Over the past couple of weeks as we have talked with the many churches we serve, two primary questions have dominated our conversations.
First, how can our staff and volunteers utilize technology to communicate, work, serve and minister effectively given the restrictions on our ability to be physically present? In additions to assisting individual churches with this question, we have provided some thoughts on that issue with various blog content and webinars.
Second, the issue of giving has been of primary concern; the current state of member giving, the mechanics of online giving, how to sensitively communicate the need for continued giving, etc. In this post we will provide some thoughts that have emerged as we have discussed the issue with many different churches. We will also provide some helpful resources and links from people working to provide helpful solutions and advice.
The churches that we have interacted with exist along a wide spectrum in terms of the current state of their giving. Many have been impacted severely by the Covid-19 virus and have seen giving fall significantly. Many others, however, report that they are holding their own or that giving has actually gone up during this time. There is also a great deal of variety with respect to the churches’ preparedness for online giving, the availability of multiple alternative methods for giving, and the communication plan around giving.
So, in this post we will summarize practical, actionable advice that we have gleaned from many churches and providers as we have discussed this issue with them. If you are struggling right now, you will find at least some of the information to be helpful and instructive. If you are already doing well in this area, this post may provide some reassurance and may well serve as a type of “checklist” against which you can measure your current efforts. It is our hope that churches will be able to learn from one another and engage in supporting one another in a common goal of making disciples and serving people in ways that magnify Christ during this time.
For Those Who Have Seen a Downturn in Giving
During our recent conversations, our church partners have discussed three primary reasons that people might not be giving and how to help address those issues and provided some thoughts on how to help.
- Some contributors are in financial distress and unable to give or are worried about the future and do not feel comfortable giving or spending money at this time.
- Not being physically present and involved may lead some people to disengage altogether or to visit other churches online.
- Some members are having or will have trouble with the unfamiliar logistics of giving via any options other than physically placing a check or cash in the offering plate.
Addressing These Three Giving Issues
1. For people in financial distress:
- Focus on mobilizing members of the church to assist their brothers and sisters in need.
- Encourage members to meet needs directly. For example, drop a grocery card in a needy neighbor’s mailbox or take a meal or other necessary supplies. These acts of kindness don’t need to go through an “official” church program.
- Share stories (preserving anonymity as appropriate) of how the church is “being the church” and caring for one another with time, talent, and resources. This can include both informal gestures and the “formal” programs of the church such as benevolence funds, helping hands ministries, etc. By giving visibility to the outcomes of generosity, the church and its members will help encourage more generosity.Serving and caring is contagious and creates momentum. People respond to people, especially when they can see how their generosity benefits others.
- Encourage and simplify options for contributing to benevolence funds via online giving channels.
- Develop a simple process to receive and assign requests for help, and a process for people who can help to indicate their availability to do so. Here is a link to a step-by-step guide for Using Teams and other Office 365 Tools to Manage Care Requests.
2. Issues caused by lack of physical engagement:
As people continue to maintain physical distance from church family and the normal activities of their church life, they may be inclined to further withdraw from social activity, serving, and giving.
It’s vitally important to replicate as much as possible the personal community that normally goes on in person at your facility and in homes.
- Activate your community groups, hospitality teams, ushers, leaders, officers, etc. to stay in touch with your church body. Use your ChMS to create a call list for each leader and make sure that no one falls through the cracks. Some ChMS applications have easy ways to assign people to care leaders.
- Find ways to virtually greet one another during your online service – if you have a “passing of the peace” or “greet one another” section, you can do this via txt, Facebook, etc. Some church streaming platforms like Church Online Platform have built-in chat and prayer channels to allow participants in the live stream to chat with each other.
- Encourage small groups, Sunday class groups, etc. to use tools like Jit.si, Zoom, Facebook Groups and Messenger, etc. to join the worship service in a virtual watch party.
Be creative! Enlarge and expand your thinking about ways to serve one another. As mentioned above, your community will be strengthened when people are able to help each other get through the stress and impact of this crisis.
3. Issues with the logistics of alternative or unfamiliar giving methods:
Some people have trouble with the ”how tos” and specific tools and steps involved in giving online.
Some churches simply aren’t set up yet for easy online giving channels and have not implemented a giving solution yet. If you have not implemented a giving platform yet, see our guide to some of the top choices below. There are dozens of choices available to churches, we’ll focus on a few of the more common platforms.
