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Using CMS to Unleash the Power of Recurring Giving
By: Heather Burton

Many religious organizations have been faced with shrinking congregations countered with increasing demand for the services they provide to their community. This translates to fewer dollars to spread among a higher need. With many people tightening their belts during these rocky economic times, establishing or formalizing your recurring giving program may be the answer for your church.

In this article, we'll explore program basics, the technology necessary to streamline your program, and how to take your recurring giving program to the next level.

What are recurring giving programs?
In its simplest form, a recurring giving program is nothing more than asking people to donate a set amount of money at consistent intervals, with no defined end date.  Sometimes, these programs are referred to as monthly giving programs or sustaining gift programs, or they have a special name specific to the organization or the donors, such as "partners in faith."

Why do recurring giving programs work?
In order to understand how these programs work, let's look at a simple example. Sally Jones donates a total of $1,000 to 10 causes each year, including your church. Two of the causes have recruited Sally into their monthly giving program at $10 per month, leaving $760 for the remaining eight causes. Does Sally split the remaining donation amount among the eight, or choose to forgo a cause this year, especially in the tightening economy? For the two organizations who recruited Sally into their program, their gift has just increased from $100 to $120 per year, assuming Sally would have divided her $1,000 evenly among her 10 chosen charities.

In the case of First Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a recurring giving program has been an essential part of operations since it was established in 1881.

"Without a recurring giving program, we wouldn't be able to maintain the religious programs and activities, or maintain the paid staff to run our ministries," said Sam Mayer, FPC's finance administrator. "It would be a nightmare of a guessing game."

FPC refers to its recurring givers as Pledging Households.

Mayer said, "When congregants pledge an amount per week, month, quarter, or year, we know how much we can budget, grow or cut back, or otherwise adjust our activities. We also know the expected cash flow, which is essential in making plans for the church, or deciding the right time to purchase an item or a make a repair."

Technology's Role in Recurring Giving
Similar to setting up an automatic bill pay, programs typically use electronic fund transfer (EFT) from a person's credit card, debit card, or checking account to streamline the payment processing. In the "back-office," donor management or constituent relationship management (CRM) systems help you manage recurring gifts from acquisition to data entry, donor upgrades to major gift, and planned giving cultivation.

According to Mayer, FPC's donor management software greatly helps decrease the time, yet increase the accuracy, of managing the church's recurring giving program.

"The time it takes to record constituents' pledges, and their giving toward those pledges, is a fraction of what it would be with an older manual ledger system or older database software," he said. "The system also ensures accuracy in balancing the week's deposit to the bank with what was posted as contributions to a constituent's account. And, it's a breeze to locate and correct posting errors. It's not as easy locating one or more errors on a manual system."

FPC's donor management software lets church leaders know where things stand financially and helps them answer important questions such as, "Are contributions running ahead or behind what was pledged?" or "Do we need to make some adjustments in our ministries to account for any major variances?"

Timely communication and demonstration of accountability are critical to FPC's members and provides another benefit of using software to streamline a recurring giving program.

"We mail statements to our congregants at the end of the first, second, and third quarter of the year; at the beginning of December for final checking; and then at the end of January of the following year for tax filing purposes," explained Mayer. "Believe me, our members can and do hold us accountable for the use of their contributions as they have designated."

Getting Started or Taking Your Program to the Next Level
As is true for any initiative undertaken by your church, an evaluation of your current situation is essential to helping you develop a plan to best reach your congregation and ensure your program's success.

1. Analyze WHAT your program consists of today.
Ask yourself these questions:

* Do we already make recurring giving an option for our members?
* If so, what frequency? What price?
* Do we need to send invoices?
* Can people sign up online?

2. Understand WHO is in your program today.
It's important to understand how many people are in your current recurring giving program, as well as their demographics, relationship with the church, and involvement in the program. If possible, find out about their experience with other recurring giving programs.

Profiling your existing recurring giving donors can help you more successfully move additional members into the program. If you have a donor management system in place, you would store this type of information there. This is another example where the right back-end technology can save you time and make profiling a lot easier.

3. Evaluate your "back-end" TECHNOLOGY.
As previously mentioned, having the right technology is critical. By doing a quick technology audit, you will be able to determine what infrastructure you already have, as well as what you may need in order to minimize your staff's efforts. Ask yourself these questions:

* Do we accept credit cards and bank withdrawals? Should we?
* Do we have ways to protect donor's sensitive data?
* How will we track our donors?
* Do we thank donors promptly?
* How will we address individual concerns?

4. Start SMALL.
No matter where you are in your recurring giving program, adjustments are often necessary. Build your program into existing activities or natural requests for funding to help minimize any potential distraction from your core operating activities.

