11 Best Practices for Church Donor Engagement

11 Best Practices for Church Donor Engagement

You can’t take giving for granted. Not everyone in your congregation tithes or follows the biblical model of generosity. If you’re like most churches, your giving unfortunately follows the 80/20 rule—meaning about 80 percent of your giving comes from about 20 percent of your congregation. In many churches, that ratio is even more skewed.

So you need to encourage generosity from everyone, while being mindful of that 20 percent. 

That’s why donor engagement is so important for churches. You want people who demonstrate generosity to feel like their donations are making a difference. You also want to know that you can count on them for essential projects and needs. And that takes intentional, strategic efforts to:

  • Thank them
  • Demonstrate why their gifts matter
  • Give them more opportunities to give

If someone has generously given to the church, it’s safe to assume they want to feel involved. Thankfully, there are plenty of natural opportunities to engage your donors—and that doesn’t mean just asking people for more money. It’s about inviting them to stay connected to your church and deepen their relationship with you and your congregation.

Here are eleven best practices for church donor engagement, whether your biggest donors are brand new, or they’ve been giving for years.

1. Invest in people who use their gifts

People come to church with all kinds of gifts: Hospitality, service, teaching, etc. Generous, open-handed giving is also a gift. God has blessed some with the means and inclination to share what they have to grow the kingdom and help others in need. And pastors need to recognize, encourage, and celebrate when people use their gifts.

Unfortunately, a lot of pastors prefer not to have any idea who gives, because they believe it prevents them from showing preference. And that’s a healthy concern. God doesn’t want us demonstrating bias toward wealthier people in the church. But we’re making a mistake if we don’t recognize and thank people who demonstrate the gift of generosity—just like we would any other faithful member of our congregation who shared their time and talents with us.

Money causes tension in the church. There’s just no way around it. So it’s critical to find the balance. For every church that over-emphasizes financial giving, there are a number of churches that avoid it entirely because it’s uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the people with the means and ability to carry a lot of a church’s financial burden feel ignored and underappreciated. 

Even if you don’t know exactly how much anyone is giving, it’s vital that you have an understanding of who gives faithfully. And while you don’t want to give them special attention, you do want them to know you recognize their sacrifice and obedience to God. 

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2. Create meaningful giving receipts

Every single time someone gives, it creates an opportunity for follow-up. When people make transactions—especially digital ones—they expect a receipt. Receipts give people confidence that a transaction was legitimate and provide important tax benefits.

But a giving receipt can be so much more than that. Rather than simply confirming a transaction, a giving receipt can help ensure that every time someone gives, they receive a thank you note. This could come from someone specific at your church, but even a generic thank you from the church itself makes someone feel like what they did was appreciated. 

You could also reinforce how their gift will be used, which could include tangible examples like “every $3 provides a meal to someone in need” or mission-oriented messaging like “Through your donation, you’re partnering with [church name] to spread the kingdom of God here in [city].”

With church apps and other online giving solutions, giving receipts happen automatically every time someone donates. But not every solution lets you create custom receipts. Pushpay lets you customize this messaging with content cards, which you can change based on the fund someone donates to. You can easily update content cards at any time, too.

3. Educate donors about your ministries

Some of your biggest financial supporters have been coming to your church for years—maybe even decades. Others started coming more recently. Either way, these donors have decided to invest in your church. They care about what you’re doing. So telling them more about what you’re doing keeps them engaged. It helps them understand how they’re working with you.

There are lots of ways you could educate your donors about what it is that you do, and how they’re helping you accomplish your mission. But one of the best ways is through email. It’s easy to scale, donors won’t be surprised to receive an email from you, you can customize your messaging to fit your audience, and it’s easy for people to opt out of.

Ideally, when someone gives to your church for the first time, it would trigger a series of automated emails that share high-level information about your ministries. You don’t just want to drop new donors into your general newsletter list, because this is an opportunity to send messaging that’s specific to donors.

You might also encourage them to take some simple next steps to keep up with everything that’s going on in your church, such as downloading the app (or if they already have it, checking it regularly) or signing up for one of your various newsletters. This ensures that they maintain some kind of digital connection to your church, so you have convenient ways to keep communicating with them.

