of it as ‘over half of the people at our dinner each year are being exposed to our ministry for the first time.’

Warning Sign #2: Your program is the exact same every year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you need to blow up the program and rebuild it every year (I’ll talk more about failed attempts to liven up the dinner in Part 2). That said I’ve seen many dinners wane in their effectiveness because every year it’s the same food, the same vision shared by the same people, and a lack of diversity across all elements of the program.

Course-Correction #2: Give the program over to new staff or (potentially) people who aren’t even on staff.

The simplest way to liven up your program for guests is to change the person they see on stage.

  • Over the past 3 years, has the same person shared the Ministry Update (probably your Team Leader)? Consider giving it over to another member of your staff team.

  • Do you have a staff member serving as Emcee? Consider recruiting a highly capable student or partner to serve as Emcee.

  • Do your guests eat the same meal every year? Ask your venue to provide you with a few more menus to choose from for a similar price (make sure they still include beef!)

  • Have you used the same or similar videos for multiple years? Consider going in a new direction by producing a new video or filling that time with something else.

Warning Sign #3: Your budget isn’t specific enough - you ask for the same thing every year - so guests are no longer compelled to give.

I’m going to be honest - this is one of the hardest things to nail down in your program from year to year. I see so many teams who create a budget that only includes things they’re already doing. At their dinner, the need they present is, “Here’s the 5 most effective things we do every year. Please give so we can continue doing them.” For the first year or two, that is a compelling ask because it’s presenting a need that your guests have probably never heard of before. But after a few years of being asked to give to the same thing, the novelty wears off and that person who has faithfully given $5,000 each year finds something more exciting to give to elsewhere.

Course-Correction #3: Here’s an important insight - people get excited about giving when you show them that their gift will make a difference.

If you feel like you’ve fallen into a cycle of asking for the same thing every year, you’re not alone. This is something that almost every dinner deals with eventually - including the ones I coach, myself.

Try to make it clear to your guests that new people will hear about Jesus thanks to your event.

Consider scrapping those things you ask for every year - your Fall Retreats, evangelism materials, conference scholarships, etc - and present your guests with opportunities to help you do ministry you’ve never done before and reach segments of your scope you’ve never reached. Try to make it clear to your guests that new people will hear about Jesus thanks to your event.

Don’t forget the back-end of this, though. If you ask for something new and they give for something new, you need to… actually do something new. Each year at your dinner, you should be able to report back to your guests about the new ministry that was done this past year. Once your partners see that your event has a tangible impact on your ministry, they will be compelled to continue giving.

Those are just 3 of of the most common issues that I’ve seen lead dinners to feel stale - there are many more problems that could be the driving factor if you’re feeling that way! I’ll end it there for now. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about the things you need to make sure you don’t change; the mistakes I’ve seen teams make.

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