Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to support TheHopeline

Based on our two-week mission trip and our prior dealings with the organization, Debbie and I whole-heartedly endorse the mission, timeliness, people, model, and character of the Dawson McAllister Association, which produces radio content and runs TheHopeLine ( Please join us in supporting this organization. We are confident that you will find it to be a blessing just as we have. You can help by becoming a hope coach, regardless of where you live. You can also help by providing much needed funding. There is a generation of young people, representing our future, who will benefit from your kindness and generosity. Chuck Arnold, CFO, CPA, and ordained minister, explains how you can participate.

Donate online at:

Donations by mail to:
Dawson McAllister Association
220 Town Center Parkway, Suite 110
P.O. Box 1835
Spring Hill, TN 37174

Donations by phone to:
Chuck Arnold’s phone number as described in his video: 1-931-487-7076

Day #16 Monday August 22, 2011

Today marked the end of our trip to TheHopeline with our return flight to Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Connecticut. We spent some time with Debbie’s sister Barb before driving back to Marlborough, Massachusetts. The past two weeks have been a marvelous and moving experience for us.

To finish our thoughts on the case for support of the ministry, most impressive to us is the character of the people and the organization. First, they have a heart for their mission—they really believe in what they are doing. Their love for God and inner joy reflect on their faces. We sense integrity, humility, and a genuine reliance on God’s leading as they conduct the ministry. They realize that they cannot succeed by themselves—they seek to collaborate with other organizations, donors, and interested parties as God leads. Listen to CEO Tim Altman describe the current challenges facing the ministry.

When the organization accepted our offer of a two-week mission trip, it was difficult to know whether or how the leadership would use our services. It was also difficult to know how the staff would accept us and how transparent the organization would be with "outsiders" to the operation, let alone donors, albeit modest donors. To be transparent is to be vulnerable. However, the staff has welcomed Debbie and me with open arms. They have shown us kindness, respect, and appreciation for our help. They made us feel like a part of the team. The leadership gave us unfettered access to virtually all areas of the ministry, while appropriately protecting the confidentiality of sensitive information. The transparency of the ministry and their high level of trust in us tell us that they have nothing to hide and are genuinely interested in our input.

The ministry’s leadership even encouraged our blog while making no overtures to control or steer its content. Their only input into the blog were twofold: 1) to ask the staff to give us their time (despite how busy they are); and 2) the spontaneous videos that you see on this site. Even as they gave us total freedom to expose the ministry through this blog, they clearly recognize the impact this social media can have on spreading their message. We felt privileged and honored to serve with them the past two weeks and to spread the message about a very worthwhile cause.

I have supported this ministry for years and, at times, have done so with a critical eye. I like to know that my support dollars are well invested and am not bashful about using my experience as a finance leader in a large organization and a CPA to do so. Even though my support dollars have been small in relation to the ministry’s overall budget, the current leadership has humbly welcomed constructive feedback. I find that the organization has a much better grasp on stewardship now than it did years ago before the current CEO and CFO were hired. Debbie joined me in support of the ministry when she became aware of it two years ago, jumping in as a hope coach.

The Dawson McAllister Association is a 501(c)(3) organization under the Internal Revenue Code and is now a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). As such, their financial information is available for public review and donations are tax deductible as prescribed under the law. As we are able, Debbie and I will be supporting them financially into the foreseeable future. We invite you to join us and will describe how in the next post.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day #15 Sunday August 21, 2011

Debbie and I wanted to experience a large church setting today, so we ventured to the People’s Church in Franklin, where the walk through the parking lot alone drove home the magnitude of the operation. The service was in a very large auditorium, simulcasting the message to a satellite campus in Spring Hill. The music from the worship team of ten was terrific, complete with light show. In the afternoon, we traveled to see the Grand Ole Opry House and surrounding properties on the eastern side of Nashville. The Opry Mills Mall has been, in effect, abandoned due to recent flooding, but the Gaylord Opryland Hotel was impressive in its size (including 3,100 employees), if not its grooming and amenities. Several walkways through tasteful landscapes and waterworks adorned the interior of the behemoth structure. We visited the gift shop of the Grand Ole Opry House, but forewent the backstage tour to attend a concert in Spring Hill. Ginny Owens , a national recording artist and recent addition to the worship team of the People’s Church, put on a free concert at their Spring Hill campus. Little did we know until the concert that she is blind. What a talent!

