You’ve probably heard about churches that accept contributions over the internet and wondered if you should do the same.
Larger and urban churches saw early, immediate benefits and were among the first to adopt the practice. But now churches of all sizes and denominations are adopting this tool. The COO of Network for Good, a fundraiser for many non-profit organizations, says “Online giving is no longer the domain of wealthy early adopters—it’s more and more mainstream.”
So, is online giving right for your church? Let’s look at the potential benefits, and then at some of the concerns churches often have.
Increased Overall Giving
In 2011, Reuters reported that churches who added online giving increased their overall collections anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. Altoona Alliance Church in Altoona, PA, for example, increased their total contributions by 18 percent within 5 months of introducing online giving.
TJ Schultz, Technology Specialist at Autumn Ridge Church in Rochester, MN, boasts even greater success at his church: “The financial impact of online giving is similar to Autumn Ridge adding an additional service. It is either even with—or outpaces—our onsite giving for each of our three weekend services.”
No surprise then, that at last count, 41 percent of American churches offered online giving to their members, and that number continues to grow.
The respected State of the Plate report annually publishes fundraising statistics for US churches. Its author, Brian Kluth, sees a definite trend toward more online giving and says there is a good reason for it: “The availability of electronic giving has a direct correlation to an increase in overall donations.... You do get more income from the church.”
So, is online giving just a way to raise more funds? Surprisingly, there’s a lot more going on here than just chasing new money. There are other benefits you probably never considered.
Inconsistent giving can be almost as serious a problem for churches as low overall giving. Budgeting requires a fairly steady flow of money. Without it, salaries, expenses, and missions all have to compete for their cut of yo-yo’ing funds. Holidays, travel plans, and illness conspire to make you choose what will get cut this month.
But online giving can even out your church’s income. Jim Gum, Executive Pastor at Heartland Community Church in Olathe, KS was amazed by this effect:
One of the unexpected surprises that online giving has brought about is a much smoother summer giving period. Once people have their recurring gifts set up, they are able to give even when they aren’t physically present. This is significant as studies have shown people do not typically ‘catch up’ on their giving after missing time due to vacation, sickness, or other times when ‘life happens’.
Chris Gunnare, COO at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, IA, found that “over 30% [of regular givers] gave on a more consistent basis” after his church added online contributions.
And it’s those regular, consistent givers that are so important. Gifts from visitors and guests are welcome, of course. But it’s your steady attendees that let you make budget. Tithing now makes up only 2-3% of religious giving in the US, so those steady contributors are harder than ever to come by.
Online giving, especially when set up as a recurring, automatic process, might just be the answer. Reporter Kristy MacKaben discovered “faithful church members find it easier and more convenient to donate, and the church can depend on their donations even if they are unable to attend church or forget their checkbook.”
A Tool for Reaching New People
When somebody anonymously drops cash into the offering plate, you miss a golden opportunity to improve stewardship at your church. Who gave that money and why? What motivates them to attend and contribute? How can you better address their needs?
Autumn Ridge Church found “with one central database that would connect giving as well as attendance, volunteering, and small group participation, we had a much clearer picture of a member’s involvement in our church.”
And not only can you build up a picture of those previously anonymous people, you’re no longer hidden from them either. A fascinating result of churches accepting online giving is that contributions start coming in from, seemingly, out of the blue:
“Over 36 percent of the people who gave online were not in our...database. Which meant they were either—A—not giving to the church in the past—B— they were just giving by cash and never registered for a class, or—C—we were not, by just passing the plate, making it very easy for them to give. And this definitely provided them an opportunity. So I guess you would maybe call it a new revenue source.” Chris Gunnare commented.
Go to Part 2 of Mark's article where he addresses concerns about using on online giving.
Mark has taught English and written for PeopleSoft, Progress Energy, and Borland before coming to ACS, where he has been for the last 6 years. He has a cat. That's right. He's THAT guy. Says one member of the gang, "You can smell the fear on 'im. Fear...or somethin'."