The rate of change for many of our congregations doesn’t quite keep up with shifts in the broader culture. Oftentimes, that serves as a blessing. At other times -- especially when engaging financial stewardship -- this rate of change can stall our ministry. This week, mission developer Anders Peterson reflects on digital giving. If your congregation hasn’t looked into electronic giving options lately, this is the perfect moment to do so. Once the next stewardship season comes along, chances are you’ll be busy with other matters.
“Engaging Millennials & More Cashless Giving”
Let me start by asking you a personal question: How much cash is in your wallet right now? $20, $50, $100…Zero dollars? Well, following the trend of the average American, you likely carry less cash today than you did five years ago. And Millennials, like me, have a one in three chance of “rarely or never” carrying cash anymore! A recent study shows checkbooks are also becoming relics of the past. For further confirmation, at lunch, I asked three young adult peers how often they write a check. Two said, “once a month for rent” and the third said they “can’t remember the last time I wrote a check.” It’s obvious there is a major shift in the foundation of financial transactions. How can our congregations keep up with the changes?
Here are three ideas that every congregation should explore in an effort to make giving more simple and accessible, especially for Millennials and everyone who is going cashless:
1) Offer a platform for recurring donations
Even as a kid, offering was clearly a big deal, watching adults drop cash and checks into the offering plate as it was passed from pew to pew. I can even remember the day I made my first offering, proudly writing my information with a stubby little pencil on a skinny little envelope. Those were the days, right? Well, the times they are a changin’, and looking forward, more and more people will carry less and less cash, and likely no checkbook at all. It’s time to make some updates before the next stewardship campaign!
If your congregation isn’t doing so already, it’s time to start using an electronic donation system that can automatically receive and process donations on a recurring basis. With this system, no checks or cash are needed, and individuals can easily factor offering into their monthly budget. Most people, especially Millennials, already have recurring monthly transactions arranged with various organizations, so they are familiar with the process. If your congregation doesn't already have a recurring donation system, make sure to research one with low transaction fees. The service should be compatible with mobile devices, as well as direct integration with your church’s website.
2) Install newfangled contraptions
Does your church have a way to instantly process debit and credit cards? A card reader provides a swift option for onsite donations when people don’t have cash. These are perfect for pancake breakfasts, lenten suppers, coffee hour, and youth activity registrations. Since the primary reason people carry less cash is reliance on cards, investing in card-friendly options is a more practical solution than expecting a return to hard cash usage.
Square was the first startup company to simplify credit card processing through swipe-style accessories for tablets and smartphones. Your digital giving service may have similar options available, including kiosks and smart registers. Through these systems, enabled through cell service or local Wi-Fi, you can even email or text a receipt to donors at the time of the transaction. I encourage you to do some research to find the best option for your needs.
3) P2P is the way to be
As the relationship between finance and technology blossoms, they enjoy more personal encounters in the form of P2P (peer-to-peer) payments. Currently, top services include: Venmo, Zelle, PayPal, Circle Pay, Square’s Cash App, Google Pay, Facebook Messenger, and Popmoney, and most large banks are launching their own P2P payment systems. Where I live in the Bay Area, the most popular option among my peers is Venmo, which is owned by PayPal. What’s the difference? I would make the comparison that PayPal is to email as Venmo is to texting. PayPal is great as a non-profit donation service or formal payment system, while Venmo provides a fast and easy way to pay and request money from your contacts. Participants can even publicly announce a contribution, sprinkling in some emojis (??????)! While this capability illustrates the lengths of innovative design in P2P, most users keep their payments private, as they use it not to signal capital and self-promotion, but out of a desire for conveniently contributing to people and activities they care about.
The most compelling reason for adding Venmo or a similar P2P platform to your donation options would be convenience, including for providers. No need to process extra paper forms or credit card information. Plus, in most transactions, even when sending/receiving small amounts of money, P2P payment services are 100% free from transaction fees. Note that transactions cannot be reversed with Venmo, so you want to make sure people are sending money to the correct person/organization beforehand (looking at you, all you Redeemers and First Lutheran Churches).
At our Middle Circle gatherings, we always provide a list of the ways people can donate (if they are able): cash, credit/debit card, one-time or recurring donations through our online donation portal, PayPal Giving, or Venmo (@middlecircle). These days Venmo may be the most popular way we receive donations.
I hope you will consider trying these ideas to make giving easier for folks, especially Millennials. Promoting digital literacy and convenience in the wider congregation is also tied to sustainability efforts to reduce paper waste. If we make giving more green and accessible, the next step is to explore inviting younger people to become more involved in stewardship. Or perhaps they already are, more than we assume? Stay tuned, as this will be the topic of next week’s post.
For More Information
Rev. Anders Peterson is a ordained minister in the ELCA and helps foster curiosity, community, and social good with the spiritual but not religious, spiritual and religious, and not spiritual and not religious through Middle Circle, a mission development ministry in the San Francisco Bay Area (Sierra Pacific Synod). You can learn more and even make a donation to support the ministry by visiting middlecircle.org.