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The Persuasive Purchaser

How to approach decision-makers about big buys.

A big-ticket purchase is creeping up on you. The bus is breaking down. Or the server is malfunctioning. Or the phone system is obsolete. You know you'll have to persuade the pastor, the board, maybe even the congregation, in order to make the buy. The expense likely will be high, meaning the scrutiny potentially will be, too. What steps can you take to help your church make a wise decision and ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible? Here's a plan to help you approach key decision-makers in the best possible way:

The Pastor

1. Get the facts. Before you approach the pastor, be sure you have followed a logical decision-making process:

  1. Substantiate the need. Why is this purchase necessary? What problem currently exists that will be solved by this purchase? How does this purchase relate to the vision and values of the church?
  2. Capture the important criteria in the decision. Some of the important factors you will want to highlight regarding your purchasing decision include the cost, the funding sources, the space needs, the product's durability, warranties, and payback.
  3. Document possible alternatives. Explore solutions other than just your preferred purchase. Be prepared to present alternatives. Would a lease make more sense than a purchase? Is used equipment an option?
  4. Establish the option that best satisfies the criteria. Make sure your solution is the most obvious choice in light of the criteria.

The steps above require time and research, but the data you collect will help you prepare for the board and the congregation.

2. Present your proposal. As you present your research, connect your solution to the vision and values of the church. The pastor is the chief keeper of the church's vision, so establish how this purchase will support that vision. In the case of a new platemaker for our church's printshop, I connected this purchase to our value of high-quality communications materials and our vision of providing quality printing products to other churches and non-profits at affordable prices.

3. Make sure the pastor is your ally. Do not proceed unless the pastor will support your purchasing recommendation. I've learned never to go into a decision-making meeting without the pastor's full support. "If a house is divided against itself … " (Mark 3:25).

The Board

1. Prepare a concise "Purchase Proposal.Use an executive summary to present your research and timeline. Include information pertinent to your decision to purchase. Always lead with vision and values. The board's responsibility is to protect donor interests, so be sure the decision can be viewed as prudent by the congregation. Anticipate questions or concerns:

  1. Will they want to know the payback period? Prepare a cost-benefit analysis.
  2. Will they question the vendor choice? Have vendor references available.
  3. Will they have particular financing questions? Be ready to present a plan for funding and the impact on the budget. Having financials available will demonstrate that you have thought this decision through from a long-term perspective, which will weigh heavily in your favor.

2. Pray for God's leading through the wisdom of the board. Even after we have done everything we can do to research and solve a problem, we must trust in the leaders whom God has set before us. Separate your emotions from the decision. Pray that God would help the decision to be fully explored so that everyone can leave the meeting convinced of, and ready to explain, the path forward.

The Congregation

1. Collect information and support beforehand, if possible. Introduce the issue to a subgroup of the congregation beforehand. This helps you uncover questions and gain support before the congregational meeting. Asking a focus group, "What questions or concerns would you have about this purchasing decision?" isn't manipulative; it's strategic. It helps you build consensus and tailor your presentation to answer concerns before they are voiced.

2. Lead with vision. People respond to vision. Use the power of story to explain how this purchase will impact people's lives and extend the church's influence in the community. Use your executive summary to explain the issue and have all of the supporting documentation at your fingertips in case detailed questions need to be answered.

Paul Clark is executive pastor at Fairhaven Church in Dayton, Ohio. You can read more from him at paulclark.org.

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  • September 18, 2009

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