By Shawn Yingling
Use these best practices to help increase donations while better protecting your church and its members.
It’s no surprise that 2020 has been the year of online church services and digital donations. But even before remote services became a necessity, online giving had made significant traction for many worship centers.
According to State of the Plate’s 2016 survey, 86% of church members preferred having the option to donate online. Despite this overwhelming preference, many churches didn’t have the technology necessary to accept online donations.
Now, just four short years later, the jump to digital giving has become more imperative as in-person attendance has dropped during social distancing requirements. Although many churches across the country have reopened, the need for online giving hasn’t gone away. In many ways, in fact, the demands of today’s environment have shone a light on the benefits of this simple, fruitful means of giving back.
Why online giving?
When was the last time you paid for something with cash? According to CNBC, roughly one-third of Americans say they never use cash during a typical week, and those who do carry cash, carry less than $50 at a time. Besides ignoring a convenient way of donating, you could be preventing a portion of your church congregation and visitors from contributing: those who don’t have cash on-hand.
Online giving allows anyone to donate anywhere – so even if someone isn’t in attendance or a member of your church, they can give. This is especially helpful during times where funds are needed suddenly and quickly, or even during planned events, like annual bake sales, fairs and other fundraisers. Someone dropping by won’t have to worry about whether or not they have cash on-hand to participate.
Digital donations can also help prevent fraud. Most apps and platforms designed to assist with the donation process instantly provide receipts for both the donor and the organization. (Some even integrate with other apps and software so that bookkeeping becomes simplified and seamless).
The ability to accept online donations could actually increase the amount of money your organization receives. According to NonProfitSource.com, “Churches that accept tithing online increase overall donations by 32 percent.”
What should you evaluate when choosing a donation platform?
While most platforms are free to use, they often charge transaction fees. This can range from 1-3% of the donated amount with an additional $0.30-$0.40 charge per each transaction. However, some allow churches to ask donors to cover these fees during checkout. Evaluate various pricing strategies to find a structure that works best for your church.
User Experience (UX)
When possible, ask for demos of various platforms before committing to one. You may find that some apps are easier to navigate than others. Ideally, you want one with an intuitive user interface, meaning one that makes it as easy as possible for your members and visitors to donate. The more steps it takes to install, set up an account and then give money, the less likely people are to use it.
Quick tip: Look for a platform that won’t require donors to leave your website or app. When a donor is asked to leave a church’s website, it can cause them to distrust the process and end it before giving.
Does your worship center have an online store? Will you want to allow a text-to-donate feature in the future? No matter what big plans you may have for your church, there are online donation platforms that can help you along the way. Consider something that will work best for the long-term, so that as your church grows, it will still fit your needs.
Of course, security is the most important consideration in choosing a giving platform. Your donors want to be sure that their data is secure, and your organization needs to be protected as well. It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed when discussing cybersecurity, but it’s necessary to ask platforms about the steps they take to help prevent data breaches. Check ratings and reviews, as well.
How can you increase your church’s online giving?
After your worship center has chosen an online giving platform, there are several things it can do to help ensure that the investment remains worthwhile.
* Actively promote the new way to donate. Ask members to download your donation app in newsletters, on social media, when the collection plate is passed and at events and meetings.
* Add suggested donation amounts to the checkout page. According to DonorBox.com, research has shown that people give more when prompted to donate a specific amount. Include smaller gift sizes so donors can choose the best amount for their budget, but don’t be afraid to suggest donation amounts that will help you achieve specific goals.
* Allow reoccurring gifts. Give people the option to automatically donate every week, month or year (at a frequency of their choice). This automates the process, which simplifies it, and eliminates the chances that they might forget. It’s also important to provide the option of canceling automatic donations at any time. If donors feel “locked in” for eternity, they may be less likely to sign up.
* Say thank you. Whether it’s through a text, email or letter, let donors know that you appreciate their gift. Try to be as personal as possible.
* Allow donors to track your progress. Let donors know where their money is going. Give updates on your progress each time your fundraising reaches a benchmark. (You don’t have to give an exact dollar amount, but you should keep them informed about how far, percentage-wise, you are from your overall goal).
* Use video. “Crowdfunding campaigns with personal videos raise 150% more than those that don’t have videos,” says NonProfitSource.com. With today’s technology, it’s easy to create short videos that convey your worship center’s mission. Share these videos on your social media page and consider adding them to your website to make them more visible.
* Invite donors to share on social media. Your donors believe in your mission, so why not ask them to share more than just money? Ask them to share your donation page on social media, too. (You can make it easier for them by adding social share buttons to the ‘thank you’ page of your website).
Are there security risks with online donations?
As with any digital information exchange, there are risks of data breaches and other threats. However, you can help prevent many of these risks through cybersecurity training and protective software. Also, with the proper insurance coverage, you can provide your church with an additional layer of cybersecurity protection.
While online donations provide ease and sometimes even increase overall giving, it’s critical to remain aware of associated risks. No matter how your church chooses to accept donations, it’s important to proactively educate both members and staff on best practices and safety measures to help prevent fraud. Use these strategies to get more out of giving back.
Shawn Yingling is president of Glatfelter Religious Practice (GRP), www.glatfelterreligiouspractice.com. GRP specializes in insurance and risk management programs for churches and other religious institutions and is a division of Glatfelter Insurance Group (an AIG company), one of the largest program managers in the U.S.