As another lovely sunset, the last of our trip, touched the western sky, our wonderful Sunday was still far from over. We worked on TheHopeLine tonight from the Spring Hill Call Center, realizing that our next gig would be from our humble abode back in Massachusetts. Debbie fielded a call from a 20-year-old woman who was having difficulty telling her estranged ex-boyfriend that she was three months pregnant. She also handled a call from a 17-year-old boy who was having difficulty freeing himself from pornography. I had some very serious cases this evening, including a 17-year-old multiple rape victim and a 14-year-old who revealed five significant issues, culminating in suicidal thoughts. Another serious chat was from a 25-year-old mother of three who was seeking a restraining order from her troubled mother. By the end of the evening, I felt much more confident dealing with these issues. I felt these individuals left with a better opportunity to turn things around than before they reached out. In each case, I gave them multiple resources for their issues. One of the heavier chats lasted much longer than expected, delaying our departure until 2:30, arriving back at “the Homestead” by 3:00 AM. It was a bittersweet time as we nestled in bed for our last evening in Franklin.

TheHopeLine receives serious issues every week. In the past year, there have been 45,000 total interactions, 1,200 of which pertain to suicide, 2,000 to abuse, and 600 to rape. Although it is somewhat difficult to categorize issues because many callers have multiple issues, the more frequent issues cited by the software are:

Dating relationships 26%
Parent relationships 9%
Anxiety/worrying 8%
Friend relationships 7%
Abuse, including rape 6%
Depression 5%
Cutting/Self-mutilation 4%
Suicide 3%

Dave Anderson, the Director of Rescue, explains the current state of TheHopeLine in the video below.

According to Dave, the organization currently has 70-100 hope coaches. Based upon the current demand for interactions, they could use an additional 130 hope coaches. A young person reaching out for help has roughly a 50/50 chance of reaching a coach. Thus, TheHopeLine is actively seeking more hope coaches.

In yesterday’s post, we reviewed three of the five dynamics relating to the case for support of the ministry. Today, we would like to consider the ministry’s model. We'll cover the final dynamic in tomorrow’s post.

DMA uses a model that is relevant to its audience, cutting-edge technology and media such as Top-40 radio, internet chat, texting, and social media websites. Debbie and I noticed the pursuit of excellence and innovation in both and the radio production. Their model reaches an impressive number of their target audience weekly, over 800,000 on radio and 450,000 on the internet. Yet, the ministry employs only 19 full-time employees and has a current budget of only $3 million.

To put a $3 million budget in perspective, seven-and-a-half months' donations at the People’s Church, which we attended this morning, are nearly $5 million. Yet DMA is a national ministry that touches over one million people each week! A $3 million budget is peanuts compared to other nonprofit organizations of this scope. Although their revenue is 90% donor-based, they do not solicit support from their expansive audience. By leveraging their technology and their volunteer hope coaches, they have generated enormous ministry potential from a minute employee count and a modest funding base. It is a very efficient model. Although their modest resources enforce good stewardship, they leave the organization underequipped to meet the increasing demand for their services. The organization can easily increase this demand, but chooses not to because its current level of funding cannot begin to support any further demand for services. Unfortunately, the ministry cannot easily increase its level of funding.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day #14 Saturday August 20, 2011

Today, we rented bicycles and rode from the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, just south of Nashville, to the Garrison Creek rest area and back. The beauty of the area and the ride is shown in the accompanying photo and the video of Debbie whizzing around one of the many bends in the parkway. During our rest break, my front tire flatted! Last year, we earned two flat tires in 3,500 miles. Today, it took only 16 miles for one! Despite the heat, it was great to get out for some air and exercise. After just over 30 miles in humid 90-degree weather, we returned the rental bikes and ate lunch at the Loveless Café next door. The Café has been a renowned stop for tourists, celebrities, and locals over the years.

