Church and money.
When these two subjects combine, the atmosphere can get uncomfortable and tense.
A lot of people have a lot to say on this topic. How right is it to use guilt to get people to give? Are churches talking about money too much? How much of a church’s time and energy should be spent on fundraising?
Whatever the opinions, one thing is for sure.
The church is changing. Right at this moment, the way the church fundraises and grows is transforming at an incredible speed.
And the financial wellbeing of your church communicates how seriously you take the mission of your church. And this is probably the hardest truth of them all.
In this blog post, we hope to help frame the discussion around church giving by looking at relevant facts, trends, and best practices in church fundraising.
Here are 7 hard truths about church giving to help you stay on top of your church fundraising.
1. You Can No Longer Rely on Generosity Only
According to Leviticus 27:30 (TLB), “A tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, is the Lord’s, and is holy.” And Proverbs 3:9 (NIV) says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” These verses are essentially saying to give a portion, specifically a tenth, of whatever one makes (aka one’s income) back to God. And firstfruits is saying that one should give first—before one does anything else with their money.
Tithing is a religious practice for most Christians. But long gone is the time when all that the churches had to do to raise money was tithe on Sundays and organize a congregation lunch once or twice per year.
There are a lot of important causes out there. People don’t necessarily support everything they believe to be important, even if they’re a generous person. So, random fundraising activities won’t cut it anymore.
To start off, your church will need a robust fundraising strategy.
In order to create an effective fundraising strategy for your church, you first need to be working with the right data. If your strategy is data-informed, you’re off to a good start.
In addition to the quantitative data that you might be collecting, communicate with your congregation directly. Create a simple survey with a few quick questions to help you understand the situation among your members. For example, you could explain that you’ve seen a little drop in giving recently and that you’re trying to figure out what’s going on and get some feedback anonymously. Even if your giving hasn’t dropped, you might be looking to architect a better fundraising strategy. In that case, you could ask your members what motivates them to keep giving and how can you make giving even easier for them.
Pro tip: A tithe is a specific amount (10% of your income) that one gives first, and an offering is anything extra that one gives beyond that.
2. Your Church Needs to Go Digital
If you want your church to still exist in a few years, you need to go digital. Digital is the future.
It’s more important than ever to focus on delivering strong, multichannel experiences for donors.
Online giving in 2019 grew 6.8% year over year for the 5,204 nonprofit organizations in the analysis. Taking a more longitudinal three-year view of fundraising from the same organizations revealed a 9.6% increase in online giving. Faith-based organizations experienced an 8.0% growth in online giving in 2019 when compared to 2018, and a 10.6% growth in online giving over three years. (2019 Blackbaud Charitable Giving Report)
Relying on cash and checks is no longer an option. Churches must provide multiple avenues for their members to make financial contributions if they want everyone to participate. When faith-based organizations offer more giving methods, their members give more.
A general rule of thumb is to make everything as easy as possible. For example, create a Facebook post that your congregation members can cut and paste or send text reminders on a Saturday that tell your members to bring a friend to church on Sunday.
3. If You’re Not Mobile-First, You’re Going to Fall Behind
This is not the case just now and just with young donors. As these young donors grow older and as the wider audience becomes more familiar with mobile giving, mobile giving will slowly start becoming the norm.
In 2019, an estimated 26% of online donations were made using mobile devices. To succeed, your church needs to have a mobile-friendly website, a proven email marketing strategy, and seamless and effective donation forms.
Your donors’ mobile giving experience should be smooth. Ideally, you’d enable giving through a custom app where a donor would put in their information in one time, set it all up, and make a recurring donation or a one-time gift, and get their receipt.
If you’re not able to do that, the very next best thing is to make sure your website is optimized for mobile, as well as your donation forms. Your donation forms should be easy, mobile-friendly, and seamlessly integrated into your website.
Also, consider utilizing the text-to-give technology. This technology is especially powerful for organizations that have regular gatherings, like churches. With text-to-give, donors donate right from their cell phones, using their phones’ native texting application and/or web browser. Essentially, the donor sends a keyword (e.g. “ROOF19”) to a shortcode (e.g. “115566”) to either have a specific dollar amount added to their cell phone bill or be led to a mobile donation page where they can donate the amount they wish.
4. Age Is Important
While engaging young donors is important for many reasons, your fundraising efforts should not cater to them primarily.
The average age of U.S. donors is 63. Because the average age of the U.S. donor puts them 4 years past the 401(k) withdrawal minimum age, this means that fundraising strategies should be tailored primarily to retiree-aged church members.
Create and run an active campaign to reach and partner with age 63+ donors for your church, otherwise, you might be leaving a lion’s share of potential funds raised on the table.
Furthermore, age matters when it comes to the language you use. When you say the word “giving” in your church, what do you mean? It’s likely that you mean “financial giving”. And that’s what many of your Gen-X members understand too. But chances are, your younger members don’t. Millennials, for example, rank hospitality as the most important act of generosity. That means when you talk about giving and generosity, Millennials aren’t necessarily thinking about money.
