Unethically Frugal?
Church Production

Unethically Frugal?

By Eric Myers
February 2, 2011 6:12 pm EST

Topics: Tech Arts Boost

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Is it possible to pursue frugality to a fault? defines frugal: "economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful: a frugal manager." When trying to save the church money and be good stewards of God's money churches need to be careful to mind some important ethical rules (some obvious, others a little more abstract) and consider a wider scope of what it means to be frugal. I believe sometimes from a sincere desire to save money, churches at times resort to unethical practices. Either without realizing it, or without concern for it, churches have a reputation for being the worst offenders with behaving badly in the quote process of projects in particular. There are a lot of points I could make here, but suffice it to say that we as technical artists have a responsibility to educate our churches about the rules of engagement, and about what exactly an integrator does for the church (besides sit in their offices creating designs and quotes for one church all year). Its rare to find an integrator who professes Christ, rarer still to find one who does not compartmentalize their faith away from their business dealings. So, often we are dealing with knowledgeable professionals who are not Christian believers. This usually has no bearing on how excellent of a job they will do, and how professionally they treat churches in the design, quote, install, and billing process. The reason I'm even mentioning this is that to the world outside of Christ, our actions in dealing with them in the project process speaks far louder than the truth that is taught in our pulpits or sung on our stages. Most integration companies are a wealth of information. They are in the business of installing new systems continuously. A good integration company is staffed with experts in troubleshooting, designing, and installing AVL systems. Let me say it again: wealth of information. In fact, the wisest church technical arts staff guys make it a point to stay on good terms with a specific integrator (preferably a local one) so that in a pinch, they can give them acall, and at times ask them to come by to fix something last minute. Most integrators don't mind doing these kinds of things for the church if the account is in good standing, and if they haven't been treated poorly in a quote process. It’s very wise and frugal to be on the best terms with the leading experts in designing, using, fixing and installing the systems we depend on weekly to deliver the gospel message. So I want to detail some specific rules of engagement as a courtesy to churches in order to educate the church in how to best represent Christ in dealing with these integrators, and how to best utilize their services without abusing them and turning the relationships sour.

Rule #1. Trade Secrets and Non-Disclosure Agreements.a. Unethical. Do NOT share a proposal from one company with any other company! This is completely unethical, and in some cases where specifically stated, illegal. b. Time. These things take time to prepare. Time these companies are willing to give assuming that eventually you will accept one of their proposals. However, if you share that proposal with a competitor, you have given a significant time advantage (=labor hours) to that competitor, and they WILL come in cheaper, because depending on the size of the project, you might have just given the competition a 1 week (or MORE!) head start that they can then discount from the labor portion of the quote. c. Illegal. This is trade secret, non-disclosure territory, and some quotes have verbage stating it. If you are caught violating this clause, that company has a legal right to invoice you for the time it took in designing the system. I've seen trade-secret clause with a 20% penalty. I don't blame them! That’s usually about the margin a company has in a large project. So, you could potentially be billed $40,000 if you are caught sharing a $200,000 proposal with another company. d. Design. Ultimately, the purpose of the proposal process is NOT just the bottom line. You want to see who is paying attention to your needs and who will come up with the best DESIGN. The best design may not be the cheapest quote, but it very likely will save you money because it will best suite your needs - "by design".

Rule/Suggestion #2. Favor your favorite. Consider the value of having a "go-to" integrator:a. who will gladly service your system after the sale b. who will gladly answer when you call even when their offices are closed, such as during evening rehearsals and Sunday morning services c. who doesn't have to start every conversation over from zero with you because he knows many of your systems by heart since he had a hand in their design/install. d. who calls YOU to make you aware of a software upgrade that could make a critical difference in operation e. who calls YOU to make you aware that a church just traded in a gently used piece of equipment that he knows you have been needing, but was otherwise out of your budget f. who can help train volunteers in areas you might have less knowledge g. who sends you emails to keep you up on a new technology he saw at a trade show that may have a significant impact on your next project h. who will be more likely to suggest you NOT buy something you don't really need because they know your systems AND your volunteers well enough (and likely the contents of your storage space)

Rule/Suggestion #3: Healthy Competition.While I believe the ideal situation is to give full access and trust to a trustworthy integrator, there are some things that don't make sense to purchase from them. A trustworthy integrator will tell you they would rather not bother with the following things: a. mic cables, connectors, DI boxes, batteries, tape, etc...: just buy it online. If you pinned your integrator down and asked them, they will likely tell you that those things are a waste of time, and they don't make money on them anyway. Buy it online from some place that has a better price because they get it at a better price to begin with. Sweetwater, Full Compass, B&H Photo, Markertek are all good places to shop for incidentals. b. Don't ask your integrator if they can match internet prices. Maybe they CAN, but seriously? Why would he if knows he will more than likely be the one to service it, train you to use it, and will probably be asked to help install it. These things have significant value, and cost the integrator in time to provide. You’re not going to get this service from an online store, so it’s unfair to expect your integrator to match those prices. I could go on. The bottom line is, we are sometimes too concerned with our bottom line. Most of the time, our scope is too narrow and we lose our focus on greater impact for the Kingdom. In some situations the senior level of leadership is just too disconnected to understand the intricacies of these relationships with trusted integrators or the havoc a wreckless decision based on a perceived bottom line can wreak/ Often they have no idea that their efforts to make frugal decisions will at times cross over into poor ethical decisions. Sometimes it’s blatant; other times, not so much. Usually, the intentions are the best, but the outcome is destructive, possibly illegal. This is how churches have gained the reputation as being the WORST clients for an integration company to quote for, and the reason many companies play the same "change order" game in the quote process the same as they do with bully corporate clients.

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