Today, Debbie and I discussed the ministry. The specific topic was the case for support. What is it about this ministry that compels one to support it? To convey what we have concluded, I would like to consider five dynamics of the ministry: the mission, the times, the people, the model, and the character. We’ll review the first three of these in today’s post and consider the last two tomorrow.

What is it about the mission of DMA that makes it compelling? Perhaps their mission to reach and rescue hurting teens and young adults is compelling enough. But in doing so, even as a Christian-based organization, they have chosen a strategy to execute their mission on the terms of those in need, rather than force-feeding a belief system or set of values on at-risk youth who may be in no position to digest it. They are serving their target audience by going to them, rather than asking them to come to the ministry.

The current times suggest that there is great need in today’s generation aged 13-29. Let’s face it. Today’s society operates at breakneck speed, affecting youth with its rapidly changing technology. The family structure continues to decay. Many youth must develop their own values and set protective boundaries without the benefit of effective parenting or other moral teaching. Often youth come to regret their behavior when they later experience unsavory consequences. When trouble results, who helps pick up the pieces? We live in a time when teen suicide is epidemic. Teen pregnancy is still a prevalent issue. Premarital sex has moved from those who did so in close relationships to those who do so with absolutely no commitment. The internet prolifically exposes young people to pornographic material.

In light of the times, the ministry chose to move from Christian radio to secular radio a few years ago, even though they were leaving behind a solid source of funding from a like-minded audience. Since the dramatic decline in the financial markets that began in 2008, the wealth of the ministry’s donor base, along with everyone else's, has declined significantly, even as the need for the ministry is growing. These are tough times to be a youth. These are also tough times to be a nonprofit organization.

Debbie and I have been impressed with the caliber of the people at DMA. The President of the organization is nationally recognized as a leading authority on youth issues in the faith community. As one individual who we ran into on last year’s bike trip put it, “Dawson McAllister? He’s America’s youth pastor!” Dawson has years of experience working with youth and has unique giftedness in communicating with them. During our visit, he was tending to his son, who was in an automobile accident several months ago and suffered major, debilitating injury. During our visit to the Sunday evening radio show, he explained that he and the board now look to the CEO and his staff to operate the organization. The CEO is a very learned man with a background in radio, technology, and team building. He also has a degree in theology. Despite his position, he places high emphasis on prayer and participates as a call screener due to a work force shortage on Sunday evenings. He describes below what it is like to run DMA.

The CFO, who is a CPA, and the Director of Rescue each spent many years of achievement in secular employment, leaving high-level positions before joining the ministry. Each pursued and earned theology degrees and ordination during this timeframe. The National Director of Development had a long career as an educational administrator before his calling to this ministry. One of the younger call center managers spent five years as a youth pastor, which was great equipping for the ministry’s mission. Several on the radio crew received mentoring from America’s youth pastor himself simply by working closely with him! We heard from more than one of them that they get to do what they love and serve God at the same time. We saw high standards of quality when we witnessed the production of the live radio show. Throughout the organization, it is obvious that the crew is whole-heartedly devoted to their mission, like and respect one another, share a collective joy in their faith, and find a way to have fun with their work.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day #13 Friday August 19, 2011

Debbie and I spent much of today working with the rough layout that our team developed for the RSS software the past two days. We learned a new program, named SnagIt, which essentially acts as a high-powered cut-and-paste tool, aggregating snapshots of screen views from any program. The purpose of this exercise was to test our revised process and to provide other decision-makers with a prototype of the new design. It is also much easier to convey the concept to the programmers charged with implementing the new process. By 6:00 PM, we had finished the four-page layout.

