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by Warren Bird
Online giving certainly isn’t new in North American churches, especially congregations that are larger, growing, and/or drawing healthy percentages of young adults. But congregations such as First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland are continuing to innovate in the digital giving space, finding new ways to encourage what will most likely be the greatest generation of online givers.
“Our congregation has continued to grow primarily with young families,” says William Gentry Jr., Chief Financial Officer of First Baptist Glenarden. “They are the tech generation. We’re strong proponents of technology, because that’s the way our society is moving.”
Similar to many churches around the country, First Baptist Glenarden launched online giving several years ago with a bit of skepticism. They simply added a small button at the bottom of the church’s website. The level of participation surprised everyone, so they made the button bigger and more visible.
First Baptist Glenarden offers its members several ways to give including the option to make debit transactions and tracking their giving.
Interest in online giving continued to grow to the point that the church now logs roughly 7,000 individual gifts online monthly, with about 9,000 people registered to give digitally. Typical worship attendance is 11,000 in-person plus 8,000-9,000 Internet campus. Translation: About 40% of the church’s financial giving happens online.
“Online giving allows a lot of our people to give without actually being here, and people use it periodically when they go out of town,” William says. “And many young people don’t carry a checkbook anymore!”
Mobile Giving and More
Not everyone gives the same way, however, and churches are accounting for that trend with wide-ranging options. Similar to most churches that utilize online giving, Glenarden’s giving options include automatic bank withdrawal and credit card payments. “Some people say, ‘We preach no debt,’ and we still emphasize that,” William says. “Just because you’re using a credit card, doesn’t mean you’re going into debt.”
When Glenarden’s pastors do their weekly offering appeal, they regularly mention online giving. The church introduced a kiosk in its foyer that includes giving options. Starting this year, attenders can text their gifts.
PushPay is an example of one of the leaders in this new field. It provides a simple digital platform, billing itself as a “10 second mobile giving solution” through its mobile app. It also offers giving online or through giving kiosks.
According to Steven Rose, Marketing Director for Vanco Services, mobile giving is the fastest-growing category of electronic giving. Mobile giving can consist of a full-size, fully-functional online donation page accessed with a smart phone or other mobile devices. More often, mobile apps offer a scaled-down version of a church’s full-size donation page. Mobile giving could also consist of church personnel swiping a member’s payment card on a smartphone or tablet equipped with a mobile app.
Like many churches, First Baptist Glenarden has made it more convenient for their congregation to stay engaged by offering Mobile Apps for a variety of technology.
Electronic giving is becoming simpler through text-to-give technologies which allow church attenders to text their donations. For example, a member might text “CC 100” to the number 23927. That person’s church would then receive the $50 donation, minus processing fees. This is very convenient. Rather than the amount being added to the member’s cell phone bill, the donation is drawn from their credit card. Churches can also set up different codes for different donation projects.
“Everything is moving mobile,” says Stu Baker of SecureGive, a company that sells giving software for churches and non-profits. “People use their smart phones for everything. It is crucial to make giving from a mobile device easy and accessible.”
A National Trend
Glenarden and other congregations are experiencing what is becoming a national trend in charitable giving. A report from nonprofit software provider Blackbaud shows that overall charitable giving is growing strongly – especially online. In a different study Vanco analyzed the financial impact of adding credit and debit card giving at churches where electronic funds transfer from checking or savings (ACH) was previously the only way to initiate electronic giving. The company found that in the first full year in which church members could contribute by either ACH or payment card, combined revenue from both methods was 42% greater than the last full year with ACH alone. By comparison, over the same period, churches that continued providing ACH as their sole electronic payment option experienced only a 12% increase in electronic revenue.
Vanco also evaluated the financial impact of adding online giving at churches where paper authorization forms were previously the only way to initiate electronic giving. During the first full year in which church members could initiate electronic contributions either by paper authorization form or through an online donation page, combined revenue from both methods was 48% greater than the last full year in which a paper authorization form was the only option.
The Blackbaud report concludes that the most successful nonprofits are betting that digital giving is the way of the future, and the millennial generation will lead the way.
The Millennial Impact, a report that looks at the way the 18-to-32 age generation gives, found that nearly half of all millennials follow between one and five nonprofit organizations on social media. More than 65% of survey respondents receive emails from one to five different nonprofits. Most Millennials say they would give via mobile phone, and 8% have given via social media.
John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, noted for the Blackbaud report that smart non-profits acquire information about Millennials’ interests to sharpen their appeal. He adds that research suggests Millennials are as willing to give as prior generations were at a young age but are “much more focused on wanting to support the things that matter to them.”
The City: 34% Online Giving
The City, a group-centered social network that provides churches with innovative management tools, has integrated an online network where churchgoers stay connected with a church’s giving platform—and it’s working. On average, churches using The City for their online giving receive 34% of their gifts this way, with 32% being recurring gifts. The City’s most successful churches receive closer to 60% of their total giving online.
“If you want to make it possible for a younger generation to financially contribute to the church,” says The City business manager Eric Tuininga, “you need to give them tools in order to do so.”
Offsetting Electronic Payment Fees
The trend toward younger online givers matches data compiled by SecureGive. The company reports that online giving reaches younger givers, increases a church’s total financial receipts, reaches long-term members who have moved away or are physically unable to attend worship services, and taps into new donors who wouldn’t otherwise give. “On average, 25% of online givers are first-time givers,” the company’s Stu Baker says.
The benefits of online giving seem to far outweigh the downsides, which include fees associated with processing electronic payments. “Churches offset this concern through gaining consistency and overall giving growth,” Stu says. “Online giving also automates many manual steps in the process as reports and deposits are generated automatically.”
Part of a Wider Strategy
For First Baptist Glenarden, the benefits of online giving are very tangible, and have been part of a wider strategy to create generosity among its people.
Because of its giving culture, the church “tithes” 10% back to the community, supports missionaries around the world and helps other non-profit organizations. The church has adopted nine schools that it supports financially every year, and it gives financial aid to post-high school students to help them attend college or trade school.
“We set the example of tithing as a church,” William says. “We keep the congregation informed about how we’re giving to others as a church.”
Glenarden’s senior pastor, Dr. John Jenkins, conducts an annual sermon series on biblical financial management, and the church offers numerous classes in its Bible institute and multiple workshops throughout the year on financial management and honoring God with financial stewardship.
One of Dr. John Jenkins’ series of sermons focuses on proper money management including debt management, tithing, and dealing with challenging times.
“Teaching is key; education is key,” William says. “The Bible says ‘My people perish for lack of knowledge.’ It’s one thing to talk about tithing, but another to learn how to manage your finances in order to tithe. It brings the whole package together.”
Focus on Relationships
George Eusterman, co-founder of eGiving.com would agree that it’s much more than constant upgrades in technology that make online giving tick. Even in electronic giving, well-managed relationships are the lynchpin, he says. “It is the strategy of relationships, not the software that is the key issue,” Eusterman adds. “Relationships outweigh software.”
That would certainly be the case for people such as a young man at Glenarden who travels extensively and was struggling to pay his tithe in a timely, regular manner. When he learned about online giving, he set up his contribution as a monthly back account withdrawal—and experienced a fresh touch from God in the process.
“He saw God blessing his finances,” William says. “He felt good about himself. For the first time in his life, he started saving money, and he credited it to God and to his new discipline in regular giving.”
Stories like this one keep Glenarden and other churches focused on giving innovations. “We’re developing more ways for people to give, and be regular about it,” William says. “We teach tithing, and online giving is an easy way to do it. Online giving allows you to honor God on a regular basis.”