In a training last week, I learned that 50% of churches do not have an annual stewardship campaign. Whether it is the pastor who is afraid to ask or the congregation who is afraid to give, I think this number is absolutely shocking and appalling. Why are churches afraid to talk about money?
What’s the hang-up about money and giving to the church?
In today’s world, not a day goes by where people aren’t saying “Churches only care about money” or “Why should I give my hard-earned money to the church.” People are reluctant to hand over the fruit of their labor because of the many church scandals caused by televangelists or not understanding what the church does with it. It makes people upset, a little angry and always uncomfortable.
The same was true in Jesus’ day.
Jesus pointed out how the widow and the rich gave to the church. (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4) He asked a rich many to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, but couldn’t it. (Mark 10:17-31).
We can take the wrong meaning from the stories. It isn’t about money, but the focus of our heart. Are we willing to “sell-out” to God or do we want to maintain control?
Giving is a matter of living in a “God-Centered” vs. a “Me-Centered” Universe.
Are we willing to give thanks to God for what we have? Are we willing to grow towards the tithe? Are we willing to be good stewards of our resources that God has given us. It shows where we put our faith. It acknowledges everything we have comes from God and we have the choice to give a portion back.
We fail help people recognize the difference between a “Me-Centered” and a “God-Centered” Universe.
Even when people realize this and want to live generously, the church does a horrible job in telling people what they use the money for. Many people are under the impression that all th giving goes to pay the pastor’s salary and keep the building up. We fail to provide a broader vision of how giving helps to make a difference in this world. We don’t show them the lives that are changed by their faithfulness.
We fail to explain the WHY?
The Art of Digital Fundraising
Today’s technology allows us to better cast the vision of why to give as well as allows us to broaden our ability to collect it. We can reach more people, better explain the why behind the giving and set out more “collection plates” in more places.
Here are a few ideas:
Step #1 – Create a blog or microsite dedicated to the effort (if a special cause) or a section of your website if giving is related to your church. One reason people do not give is that they do not understand what the money if for. We need to be very clear and transparent on why the money is needed, how it will be used and by when.
The Sudan Project by Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church is a good example of telling people why the money is needed, how it will be used and providing a call to action by a specific date. They collect a Christmas offering every year for Sudan to help the Christians in Dafur with basic needs. Every year, the campaign is targeted at a specific need (Agriculture, Water, etc.). They explain why it is important. They provide a specific date to act.
Step #2 – Cast a compelling vision and create materials to support it. Going back to the Sudan Project example, Rev. Mike Slaughter is an excellent communication who made no bones on why this is important. He also pulled people out of their “Me-Centered” Universe by saying “Christmas is not YOUR birthday. It is Jesus’ birthday.”
Ginghamsburg and United Methodist Communications created videos to explain the cause and created professional communication materials to explain the cause. It makes the case very clearly and tells people directly how the money will be used.
Here is their 2010 Project Overview video:
Crystal clear. Compelling. Meaningful. Spend the time to tell a compelling story and then create the materials to support the re-telling of it. We need to move beyond a simple “ask” and provide a medium that allows people to experience the need.
Step #3 – Make your message sharable. Allow people to share your story on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or anywhere else. Post your videos on YouTube. Have a Facebook page that people can “Like” and get plugged in. Have your congregation share the message with their friends. If the message is compelling enough, people will want to spread the word and share the message.
Post early and often about the project and its results. Keep people in the loop and don’t be afraid to ask people to share with their friends.
Step #4- Create digital collection plates. Always provide people a way to act immediately. Set up ways for people to recognize the need an act upon it. It is completely OK to want people to bring a commitment card to church on a specific Sunday as part of worship, but biblically, that is not required. It does not invalidate the gift.
We are called to be cheerful givers that seek to give back to God. In 2 Corinthians 9:7 it says:
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
I really don’t think God is all that caught up in how we give. It is more about the status of our heart.
There are a couple options most churches can use to take advantage of “digital collection plates.” This list is by no means exhaustive and feel free to add more in the comments:
A. Automatic Withdrawal. This is when an individual wants to give on a periodic basis. People can fill out a form to ask a bank to transfer a set amount on a certain basis. Think of it like putting your tithe on auto-pay much like your mortgage or car payment. Most people under 35 would prefer this and it helps people incorporate tithing as a long-term lifestyle. Talk to your bank about services they provide. See if they can help you or refer you to a credible partner.
B. Donate Now via a Website. Make sure you give people an option to donate on your website. It gives them a chance to act immediately and become part of the vision. One web service I particularly liked was Missionify. Missionify allows you to create a beautiful webpage for your cause and provides an update on reach your goal. It can even be used by individuals for raising support for a mission trip or others. It is pretty simple and can work for a basic “donate now” option.
Facebook Causes is also a toll that you can use to collect money for your cause. You can create cause and spread the word via Facebook. When people “like” your cause, it also allows it to be in their newsfeed, they can share the information and spread the word to possible donors.
A third option is to connect a donation engine directly into your website. I found a few services on-line (like SimpleGive or ACH Direct) but I never used them so I can’t endorse it. If you have experience doing this, leave a comment and tell your story.
C. Text Message Fundraising. A new option that has started to pop-up is collecting donations via text messaging. One option (and there are many others) is called mGive. mGive allows you to set up a text messaging service pretty quickly and allow people to make a mobile payment via their cell phone bill. (mGive can also support much broader giving efforts on Facebook, on your website and others, but it can get pretty expensive.)
The Red Cross used this very effectively during the Haiti crisis and people are very comfortable making donations this way. You can publicize the text message number and keyword with both traditional and digital marketing. Make sure to look closely at the costs and put a plan in place to spread the word broadly.
Step #5 – Report your progress early and often. People want to know that their donation matters. Show pictures and videos of the results of their giving.
Step #6 – Be transparent. Show your progress toward the goal (or toward your quarterly budget numbers). Publish reports that people can understand. Are you on-track or off. Where did the money go? How much went towards administrative costs vs. accomplishing the mission? Transparency is key to long-term committed giving because it builds trust.
The vision, not the collection tactics, will determine your success.
I believe people are not naturally stingy, but want to know what they give to will make a difference. Look at how fast people will open their wallets for the Sudan or an issue in Haiti. They will also donate to needy children in schools or helping the poor. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference.
Many church stewardship campaigns go wrong because they focus on “keeping the lights on” activities vs. “why we make a difference in the world” activities with their gifts. A church can save a marriage. A church can help someone in recovery. A church can teach a child about Jesus. A church can bring hope to the hopeless.
How much is that worth? It’s priceless. So why don’t we tell the vision and reap the harvest? What holds us back?