Other churches do have online giving solutions but haven’t fully implemented or communicated them to their community. If you have a giving platform in place, now is a great time to make sure it is fully implemented and that access to it is easy to find and use. Some of your members may have never paid attention to your communications about online giving in the past because they simply preferred giving in another way. Now, they may very well be more receptive and attentive to this information.
Make sure that your various giving channels are not only easy to use but also meet the needs of the different types of members in your congregation:
- Text to give: Text giving makes it quick and easy to give from your smartphone. Most of the top providers have a text giving option. In general, they work by texting a keyword and amount to a text phone number or “short code.” The first time a contributor does this, they will receive a link to a web-form where they can securely enter their contact and payment information in under 2 minutes. Most of these applications can accept payments via major credit/debit cards or checking account numbers (checking fees are lower). They also provide the ability to set up recurring gifts and can even handle multiple fund designations. Once the account is setup, giving is as simple as texting a keyword and amount. The system will match on the phone number and process the gift based on the saved information.
- App-based giving: Almost all of the online giving platforms have an “app” option, (often custom branded for your church), or can integrate into other third-party apps such as SubSplash or Pocket Platform. If you encourage your members and guests to download a church app, make sure that it contains a giving page in the app from which they can easily give.
- Web-forms: All of the online-giving platforms have a web-form option. Depending on your situation, it may function as an “embed code” that allows it to seamlessly integrate with your website, or it may require opening a page in the giving solution’s own website.
- Integration with your ChMS: For members that interact with your Church Management Software solution, you should provide an option for giving from their ChMS member portal. Any giving solution that you use should integrate with your ChMS so that contributions are automatically logged to your contributors’ records. This makes it much easier to send statements to all contributors.
- What about Venmo, Paypal, and other apps? Venmo specifically excludes payments to organizations from its platform, but has said that at some point they hope to offer that as an option. Today, their service is intended only for transfers between individuals. Paypal is an option, although it lacks any of the integration features with your ChMS that make it easy to manage your giving in the church office. Its rates are also comparatively high.
Discomfort with the Security of Giving Online
For some people, especially those who are not “digital natives,” concerns about security will prevent them from considering online giving. This is especially true for those members who don’t feel confident in their ability to discern between safe and unsafe sites.
- It may be helpful to provide a quick video or PDF on how to setup online giving at your church. Knowing the process from start to finish can help provide people with the comfort that they too can do the steps safely.
- Many banks provide online bill pay via their website or app. If your members feel insecure about processing payments through your processor, encourage them to use their bank’s platform. It is usually a free service to the bank customer and the bank sends you a check that you can process normally, often with no fees or lower processing fees.
- Make sure your members know that the church can accept checks via the US Postal Service and post your mailing address clearly on your giving page.
Some members do not have access to give online (no internet, no computer/smartphone). For your members who don’t have the technology capability to give online, make sure that you are reaching out to them in ways that work for them. It may be helpful to send a paper statement with a letter from the pastor describing how their gifts are enabling ministry to continue, including the mailing address for the church. Some churches are sending giving envelopes to certain members while at the same time implementing alternative online strategies as well.
Communicate the Impact
A final word of advice from our church partners was, “Don’t forget to thank people for their gifts! Do remember to communicate how the specific work of the church continues and even increases during these critical times!”
It is essential that people are able to see the impact of their contributions. Without seeing this impact, giving is almost assuredly going to fall off. People are challenged by personal financial concerns and fears while at the same time being bombarded with too many opportunities to give, spend, help and serve. In addition to the local church body, local area businesses, other non-profits, and many helpful organizations are actively communicating their needs at this time. The church can help its members greatly by addressing head-on the real issues affecting normal giving activity.
- Vision 2’s Step-by-Step Guide to Growing Online Giving During a Crisis
- Webinar – Coronavirus and the Church: 12 Urgent Tips for Online Giving During a Crisis
- Five Deadly Sins of Online Giving
- The 80/20 Rule and Your Church
- Vision 2’s Online Giving Assessment Quiz
- Online Giving: Standing Strong Through COVID-19
- Online Giving: How a Chatbot Can SERVE Your Church
- Online Giving: Easy to Find and Easy to Use
If your church needs help with anything we’ve discussed in this article, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We exist to serve churches, and if you have a need, we will do everything we can to help. If we can’t help you directly, we will connect you with someone who can! Email us at [email protected] to get started.
Written by: Elliott Wood, Director of Consulting and Scott Smith, President, Enable Ministry Partners