The individual who will coordinate the programming effort and ensure its completion is Noah Curran. Noah is the sole in-house point person for web technology initiatives. In the following video, Noah explains his areas of responsibility.

Currently, there are four major web initiatives in process: 1) an internet radio station; 2) an online store; 3) a video library to catalog listeners’ stories; and 4) an “app” to allow the radio content to go mobile on smart phones. Ike Wingate elaborates on the internet radio station below.

The initiative to capture listeners’ stories seeks to highlight lives that the hopeline has rescued. Listeners are encouraged to upload videos of their stories to website. These will provide great testimonials for the ministry and additional compelling content for listeners. Courtney Johnson and Taylor Sloneker showcase some new merchandise for the online store that goes hand-in-hand with the “what's your story” campaign.

As you can see, embraces innovative technology to stay in touch with today’s youth.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day #12 Thursday August 18, 2011

This morning we were invited to a team meeting that included all of the full-time employees who were able to attend. Some attended by phone. Tim Altman, the CEO, started the meeting with a devotional from II Corinthians 4. He then challenged the group to thank God for their trials by recognizing that God uses difficult times in our lives to produce stronger character in us. Several in the group followed Tim’s lead in prayer. After this prayer time, each team member gave a brief description of what he or she has been working on. Any difficult issues were posted on a prayer board. After all had spoken, Tim acknowledged that this has been a challenging year for the ministry and, based upon all that was happening and the issues posted to the prayer board, he proposed a voluntary “prayer surge” for the next two weeks. The team agreed to a 9:30 AM prayer meeting each day for the next two weeks, including WebEx or teleconference for those unable to attend in person. This commitment to prayer is evidence of a ministry that relies on God. Tim allowed me the honor of closing the team meeting in prayer.

The whole office took Debbie and me out for lunch today. We enjoyed a warm time of fellowship and some good food at a Japanese restaurant before returning to work. Surrounding lunch, with help of soundman Jeremy Gover, Debbie and I recorded some sound bites to be used as bumps on the Sunday night show. These features are called All Access and portray hope coaches as real people to encourage listeners to call. For example, Debbie had lines like “One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I have been keeping a journal since 1986” and “My favorite part of being a hope coach is praying with teenagers and young adults at the end of the call.” I had lines like “Being a hope coach is rewarding for me personally because I have no children of my own and I get to help young people” and “If I could only take one thing with me on a desert island it would be a powerboat to get back to the mainland.”

For the remainder of the afternoon, we returned to the RSS software redesign project. This project will require much staff time. Each issue triggers unique prompts and resources in the software. For the listening stage of an interaction with a youth, there are unique open-ended questions for each issue. In the encouraging/coaching stage, there are unique coaching points. There are also unique Bible passages to share. Someone must distill and map out these unique values for the many issues that hope coaches can face. Thus far, we have only dealt with one issue. However, once the template for the software is defined, someone can complete the matrix and hand it off to a programmer.

If you have followed these blog entries from the start, perhaps you are now curious as to how this ministry is funded. After all, they staff a 1-800 call support number and online chats without soliciting from those they help. In addition, they produce a weekly call-in radio show that is syndicated across the U.S. Chuck Arnold, DMA’s Chief Financial Officer, explains how the ministry is funded.

Day #11 Wednesday August 17, 2011

Joe Kelley traveled back from Chattanooga today to resume the redesign of the Rescue Support System software. The team of five from last week reassembled to put some meat behind the concept developed last week. Using dating relationships as our test issue, we hashed out what the new model would look like. The new version is pared down to three pages and is a simpler version of the previous model, which required the coach to wade through too much material and navigate too many pages while helping the caller. This project will continue tomorrow.

Debbie and I have noticed that the radio guys really seem to have fun with their art form. Ike Wingate, who is Executive Producer, talks about what it is like to work with a veteran like Dawson.