So, if you’re looking to raise money, make sure you use very clear language to get your message across.
Beyond that, recognize that people are looking for broad ways to support organizations they care about. Don’t limit their choices to only monetary support.
Pro tip: 63+ might indeed be the average donor age in the U.S. However, it could be very useful to survey your donor base and find out the right target age for your church (if you already don’t have that information).
5. Mission Matters
When fundraising, share about the local and international work you are doing, whether that work takes the form of short-term mission trips, long-term missionary support, or inter-church partnerships.
People have increasingly more options of places and organizations to give to, and most of those organizations are not religiously affiliated. When your church asks a member to give, you’re competing with dozens of other organizations also asking them to give, to a variety of missions. When people want to help solve issues in our society, they often look for places outside of the church to meet those needs.
This is why it’s more important than ever to demonstrate the impact your church has on society.
Make sure you let every donor know what they have given and what’s happening with their donations. Make sure they hear stories from you. For example, send or show a video recap of ministry highlights along or pull your staff or key volunteers together and write personalized thank-you notes to accompany a giving statement.
Pro tip: Measuring your impact is more important than ever – you can’t communicate impact if you don’t measure it. Read more in our crash course on measuring social impact.
6. You Might Be The Obstacle
Church leadership might be the biggest obstacle to a church’s progress.
And this might be a hard pill to swallow.
Have you ever heard of fixed mindset and growth mindset?
“A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”
What does this mean in practice?
If a church leader believes that their church’s circumstances are set in stone – saying that the current situation is ‘just the way it is’ and ‘it can’t be changed’ ’ – this is an example of fixed mindset.
The hard truth is:
With a fixed mindset, it’s likely your church won’t see any meaningful progress.
What can you do instead?
Foster a growth mindset in your church leadership team. See challenges as opportunities and you will foster a more positive approach overall, all of which is more likely to get you farther.
Healthy leaders run healthy churches.
7. How You Talk About Money Is Important
There are few topics that scare church leaders as much as raising money. After all, most church leaders were neither called nor trained to be professional fundraisers. So fundraising can, understandably, be intimidating.
For church leaders, the topic of money is both a financial and a spiritual issue. As a church leader, you can’t lead a healthy and growing church without leading people into generosity. These two things go hand in hand.
The health of our relationship with money is not determined by how much money we have or don’t have. In fact, studies have shown the more money people have, the less generous they are. When it comes to money, it’s all about beliefs, attitudes, and mindset.
According to Thrivent Financial, most people hold one of five distinct attitudes towards their relationship with money and all they own.
- Surviving. Feeling drained, trapped, with little sense of hope.
- Struggling. Feeling strapped in the present and anxious about the future.
- Stable. Feeling OK, experiencing relative calm but hoping for more.
- Secure. Feeling mostly confident.
- Surplus. Feeling grateful and ready to share.
And these are attitudes, not objective ‘amounts’ or milestones. For example, someone might be feeling a ‘surplus’ while earning much less than someone else who’s feeling like they’re ‘struggling’.
A healthy approach to talking about money in the church should not be built around preaching passionate sermons after a few weeks of low offerings. Instead, be intentional and plan your communication about money throughout the year, carefully deploying your key messages at strategic times.
Essentially, preaching about giving and preaching about money is not the same. Generosity is certainly an important component of being a good steward, but there’s much more – spending, debt, contentment, saving, stewardship, communication, faith, and trust.
8. Tend To Your Garden First
Church leaders spend a lot of their time and energy thinking about how to get more people to give. And that’s a valid concern. It’s necessary to consider how to best invite church members to give.
But the very first thing you should do if you want more people to engage in giving to your church is developing a hardy strategy for your existing donors.
A happy congregation will keep giving, will give more, and its members will encourage and inspire each other to give – doing some of the fundraising heavy-lifting for you.
Start saying thank you to your donors immediately. Take the first opportunity to connect their gift to the mission. Communicate regularly with your donor base and appreciate their gifts.
Send hand-written notes and organize donor get-togethers.
Churches that are on the front end of the change, meeting it head-on, will be poised to grow, while churches that neglect these shifts may start or continue to struggle with financial health.
For church leaders, it’s important to bring people along with a sense of hope – without beating them up or guilt-tripping them.
Talking about money in a church is so much more than talking about giving, it’s a lot about holistic life stewardship.
In the coming years, we will continue to see shifts in generosity, in giving, and in the church fundraising. That’s why the best thing you can do for your church is to prepare for uncertainty and stay aware of the shifts and trends.
Ultimately, healthy churches grow. If you stay committed to keeping your church healthy in your culture and operations over the long haul, you will reach more people. And by reaching more people, you will raise more.
Churches that capitalize on the clarity this information provides and seize the opportunities to secure financial stability will thrive.
Whether that’s through implementing digital giving, investing in a mobile strategy, or being more intentional with current donors, there’s a world of opportunities to take advantage of if one is only honest with themselves and ready to walk forward with determination and optimism.