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Online Giving: Is Your Church One of the 86 Percent?

  • Brad Hill SiteOrganic
  • 2011 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Online Giving: Is Your Church One of the 86 Percent?

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.

-          Don’t want to encourage more debt(“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” – Romans 13:8). God doesn’t want us borrowing money, and neither should your church. The best way to ensure that your members aren’t borrowing money on Friday to give on Sunday? Educate them. Programs such as Crown Financial Ministriesand Financial Peace Universityhave shown that a congregation with proper instruction on handling their personal finances will borrow less, save more, and give generously. God blesses those who are faithful to Him (for example, Genesis 39:2-5).

Remember also that many parishioners may prefer to use a debit card, but as a credit card, in order to gain extra security protection. Most online giving systems allow a church to choose which payment methods to accept—for example, donations can be limited to just EFT (checking/savings), while payments for other products or services can be made via credit cards.

-          Additional work for finance staff.  On the contrary, most electronic giving systems automate the collection of donor records, and often integrate directly with the church database. This reduces the time for manual entry or check scanning. It also reduces the church’s exposure to risk, since financial data never is stored on the church’s network if processed by 3rd-party vendors.

-          Giving online doesn’t feel like worship. This is a very personal, spiritual point and it is shared by a minority of believers. For them, the act of bringing money to church is symbolic and meaningful as an act of worship. It’s more about a “feeling” than anything tangible. The good news is that a church can still accommodate these people while still offering newer methods for giving. Last time we asked, any church was happy to accept donations in the form of cash or check!

Offering online giving allows new donors to participate in your ministry. For example:

-          College students away at school

-          Military service men and women

-          Homebound families/individuals

-          Regular members who are away on vacation

-          People who attend church but not the worship service (nursery workers, band members, teachers, etc.)

-          People who carry very little cash in their wallets, but would likely give higher amounts from home, online

-          Would-be attendees who are snowed in

-          Sporadic givers who would be more likely to set up a recurring, regular giving program if it were available online

Consider adding online giving to your mix of online ministry opportunities for 2012. When properly balanced with Biblical teaching on money, it can truly be a blessing to your congregation as well as to the work of the Lord through your church.

Brad Hill is the Founder and CEO of SiteOrganic, based in Ashburn, VA.  SiteOrganic offers a total-solution approach to online ministry. Through professional designs, easy and powerful church Website management tools, and expert online ministry consulting, SiteOrganic seeks to expand God’s Kingdom using today’s technology.

You can attend one of their upcoming FREE webinar sessions to boost results with the tools you already have—check out siteorganic.com/events for more info.

Publication date: December 6, 2011