Over the past few weeks, I have spent many hours on the phone in conversation with churches and church-based organizations.
My goal is to gain a greater understanding of what churches have experienced since March, how they have pivoted, what they have learned, and what their needs are.
I'm so grateful to the many pastors and church leaders who have taken my calls and shared with me their churches' stories.
A surfacing theme is the question of online giving.
While it appears most churches have experienced neither a dramatic rise nor a significant drop in giving up to this point, these same churches are beginning to realize they need to make online giving easier to access for their congregants moving forward.
In light of this, I offer here a few things to remember when assessing your online giving strengths and weaknesses:
1. Fundraising is built on relationships—even online.
In another part of my life, I help run a web-based non-profit. All of our fundraising is online and we succeed in doing this through the cultivation of relationships...also online.
Churches, too, can use the digital space to strengthen community in a way that leads to more engagement, including giving.
To do this, there are three steps: connect, involve, and thank.
First, use digital platforms to tell the story of your church or organization in an open, honest, and vulnerable way to connect with your congregants. (Remember: storytelling is different from merely sharing information.)
Then involve your congregants—and not just the already active and committed ones—in the process of this storytelling. Ask congregants to write a guest post for your blog or to submit entries for a regular Instagram series. Involve them in the production of your streamed service. Ask them to respond anonymously to a few questions that will inform the Sunday morning sermon. However you do it, your goal is to invest them in the process and therefore in the outcome.
Finally, thank those who give. Of course, you want to thank them individually through letters, emails, and notes. You also, however, want to publicly express gratitude for the generosity of your congregation as a whole. Frankly, this is the piece—the gratitude—I see most often missing from church communication strategies.
2. Meet your members where they are and make it simple to give.
I have a confession. A few weeks ago, an organization that I am moderately committed to sent out an email as part of a fundraising campaign. I support this organization in other ways but was willing to contribute to this particular campaign...until they asked me to create an account.
Another account with another password, an additional step when I was already trying to knock off some things from my to-do list between Zoom meetings, convince my dogs to stop barking at the delivery person, and make sure the rice on the stove didn't boil over.
I didn't donate. I decided I would do it later and then promptly forgot about it until I sat down to write this blog post.
Another example: I also run a social enterprise as part of that non-profit I mentioned earlier. We were newly outfitting our e-commerce website. I insisted that we include PayPal as a checkout option because I know people are more inclined to use their credit card when it involves fewer steps and no manual entry.
My business partner (who is also my mom and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, Nell Green) pushed back, suggesting it was an unnecessary complication. We agreed to test it for a month and see if customers used the option.
It's been over a month and nearly half of all customers have used PayPal to check out on our website. Why? Because it's easy. Because they already have their information loaded and ready to go. Because that's where they are and it's simple.
Not every church needs a text to give option if their congregants won't use it. Having a wide variety of ways to give can actually be confusing and counter-productive. Don't require an account. Offer recurring giving. Make it mobile-friendly. Meet your congregants where they are and keep it simple.
3. Stay transparent.
Staying transparent as part of a communications strategy means more than just spreadsheets and numbers shared at business meetings. It means regularly updating your donors in both public and personal ways on how their gifts are making a difference.
Be specific, even tying exact dollar amounts to positive outcomes when possible.
Making the connection over and over again between the generosity of your congregants and the ways the church is better able to carry out its mission will have the greatest impact on your giving.
Of course, every church's strategy—on giving or anything else—should be crafted to suit its unique mission, community, and congregants. If you would like assistance in figuring out how to increase online giving at your church or in looking at your online giving as part of a greater communications approach, reach out to me here and let's find a time to chat.