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The State of E-Giving
By: Derek Gillette

Only 42% of churches offer an online option for offering collection. This statistic was one of the eye-opening revelations uncovered by Dunham + Company in their latest church survey. Perhaps more startling, though, is the fact that the churches who do offer a digital option only see 11-13% of their total contributions come through that method, on average. 

To better understand these numbers, and what churches can do to improve upon them, I jumped on a call with Rick Dunham, president and chief executive officer of Dunham + Company.

What made you want to commission this study?
We do quite a bit of work in the faith-based sector, including churches, and we wanted to get an objective feel about where the church is in facilitating online giving.  The movement to online giving is very customer-driven, and churches need to respond to changing consumer behavior, which favors a mobile-centered solution for just about everything.

Why do you think the 42% number is so low?
This number was shockingly low for us. I expected to see it closer to 60%. But, honestly, thereís a big gap between large and small churches in the study. Only 29% of smaller churches (less than 200 in weekly attendance) allow for online giving, while 70% of larger churches provide the option.

What are the major barriers for churches, especially those under 200 members?
People are becoming more and more comfortable with online transactions, both social and commerce. The barrier for churches is simply the time and resources required to execute on this change in consumer behavior. When, as a church, youíve had a tried-and-true method for years, itís hard to want to change that overnight.

Why do you think non-profits have made the jump so much faster than churches?
Funding sources. Both churches and non-profits rely on charitable donations, but the way in which people give to churches utilizes the weekly, consistent, in-person interactions. Non-profits don't have the same amount of weekly contact, so the need for facilitating giving from a distance is different. Also, direct response efforts (mailings and emails) are a significant source for donations for many non-profits, which means they have to create an online landing page to drive donations.

The 11% of total giving is so low. Even with non-profits, it's only 6%. Why?
You must remember that the 6% and 11% numbers are weighted averages. Large donation options, such as estate giving and planned giving, skew the percentage down, away from digital, for non-profits. Regardless, these numbers are low for the church. Iím not sure what the best practice number would be, but I did get an email in response to our survey from a gentleman who used to be in charge of online giving for his church. They grew their digital giving to 30%. So, numbers like these are possible when a digital giving strategy is properly executed.
Based on this information, what are three tips for churches looking to increase their digital giving above that 11% number?

1. First, the church website must to optimized to facilitate online giving with as little friction as possible. For the churches that currently do not have such an option, they need to create it. For those that do, they need to ensure it is optimized.

2. Mobile optimization is everything. Transactions are increasingly done through a mobile device, and just having an online form is not enough. It needs to be mobile-friendly. From start to finish, make sure your digital giving process is easy to complete on a mobile device.

3. What are you saying in the actual service itself? This is the secret tip that many pastors donít think about. The best digital and traditional communication strategy will never take the place of that in-person appeal from the stage. Make it clear how to give digitally, with instructions on-screen. And, ensure you are talking about the impact donations are making through the work of the church. 

How important is the difference between online and mobile giving options?
As I mentioned above, people prefer a mobile-friendly experience. Text to give and mobile giving apps are great options, but they need to be able to capture donor information along with receiving the gift. This is crucial, as it keeps donor records clean and makes it easy for the giver to donate again the next time. As long as it's promoted in the service, once I'm set up, I'm more likely to give again.

What role do you think mobile specific giving could play?
For those churches not sure if digital giving is for them, take a peek around next time the giving portion of your service comes around. Notice the people scrambling to pull out their wallets, looking for a checkbook, indicating theyíve not thought in advance about giving, but theyíre still motivated to contribute. Mobile giving puts a method in front of them, which allows a spontaneous gift easily and simply.

What's the one practical step a church who is considering digital giving should take next?
I recommend three things. First, make sure you have a simple online giving form with as least friction as possible, including the number of fields, login requirements, etc. Then, make sure it's mobile optimized, meaning specifically formatted to be filled out on a phone or tablet. Finally, make sure you're effectively communicating that to your audience.

Derek Gillette is the communications manager for Pushpay, www.pushpay.com, and eChurch, www.echurchgiving.com.

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