People in the United States love to give. According to The Camber Collective, Money for Good, 2015 report, about 95% feel strongly enough about giving back that they donate to some form of charity. In addition, more than half of donors prefer giving to local or regional nonprofits. Most people really do believe that their giving makes a difference. That’s good news for the church.
However, the report states that the overall percentage of money that U.S. donors give has stayed relatively the same since the 1970s, no greater than ~2% of the GDP. So, while giving opportunities continue to grow, giving in direct relation to the greater need has not. Despite this stagnant trend, United Methodists have recently been applauded for their increased generosity. In 2014, a record number of conferences were at 100 percent giving.
No matter how much your church contributes, it's a good idea to examine what motivates the general population to give and to understand why United Methodists give so you may provide a joyful experience that inspires congregants to offer their very best and first fruits to the Lord.
Understand the obstacles.
People give for a variety of reasons. Some people feel that giving is a responsibility or a way to “pay it forward” out of gratitude for their blessings. Others believe it is a way to connect to their community. For many, charitable giving is an act that has grown from family, community or religious values. Obviously, empathy and compassion for others plays a part in the decision. But why do people choose not to give, or why do they not give more? The report offers a few basic reasons.
- People don’t like to be hassled.
- They are overwhelmed by choices and feel too busy to act.
- They feel financially unable to donate.
- They feel unqualified to decide wisely about where their money should go.
- They underestimate the importance of their giving.
- They are skeptical of how nonprofits spend the money.
In addition, research has found that while most people think they give more than average, most are actually below-average givers. Donors also prefer well-known nonprofits, and even the most loyal givers are unlikely to change their giving habits because they are often the most satisfied with their choices.
These roadblocks aren’t necessarily new. In fact, you probably have already spent significant time trying to move people to take action in one capacity or another. What can you do now, not only to help your congregation give but actually give more?
Create a giving experience.
To increase giving consistently, you must do more than elicit an emotional appeal. “Guilting” people may encourage short-term gifts, but it does little to help create longer-term results. Instead of being an obligatory act done every so often, giving should be framed as a lifetime of worship before the Lord.
Make it clear.
Donors want to understand where their money is being spent and how it helps. For this reason, clear communication is imperative. Be transparent.
Educate donors on the national averages for giving. Don’t pound them over the head with statistics. Just make the data available so potential donors can make their own personal comparisons.
Explain to your congregation where the money will be spent and the benefits of giving locally. Make this more meaningful than an annual report. Tell about the problem or the need and then explain how their donations helped make a difference.
Emphasize who actually benefits from the donations and how the money empowers, not enables.
Create a beautiful narrative budget to explain why your church is worthy of generous support.
Discipleship Ministries has a great webinar called Stewardship: Show Me the Mission! that will help you learn to tell stories that resonate and motivate generosity. Global Ministries provides an excellent example of educating their givers on how UMCOR continues to make a difference.
Make it joyful.
As hard as it is, don’t make donors feel as if they should give. Instead, help them discover why they want to give. Communicate the joy of giving and help donors do the following:
Understand the motivation. Clearly preach and teach why UMC congregations give.
Feel connected. Give relevant examples of how the work affects the donors directly and how they can affect the work directly. When people personally invest in a ministry, they will give more.
Develop a tradition. Encourage donors to create a legacy of giving to pass down to their children and grandchildren. Discipleship Ministries offers a great example called “Coins for Lent,” which includes a giving calendar that lists household items for each day, starting Ash Wednesday and ending Easter Sunday. For every household item on the list that the family owns, children contribute the same number of coins (quarters preferably) to a project of their choosing. Certain days do not list items, but instead suggest simple ideas for prayer. Children love hunting around their house and collecting coins. It's also a great reminder of how much "stuff" we collect and how little others have in the world.
Experience the spiritual benefits. Remind them of the spiritual reasons to give and the blessings that come as a result.
Make it easy.
People today feel busier than ever. If philanthropy appears complicated or time-consuming, people simply won’t do it, or they will resort to what they have always done. Thankfully, with modern technology, people can discover more ways to give in the church. If you want people to give more, make the act as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.
- Provide several easy options for giving such as text-giving and online-giving. E-givers may feel left out when passing the plate, so Discipleship Ministries offers “I’m a UMC E-Giver” cards for congregants to print out and put in the plate when it comes by.
- Offer a way for congregants to opt-in for incremental giving. Once a user opts in, giving will occur at regularly scheduled intervals until the user opts out. This type of giving ensures more consistent donations.
- Highlight the importance of small gifts so that the entire congregation feels they can contribute. Take a cue from feed-the-hungry programs where charities promote messages like, “For less than one cup of coffee a day, you can feed a child in Africa.” You can point givers to UMCOR’s Alternative Giving catalog as a good example. Every little bit helps and can make a big difference.
The best news is that donors are willing to increase their giving; the resources are out there. Churches simply need to understand the mind of the givers, address the concerns of their congregation and reframe the giving experience. Get rid of the guilt, and help your church see giving as the joyful experience it always was meant to be.
— Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education, and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing, and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.