5. COMMUNICATE, communicate, communicate.
You should carefully plan the communication of your program, especially if you are just starting out. The work you have done up to this point comes into play when communicating your recurring giving strategy and gaining agreement from leadership.

Next, you need to educate your congregation about the program to start recruiting participants. Design simple, clear, and easy-to-understand ways to communicate your messages, and be sure to explain the benefits of joining your recurring giving program. How will the gifts impact the donor? How will they impact your church and the community it serves?

6. Take a TEST drive.
Whenever you make changes, whether it is to the marketing of your program or to the technology used to process gifts, perform a test to ensure the changes were beneficial and the program is better than before.

Testing helps make for a stronger "ask" of your larger congregation, as well as ensures that your processes are working and efficient.

If You Build It, Won't They Come?
Recurring giving programs are not a one-hit wonder. They do not generate income instantaneously. Like any other fundraising initiative, they take time, commitment, and cultivation. You can help ensure your program's success by setting realistic fundraising goals and embracing technology to help simplify the tracking, management, and processing of gifts. You should also be willing to implement necessary changes along the way.

Heather Burton is senior marketing manager for Sage North America's Nonprofit Solutions, including the Sage MIP Fund Accounting and Sage Fundraising products, www.sage.com.  

 Product Roundup

 Roll Call from By the Book
Roll Call church software is affordable, user friendly, and powerful. Roll Call tracks membership, contributions, attendance, and groups and classes. Roll Call even includes Child Check In to increase security in your children's areas. Roll Call runs on Windows or Mac, standalone or on a network.  Roll Call allows you to easily communicate with your members, understand how people are involved in groups and classes, quickly record donations and contributions, and track pledge progress.

 Shelby Systems
Shelby Systems provides management software for faith-based organizations. Shelby Systems offers three distinct product lines. Aspire is a new, very affordable, and easy-to-use solution that creates your Web sites, bulletins, newsletters, and much more. Shelby v.5 includes a renowned, fund accounting suite, a comprehensive suite of membership management tools and e-Solutions for online giving and registrations. Arena is an enterprise, browser-based solution with search and tag features, check-in/out, SQL reporting, hosting freedom, and a vibrant community.

PowerChurch Plus
PowerChurch Plus is an all-in-one software solution that helps you streamline administrative tasks and manage your Membership, Contributions, Accounting, and Event scheduling. PowerChurch Plus can be installed locally on your computer or network. For organizations without a centralized office and have multiple people working from different locations, consider PowerChurch Online. Installed on remotely hosted servers, you can connect and run PowerChurch Plus from any computer with access to the Internet.

Servant Keeper
Servant Keeper is a top-rated, powerful, flexible, yet extremely easy-to-use church software program for helping you manage your ministry. Nearly 20,000 churches use Servant Keeper to build membership lists and mailing labels, track attendance, pledges and contributions, handle small groups and picture directories, and much more. Prized for its ease of use yet known for its powerful features, you'll soon see why Servant Keeper users say it's the best software program they have ever used.

Church Windows Software
Church Windows software is simple and easy to use, backed by award-winning support that can't be beat. Church Windows modules include: Membership, for tracking member and visitor records, class, and event attendance and e-mailing members; Contribution, for tracking giving and pledging and printing giving statements for your contributors; Accounting, with double-entry fund accounting and flexible reports; Payroll, for calculating pay easily whether you have one employee or fifty; and Scheduler, for tracking the church calendar.

What do you get when you combine 30 years of experience with an industry-leading company in church management software and an award-winning company with expertise in social networking? You get an in-depth solution for the growth of your ministry, by connecting your church with the community you serve; in a secure Web-based environment. With Logos Church Management Software and 360Hubs, you get Logos360, a powerful management tool and social networking environment. With Logos360, you can provide your members with a safe and secure environment to interact, collaborate, and socialize.

Sage Nonprofit Solutions
Sage North America provides software solutions for comprehensive church management. Sage MIP Fund Accounting automatically tracks multiple fund balances, making it an ideal solution for churches that need to track multiple congregations. Sage Fundraising's powerful donor database lets you manage all your fundraising efforts, including attendance tracking, event management, pledges, recurring giving plans, gifts in kind, and even online donations. We know that one-size-fits-all doesn't always fit all!  Work with Sage's expert customer account managers and certified business partners to tailor Sage's solution by including those features you need: accounts payable, fixed asset tracking, and payroll (including direct deposit and automatic tax filing).  Sage can even customize your solution to be installed locally, or hosted remotely, to fit your church's unique needs and budget.

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Religious Product News