Online giving is the new default for churches addressing financial challenges during crisis, whether it’s due to shelter-at-home orders or severe weather.
The transition to processing donations through an app or a platform is typically less technically intimidating than church leaders may anticipate. Instead, success depends more on an important fundamental: communication.
Remind members about online giving options in all communication to keeping the donations flowing. The convenience e-giving offers members may ensure generosity thrives during and beyond the days of social distancing. Consider these points as you craft your messages about online giving:
People care about security
People want more than "just trust us" when it comes to personal and financial information. Communicate that online transactions made using your online giving platform of choice adhere to the strict industry security and privacy standards. (Make this a priority in your selection.) Repeat the security guarantee in all spoken appeals. Prominently display your provider’s security banner on your church website and donation page to reinforce your commitment to protecting members. Promote that your offering platform is trusted as "PCI-DSS compliant and all transactions are encrypted through a 256 Bit SSL connection." (Check with your vendor for specific wording and a detailed explanation.)
Information is your friend but verbosity isn’t
Be transparent about ministry shortfalls but don’t overwhelm people with minutiae. A financial overview should take no more than five short sentences.
For example, “I want to give you an update about our church’s finances. As you know, the current situation has impacted our ministry funding. In addition to adopting online giving, we’ve applied for a loan through the CARES Act to give us a needed margin to keep the church going. If you want more details, go to (example) ourwebsite.com/financeupdate.
Whether the financial update is shared during online worship service or in a Facebook post, it must be consistent.
People give to a compelling mission, not a request
People don’t give to a sinking ship. While hiding need isn’t the solution, success depends on how our appeals are framed. When asked to give during difficult times, people are more responsive if the message focuses on a call to mission.
For example: “In this season of crisis, we’ve continued to feed the hungry in our community. Because of your generosity during a difficult time, we were able to feed 10 families last week. Your continued giving makes a big difference. We need your gifts to feed hungry neighbors and to support the other powerful ministries that happen here daily.”
The #IGiveUMC movement is another great example. People honor loved ones with contributions to United Methodist ministries in their local communities and beyond, regardless of whether churches are meeting online or in-person.
Ask often but don’t make it a primary message
An advantage to digital is the ability to communicate every day with your congregation. In times where finances are stretched, it’s imperative that you continue telling your story. You should be consistently communicating with your congregation via online video, social media posts, a donation button on your Facebook page, livestreaming, phone calls/texts and even postal mail.
The primary message needs to be about how you’re fulfilling your mission but should also include an opportunity to give (through your online giving portal) with a reminder that “all of this happens because of your ongoing financial support.” Keep the church’s financial needs top of mind by being consistent in messaging. Take time to celebrate the work done through the faithful giving of your members.
Difficult times experienced by members and society alike can have a major impact on church finances. The digital age offers opportunities to fuel your mission and educate others on giving options and impact. If churches are intentional about their communication strategy around giving, they can take full advantage of the power of the online world to increase their online giving and weather the storm.
Jeremy Steele is the teaching pastor at Christ UMC in Mobile, Alabama, as well as a writer and speaker.