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Keep it Simple

Beyond faith communities, the second most popular place for charitable giving is colleges and universities. Given that fact, this week I’ve invited a college friend of mine, Matt Fedde, to share his wisdom for our audience from his expertise working in digital giving at St. Olaf College. Most of his advice will translate easily to churches, though perhaps not all. Either way, church stewardship leaders certainly have much to learn from our college and university partners.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders


Keep it Simple
Matt Fedde

In fundraising we build close relationships with our donors and our partners. It’s often easier to say “yes!” and find a way to accommodate our most ardent stakeholders in overly complicated ways, but that response is not sustainable. Here are some opportunities to keep online giving simple for yourself and for the majority of your joyful givers.

To begin, I will note that I’m writing through my lens of higher education, so this advice may better fit your congregation if you do some translation. And in that process, there is strong potential for mutual growth and learning.

Facilitating online giving has been part of my role at the college, in one way or another, since 2007. I was hired to work in annual giving in an era when online giving was fairly new -- back then, we dreamed that leveraging Facebook would double our gifts if we could just discover the magic code. While I no longer sit in our Annual Giving office, I work with our Development team and vendors to make online giving happen.

Over the years, we’ve worked to streamline our online giving to provide the best possible donor experience and conversion rates (the percentage of online form visitors who complete their gift), to accommodate monthly giving, to keep credit card data as secure as possible, and to handle 24-hour and week-long giving campaigns.

The best for your donors (and for you) is to keep it simple. Gather the very least amount of information as possible while still getting enough to match gifts to the people in your database and satisfy IRS gift receipt requirements.

Designated giving

Donors in 2019 want to be able to choose how their gifts are being used, and they want to be able to see the tangible impact of their gifts. We compete for philanthropic dollars with some incredible non-profits who are able to provide really satisfying giving experiences (from solicitation, to donation, to the follow-up thank you). To do it, they have amazing photographers, videographers, writers, storytellers, and team members who leverage technology really well.

I challenge you to ask yourself, “do we have the resources to provide donors and members with a complete giving experience?” It’s one thing to add a few designation check boxes to your giving forms. It’s another thing entirely to ensure those gifts go to the correct accounts, follow those gifts to the impact they made, and then tell your donors stories about their gifts.

If your congregation allows for designations, keep them broad and simple. “Greatest need” is a great umbrella for our work at the college. Throughout the year, tell stories about the people who have benefitted from the programs and opportunities that you make available to your community -- if you can pull heart strings, inspire, or delight along the way, all the better.

Recurring giving

Scheduled giving can get complex quite quickly. The more options you give donors, the more likely you are to paralyze them. Do you let donors designate an amount to divide over their choice of a number of months? Do you let donors pick a set monthly amount over a set number of months? Do you let donors initiate open-ended gifts with no end date?

Again, aim for simplicity. If they made it to your online gift form, remove as many obstacles as possible. Make it easy for them to give you their credit/debit card details, feel good about their commitment, and call it a day.

Pick one giving setup (I’d recommend open-ended rather than with an end-date). Offer one frequency (I’d recommend monthly). Pick one date for all transactions (the 15th is a good round number).

The vast majority of donors are going to just roll with it. If you can accommodate special requests (without incurring extra manual labor) through the back-end of your system, absolutely do it, but don’t turn a special case into hurdles for other donors to clear.

How to get extra info?

There are occasions where more info would be helpful, such as a box for prayer requests, a checkbox to indicate interest in legacy giving, subscription to the newsletter, or other updates.

As much as possible, hold these sorts of would-be-really-really-nice questions until after a card number has been captured or include a link to a follow-up form in an auto-generated gift confirmation email.

Occasionally revisit your giving experience

Step back for a few months and then return and take a tour of your digital giving experience with rested eyes. Make sure it’s easy to get to your form and easy to give. Language or options that are well-suited one day might not fit a year later. Plus, technology and expectations change. Even so, caring for our donors -- and the process they use to give -- always supports our mission. 

About the Author

Matthew Fedde is the Director of Engagement Systems in the Advancement division at St. Olaf College, his alma mater. His first professional role at the college was in Annual Giving where he managed direct mail, student philanthropy, phonathon, digital fundraising, and volunteers. His current role was created to bring greater strategy to and momentum behind the college’s alumni relations, development, and career center digital platforms. When not on campus, Fedde is a CrossFit and nutrition coach in Minneapolis. You can find him on Instagram, @coachfedde.

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

"Human, person, grass, and plant" image by "Artem Beliaikin @belart84." Usage license via Unsplash.

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