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Connecting with Your Donors Online
By: Krystal Weaver

With the current recession, churches around the world are experiencing a donation shortfall unlike any most of them have seen before. Families are struggling to make ends meet, and one of the areas that suffers the most is charitable giving and “religious relief” spending. By tuning in to modern trends, however, many churches are finding that they can engage their donors and limit the giving shortfall. The key is to find out where your donors are and go there. Here’s a hint—you’ll find a whole lot of them hanging out online.

Churches that are willing to take note and adjust their giving campaigns accordingly are most likely to weather the storm with their sails (and their programming) intact. 

Even as stocks and mutual funds decline, there are other numbers that continue to rise. One of the most significant trends is what is happening online. In the midst of economic uncertainty, the Internet continues to grow at an amazing rate. For ministries and churches, this means that it is time to make the most of an online presence by incorporating it predominantly into your giving campaigns.

Not too surprisingly, as web traffic has increased, so too have online donations.  In fact, 2006, 2007, and 2008 all saw increases over the previous years, with the trend being for giving to drop in the summer months and then rise again starting in September. Last year was the exception, with a 9% dip in contributions, which can mainly be attributed to the return to a longer-than-expected summer drop that didn’t fully come back till year-end.

An additional trend worth noting is that while individual donations have gotten smaller, more of them are being made. This explains how smaller contributions are still adding up to an overall increase in giving. Donations are being made more frequently, just in lesser amounts than in the past.

Finding Ways to Connect
Everyone knows that donors will continue to give to organizations they have a connection with. So, how do you make your connection authentic, and how do you build on it?

The first step to developing new giving strategies is to take a moment to objectively look at where your donors are. With online traffic still on the rise, it is almost certain that a good amount of your donors are, too. Along with this information comes the realization that online giving has generally increased in the past few years. Accepting this and integrating the Internet into your campaigns is the next important step to take.

 The most successful fundraising ventures are those that are well-thought-out, that leverage good relationships, and that are creative. Of course, using low-cost means for spreading the word is also a strategic advantage. 

Building a Relationship
There are a few techniques that are helpful when trying to build a real relationship with donors.  The first of these is that you and they both have common concerns or beliefs about what needs to be done. By being uniquely “you,” your church is able to align itself with those who understand and fully support the mission. It’s not necessary, or even recommended to be just like everyone else. Stand out. Be different. Be authentic.

In addition, you want to have a true understanding of who your donor is. Make a point to know about a person’s past giving history, for example. Match the right level giving opportunity with donors who have the capacity to meet that challenge. Knowing your donors’ past giving history helps you to know what an appropriate amount to ask for this time. This can also help you maximize your top giving dollars. You can also determine the types of projects that speak most directly to an individual in order to target them for the appropriate cause or campaign.

In order to take the relationship to the next level, it’s fine to come right out and ask for a donation.  In fact, you should even go a step further and ask for a recurring gift. This makes it easier on the donor who doesn’t need to remember to make periodic donations, as well as for the ministry that can rely on that money coming in at regular intervals. 

Meet Your Donors Where They Are
This is where a little research needs to come into play. By taking the time to reach out to prospective donors and supporters, not only are you strengthening your relationship through communication, but you are also determining how best to bring giving opportunities directly to them.  While some of this work can be done by analyzing your own statistics, it is worthwhile to actually poll your supporters about their giving habits.

For example, you can create questionnaires and surveys quite inexpensively and set them up to either be triggered by a communication or to simply be mailed to your entire database.  Ask participants to reveal their age, gender, and other demographic information that will help break down the data into usable pieces of information. Then, follow up by asking what giving methods they’ve used in the last year: check by mail, attending fundraisers, making an honor or tribute donation, online donation, mobile or text donation, etc.  Also ask whether or not they are set up for recurring gifts and if they would like to use that option.

Finally, use that survey to determine where your donors are spending their online time. Facebook?  YouTube?  Twitter?  By taking a look at the results, you can help determine what social media platforms might help your church reach the widest and most active audience possible.

Utilize Inexpensive Promotion Tools
Social media platforms like those mentioned above can give your church an “in” with donors by keeping you and your campaigns fresh in their minds. In addition, interacting through these portals continues to expound upon that oh-so-important relationship aspect of giving. In fact, you can reach out through multiple channels to ensure that your ministry becomes a part of each donor’s personal online experience.

Other inexpensive promotional tools are available to help you stay in touch with donors, as well.  E-mail marketing is a great way to continue to build relationships while also serving as a medium to solicit donations. Services like Constant Contact allow you to create e-mail messages, schedule them for delivery, and even to monitor results to discover what links recipients follow, how long they spend reading your e-mail, and numerous other helpful analytics.

With all of this technology at our disposal, it can be easy to overlook the importance of more old-fashioned methods of communication, such as simply picking up the telephone. Taking five minutes to speak directly with a donor can go a long way in adding the personal touch that nurtures an actual relationship, rather than one where one entity is always asking for something from the other. Consider making follow-up calls to thank donors for their contributions, for example.

Based on the trends that are emerging, we can make some guesses about what the future of giving will look like in America. More donations will be made than ever before, but they may be in smaller increments. Automatically recurring contributions will become an even larger part of many churches’ strategies, as will social media. 

Krystal Weaver is the marketing coordinator for The CashLINQ Group, www.cashlinq.com.  The company offers MinistryLINQ, which exists to provide the latest technology in electronic processing to ministries and churches.









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