September - October 2016

By Don Walter
From his column A Minute With Don

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It’s probably a “guy thing.” So I’m hoping a few “guys” who read this can relate. Truth be told, there may even be a few ladies who would admit to being annoyed by what has become a common occurrence nearly every time one makes a purchase.

It’s that seeming desire by every merchant to enter into an extended relationship with me, and it is becoming more difficult to graciously decline these offers.

It happened over a lunch hour. I wanted to get my usual burger and senior coffee, and then go down the street to buy a greeting card—neither of which is a life-altering matter.

But sure enough, as I waited for my receipt, it started. The machine began cranking out a yard-long ribbon. I could see what was coming. Apparently, my desire to save a few cents by ordering a “senior” coffee had put me in the bullseye of a marketing department. The young lady behind the counter sprang into action, saying that if I’d just go online, complete a survey, and return with the “secret” code, my next burger would be free. She then added, “And please tell them Ruby waited on you.”

I didn’t complete the survey. I’ve seen them. By the time you’re done, they know everything about you, including shoe size and favorite color. And, if you fail to deselect the default boxes, your inbox will be flooded with spam for eternity. All this just because I wanted a cheap cup of coffee! It’s amazing what some enterprises will do to pursue a relationship with a cheapskate.

It’s amazing what some enterprises will do to pursue a  relationship with a cheapskate.

I ate my burger and drank my coffee in relative peace, contemplating my next stop. It was getting close to one of those special days, and I needed a card for my wife. After assuring the roving burger employee—a couple of times—that my burger was indeed to my liking, and that I didn’t need anything else, I tossed my trash and retreated to my car. As the restaurant door closed behind me, I heard a faint “Have a nice day!” No doubt, they ask about that on the survey.

My next stop was a place that sells cards and all that other stuff that eventually makes its way to bookshelves and end tables across America. These vendors have perfected the art of marketing high end dust collectors. I’ve noticed a lot of these items come from outside the U.S., and I wonder what the people who make them think about those who buy them.

I shop in this store because I know my wife likes nearly everything they sell. On my own, I would never think of buying anything in such a place, but I know she loves to shop here, so there I was. And by “shop,” I mean she meanders the aisles, checks for sales, smells the candles, and imagines uses for objects I can’t even identify. And, although it is foreign to me, I enjoy watching her in places like this. I love it even more when she finds something she just can’t live without, and buys it with a gift card I’ve given her. Of course, I go there for only two things: greeting cards and gift cards. I know my limitations—I’m a knickknack facilitator, not a connoisseur.

I selected my card thoughtfully. The guy next to me was more efficient. He opened a card, grabbed an envelope, and headed for the checkout. At least I read through several before returning to the first one I opened. I have a non-fail formula for selecting cards. Anything with a puppy, baby, beach or mountain is safe. A nice verse inside admitting my shortcomings while expressing appreciation for being loved in spite of them complements the graphic content. That day, I found just the ticket, so I headed for the register.

After mustering all of the limited pleasantness I possess, I pushed my greeting card toward the lady, and the inquisition began: “Are you a card club member? Is anyone in your family a card club member or on our mailing list? Could I have your email address, home phone number, zip code? Would you like to register your purchases so we can send special offers? If you’ll give us your cellphone number, we can text special offers to you.”

At this point, she paused long enough for me to say all I really wanted was the greeting card and a gift card. I then suggested that if I gave her all the information she wanted, she’d know more about me than anyone else in my family. She missed the attempt at humor. Apparently being invited to be part of their inner circle was a privilege and not to be trivialized. I apologized, feeling they’d soon post my photo in the employees lounge. I am sure that at the company headquarters I'm on a list.

If I gave her all the information she wanted, she’d know more about me than anyone in my family.

We live in a world where connection and networks matter. Vendors understand this better than anyone. They know behavior is generally driven by habit, and if they can get a person into the habit of turning into their parking lot, they’ve made a long-term, profitable connection.

In the Pensions and Benefits office, we value connection. Unlike restaurants and card stores, our motivation isn’t driven by profit or commissions. We do what we do on behalf of the church and for the benefit of our constituents. The dollars we collect, manage, and disperse are for one purpose—serving those who serve our church.

That’s why we open retirement accounts for every eligible minister at the point of their earliest assignment, contribute seed money, offer matching contributions, simplify target date investments, personalize beneficiary designation options, and allow minimum contributions. It’s also why we provide basic levels of life and disability insurance for ministers serving churches that support the P&B Fund. All of these are way better than a free burger or $2 off your next candle.

Minister friend, you can join several purchasing clubs and be on scores of “preferred” lists, but don’t overlook the one connection that has existed to benefit Nazarene ministers and their families for almost a century. We’re here to help you now and in the future. Even better, we’ll do our best to not be annoying—I hate when that happens.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits for the Church of the Nazarene.

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