When is the last time you wrote a personal check? For some people, the only time they have to pull out their checkbooks is to make a donation at church. While most people conduct their financial activities entirely online, churches still wrestle with the idea of allowing online giving.

LifeWay research revealed earlier this year that only 14% of U.S. Protestant churches offer online giving. That means that although 78% of churches have a Website, an even higher number--86%--of churches offer no method for online giving. It’s most commonly offered in larger churches, and usually has only been in place for one to two years.

As you might expect, there are some classic reasons why churches say they don’t allow online giving. The first is based on age and demographics. You might think that younger donors are the ones who give online. This type of homogenous approach doesn’t actually bear itself out when tested. Consider two recent studies:

-          Young Givers Are Not One-Dimensional: Even though millennials are more likely to make donations online, they are still heavily influenced by relationship and personal reference.  In 2010, 93% of millennials gave to nonprofits (21% gave $1000 or more). And when the same set of respondents was asked, 58% of them said they prefer to make their gifts online. The number is likely to rise in 2011 and 2012.  We can conclude that although younger givers do prefer to give electronically, they still respond best to personal/relational appeal. And they want to know where their money is being used.

-          Grandma’s Not Using Stamps Anymore: The Chronicle of Philanthropy foundthis year (for the first time ever) that a majority of all survey respondents prefer to donate to charities online. Donors 65 or older also preferred to give electronically. This is significant because for most churches, the solid “pillar” givers are older and more established in the flock. If this study is to be believed, your core donor base is sending you a message: “we want to give online.”

A New Trend, But Not in Internet Years

Practically speaking, online giving has been a reality in some churches for 2-4 years. In the history of the Church this is recent. But at the pace that technology moves, we’re just catching up. A similar shift likely happened in the last century, when most Americans began writing checks instead of using cash or other forms of hard currency. (By the way, if you’re just now getting used to the concept of online giving, get ready for the next wave: mobile giving.)

We commonly hear a few reasons why a church may be reluctant to receive donations via the Web.

Common Objections

-          Credit card fees.Most online giving vendors such as Vanco, National Church Supply Company, or CashLinq Group, charge a small account maintenance fee plus a per-transaction fee.  These fees are commonly in the 1% to 3% range. Yes, these fees do present a real cost, and they decrease the net receivables for the church. In exchange for these fees, however, the church receives a more automated process for handling donations, and a more regular stream of cash. Some studies have even suggested that online givers are statistically more likely to give higher amounts. Perhaps the small fees are worth it.