Tax season is here. By now most churches have sent contribution statements, either by email or U.S. mail, or have made the statements available online to registered users of their online giving system. Unfortunately, these statements are simply viewed too often as an accounting tool and not as an opportunity to encourage faithful and consistent giving by connecting with church members.
How can churches use contribution statements to increase online giving? First, let’s take a look at the advantages of online giving, both for members and for churches.
For church attendees, online giving is:
- Convenient. For regular giving (tithing), the giver can simply register through the church’s online giving system and designate the amount to be given and the fund to receive the donation (e.g., 40% to missions, 30% to meet special needs in the community, and 30% to operations). Adjustments can be made should the contributor’s ability to give changes or a special need for giving is identified (special one-time contribution).
- Easy to track. An online giving system makes it simple for contributors to download their own statement for tax purposes as often as they need to. (some of us are good at misplacing things!)
- Potentially rewarding. While not all churches are comfortable with accepting credit cards – churches encourage financial responsibility – the reality is donors often enjoy the perks credit cards offer such as money back and travel miles. Also, with all the recent attention on security breaches, many users feel credit cards are a safer alternative to linking bank accounts or sending out checks with account information on them.
For churches, online giving is:
- Cost Effective. Online giving reduces church administrative costs.
- More consistent, more reliable. Variations due to seasonal fluctuations in church attendance are typically reduced with online giving.
- A way to engage with Millennials. Recent Barna research shows that “Millennials are giving, yet technology is significantly changing how they give. In fact, Millennial generosity, for the most part, has gone paperless.” Online giving is also the most reliable; online givers are the least likely to stop giving. It is important that your website include an online giving system compatible with mobile devices.
The Role of Contribution Statements in Online Giving
Contributions are more than an accounting tool. They are a way to touch base with your community and engage with them in a meaningful way. If the only staff people discussing contribution statements are your accounting department, then it is time to rethink that strategy. Your director of communications and lead pastors need to be part of the discussion. Why? The director of communications is in charge of marketing and public relations. Every single piece of communication to your congregation is an opportunity to connect and engage with your audience. Your lead pastors should be involved because they have a more personal connection with their individual ministries; they are more likely to understand the unique dynamics of each group they minister to.
5 Ways to Increase Giving With Contribution Reporting
- Identify Key Groups. Church software that features a robust database integrated with an online giving system enables you to set up groups by ministry or unique demographics that you define. Do you know who your regular online contributors are? How often are you sending them a contribution statement? Are you keeping them informed of your church’s financial health and identifying needs and missions?
- Identify special giving opportunities. Do you know if a particular fund is especially important to an individual? Perhaps someone feels passionate about giving to the deacon’s fund to help serve people in the community who are in need. Create an email distribution list matched to contribution funds. Send a quarterly statement to each group letting them know the financial status of the fund and the impact the fund has made.
- Identify contributors who do not wish to use online giving. Some donors do not feel comfortable using an online system. Use demographic information contained in your church database, combined with your staff’s personal knowledge, to identify those individuals and develop a printed communications strategy for these donors. Send printed quarterly statements to this group only, addressing the same items listed in steps 1 and 2. However, make an effort to understand WHY someone does not wish to use the online system. Is it because of their age and lack of comfort with technology? Perhaps they want to use the online system but just need someone to walk them through it. Maybe they never considered it; they are just giving the way they have always given. Don’t automatically rule out this group of donors without a little bit of investigation.
- Identify contributors who may be convinced to “go green.” Again, use demographic information contained in your church database, combined with your staff’s personal knowledge, to identify ways to reduce administrative, printing and mailing costs. People respect organizations that spend money wisely, reduce unnecessary costs, and are environmentally conscious. Your church constituency is no exception. Remind people that you offer a paperless way to give and to receive contribution reports for filing taxes.
- Thank! Every contribution report to every donor should include a statement of thanks. Thank them for their generosity and show them you appreciate them.
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