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Phasing into Digital Giving

I have no idea how much cash is in my wallet. I spend cash, maybe, once a month. Just today, though, I used my phone to buy coffee and pay for groceries. I also have several automated electronic payments set up to charities. And, finally as of November, my congregation allows me to give via an app -- I can even setup weekly or monthly payments that way. We all know that not everything digital is a godsend, yet there’s plenty of ways we might use technology to God’s glory. In today’s post, Alex Benson lays a path to digital giving for congregations.   

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland

Center for Stewardship Leaders


Phasing into Digital Giving

Alex Benson

Did you know…

  • 34% of churchgoers prefer to give by recurring payment via credit card?
  • The number of checks written between 2000 and 2015 declined by 50%?
  • 50% of Americans carry less than $50 cash?
  • 60% of adults would prefer to give electronically to the church? (Vanco Payment Solutions)

It’s no secret that electronic giving in churches is on the rise. Recent research by Vanco Payment Solutions suggests that nearly every age group prefers electronic giving. And it’s not only those who are absent on Sunday mornings who prefer more flexible giving options. In fact, Vanco’s research suggests that some of the most active church goers have the strongest preferences for electronic giving.

In the midst of a shifting cultural landscape in which digital giving has become the norm in nearly all realms of charitable giving, the church has often lagged far behind in giving options. Not only does this logistically impede upon churches’ abilities to effectively fundraise, but offering a way to give electronically can actually be an act of hospitality as well (see Adam Copeland’s article “Electronic Giving.”) Electronic giving offers potential to allow families to give while they are on the go (helping you avoid a summer lag in giving for example), helps people better commit to regular giving, and allows donors to think about congregational giving in a way that better connects to their day-to-day lives.  

So, maybe you’re already convinced that electronic giving is an important next step for your congregation, but you aren’t sure how to get there. You’re certainly not alone. In The E-Giving Guide for Every Church: Using Digital Tools to Grow Ministry (Abingdon Press, 2016), Richard Rogers offers strategic insight into preparing to introduce congregations to electronic giving. His approach? Lead, Learn, and Launch.

The Lead phase involves first cultivating a culture of generosity and gratitude in your congregation. Rogers recommends reminding people of their own generosity, thanking the people who donate their time, energy, and money to the congregation and the congregation’s mission, and carving out space in worship and beyond to share stories of the fruits of such generosity. Fostering a culture of thoughtful stewardship is essential to the success of any giving platform.

Next, the Learn phase invites stewardship leaders to delve into the nitty gritty of digital giving. Rogers (p. 18-24) encourages leaders to familiarize themselves with common electronic giving terms, such as:

  • ACH (Automated Clearing House): an electronic network for financial transactions such as direct deposit or automatic bill payment
  • Automatic Draft (auto-draft) Authorization: a form filled out by donors to enroll in electronic giving via a debit or credit card or automatic withdrawals from a particular bank account
  • EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer): the electronic transfer of money from one bank account to another, either within a single financial institution or between institutions
  • Electronic Payments Service Provider: company offering services, software, equipment, etc. to support a church or other organization’s program for electronic donations and payments

Electronic giving options to consider include a donation button on your website, giving kiosks, automatic draft authorization, and mobile giving. Each option will come with its own range of setup, software, and equipment costs, as well as potential subscription or merchant account fees. Be sure to ask about these fees when researching potential service providers. The best fit for your congregation will depend upon factors like church Internet speed and wireless accessibility, website design (and whether or not its mobile friendly), how many and what kind of giving kiosks you might need, staffing or training needs, available customer support from the service provider, and compatibility with the church’s current software system. Also consider system security, the option for donors to set up recurring gifts, and user-friendliness and ease of access (lengthy or confusing log-in processes can deter potential donors.)

Finally, Rogers says, consider your communication plan, examine your timeline, note potential costs of publicity materials, and create a strategy for inviting people to experience electronic giving for themselves. You might even invite a handful of people to make small donations through your new platform and give feedback on their experience. Continue to build excitement and share stories about the potential of electronic giving! Even congregations who have offered digital giving options for years might do well to communicate, again, what options are available.

Finally, notes Rogers, you can enter the Launch phase. After you have cultivated a culture of generous stewardship, researched the logistics of digital giving, and implemented your communication plan, you will be ready to begin to “go public.” Enroll members, thank donors, celebrate results, and continue to share testimonies around electronic giving.

You will likely find that your journey into electronic giving will require continued nurturing, learning, and adjustment. However, inviting your congregation into digital giving might just be a risk worth taking as we follow the Spirit’s call into the unfolding adventures of 21st century discipleship.

For more perspectives on online giving, check out:

Electronic Giving” by Adam Copeland

iPad Giving Stations: Increase Your Congregation’s Engagement in Giving” by Durk K. Peterson

Online Giving” by Tania Haber

Jumpstart Your Congregation’s Online Giving” by Grace Duddy Pomroy

For More Information

Alex Benson is an M.Div. senior at Luther Seminary. She serves as Program Assistant and Editorial Fellow for the Center for Stewardship Leaders.

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, May 7-10, 2018. Click here for more information.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"42/365" image by Mariah Dietzler. Creative Commons licensing via Flickr.

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