How NOT to Start a New Program

You get an idea. You think it’s just what your donors would love.

So you gather some clever people on your team. You talk a lot about social media, apps and movements. You get an idea you’re convinced will go viral. Everyone gets excited. You work out the details. Spend a lot of time and money. Then you launch.

And nothing happens.

Sound familiar? It happens to the best of organizations and all for a simple reason: Most don’t really have a plan, model or framework for building a new program or initiative.

A program usually goes beyond a single product like a book, app or website. Think Purpose Driven Life or World Vision’s Experience: AIDS traveling exhibit as examples. To do these larger initiatives right, you need an intentional process that involves both good ministry and good marketing.

Here’s a 6 Step Program Development Model we’ve used repeatedly with good results for clients of all sizes:

1. Research — Determine the market need for this program. What do people really want (not what you think they want)? How do you know this? What motivations are you addressing and for what specific audience?

2. Design — Determine how you will meet those needs and create a strategy, success metrics and execution steps for doing so.


When Starbucks wanted to try out a new concept for a store, they didn’t roll it out to hundreds of locations at once. They prototyped it, as in this example in Amsterdam, and are learning from the results.

3. Prototype — Build it (or parts of your overall program) out as a mock-up, then test repeatedly. In Jim Collin’s latest book, Great by Choice, he uses this illustration: Imagine you’re on a ship being attacked by pirates. If you take your limited gunpowder, fire a single cannonball and it misses, you’re dead. Instead, take some of that gunpowder and shoot a few muskets to get your aim. Then fire the cannonball. Bye, bye pirates. Most organizations do the former, going for a single big launch. The better approach, however, is to try a number of smaller prototypes, see what works, then build the bigger initiative. You’ll not only have a better program, but you’ll learn a ton about your constituents in the process.

4. Pilot — Take your prototype and do a pilot test in a limited geographical area, testing your marketing and messaging.

5. Test Market — Once you’ve got the right products/services (prototype) and right messaging (pilot) nailed down, roll out the program on a larger regional basis in this phase.

6. Rollout — Finally after testing repeatedly, you’re ready to roll out nationally. If your program is completely online, you can jump to this phase right from the pilot.

This approach works well for both online and off-line programs. Increasingly, larger initiatives involve and integrate both. For example, no matter what you might think of the Kony 2012 campaign, while it went big online, the off-line posters, kits and other supporting pieces helped sustain it beyond the initial video.

The point here is that no matter your channel, you’ll dramatically increase the likelihood of success by starting small, testing often (social media like your Facebook page is a great place to get input from constituents at each phase), and rolling it out in phases over time.