4. Use giving statements frequently

Most churches dread annual giving statements. Sending them out often involves hours of folding papers, stuffing them into envelopes, licking those envelopes, stamping them, and mailing them out. But when you switch to digital giving statements, all of a sudden this becomes a valuable (and convenient) opportunity to engage your donors not just once a year, but biannually, or even quarterly!

Giving statements give your donors a chance to objectively see how much they’ve given so far this year. People often assume they’ve given more than they actually have, and so giving statements serve as a natural measuring stick, reminding your donors where they’d like to be by the end of the year. 

Pushpay also allows donors to make a pledge, where they decide an amount they’d like to give by a specified time. Giving statements can include someone’s progress toward their pledge, making them a more valuable reminder when someone’s giving falls behind.

Additionally, your congregation can access current giving statements at any time in the app. So your biggest donors can always see how much they’ve given and think about how much more they want to give for the year.

5. Promote recurring giving after one-time gifts

Recurring giving is the ideal way to give—for you and your donors. Unlike one-time gifts, recurring giving happens automatically, on a day your donors choose. They don’t have to go through the donation process every month, because they already decided to have it pull a specified amount directly from their account. 

This ensures giving is more consistent and reliable, which helps you create more accurate budgets. And for your biggest givers, recurring giving means they don’t have to wrestle with whether or not to give each month, and they don’t have to remember to do so. They just decide what and when to give up front, and let your giving solution do the rest.

We’ve found that recurring givers give an average of 42 percent more annually than one-time donors.

So we recommend that every time someone gives a one-time gift, you encourage them to consider recurring giving, which makes their next donation happen even faster. (Recurring giving takes zero seconds.) In fact, we believe in recurring giving so much that we suggest churches make recurring giving the default, so when people set up their first donation, they’re already using the ideal giving method.

6. Encourage people to set giving goals

Goals help us look at where we’re at and decide where we’d like to be. With giving goals, your donors can decide how much they’d like to give by the end of the year, and either divide that into a monthly donation amount or simply give as they’re able.

With Pushpay, church members can set goals by creating pledges. There’s no financial obligation to give the amount they pledge, but it’s a personal commitment that both you and they can see. And your donors can track their progress toward their pledge in both giving receipts and giving statements.

7. Launch unique giving campaigns

People who give regularly and practice the spiritual discipline of generosity probably don’t need a lot of additional encouragement to give. But for new donors and people who only give sporadically, a unique, limited-time giving campaign can be a great way to rally people around a goal and create some momentum in giving.

Maybe your campaign could be for something specific that your church needs in the short term, like a storage unit to delay your need for a larger facility, a vehicle for your street ministry, or new equipment or tech. Or it could be a more long-term goal, like a new facility or staff position. 

Whatever it is, show your donors how it fits with your church’s mission and vision, and talk about why this is a goal worth giving toward. You could even encourage people to give specific amounts, or create a “Giving Pyramid” to give them a range to work within. 

The point is to make this limited period of giving feel different and create an opportunity for people to practice generosity and exercise their giving muscles. Hopefully, when your campaign is done, they’ll be ready to make giving a habit and support your general fund.

With Pushpay, it’s easy to set up unique funds people can select within the app, so your donors can give directly to the causes and ministries they care about most.

8. Thank donors in a variety of ways

There are a lot of ways to say thank you. And your giving receipt shouldn’t be the only acknowledgement your major donors receive. It’s important for long-time donors and new donors alike to feel like their generosity matters—not just to their own spiritual health, but to your church. (Because they can always redirect their generosity somewhere else!)

You might mail out handwritten cards from various church staff. Or thank donors collectively during your service. Or treat donors to a meal, as a group or one-on-one. When big donors provide specific items, some churches commemorate that gift with a plaque of some kind to remember and honor the person who made it.

However you thank your donors, remember that by making people feel truly valued, you’re also encouraging them to stay connected.

9. Highlight tangible results

A lot of the results of giving simply aren’t tangible, because you often can’t reduce your ministry’s impact to convenient metrics. But you don’t want people to feel like they’re just paying to keep the lights on. If you don’t show donors why what they’re doing matters—many times, in a variety of ways—then it’s easy to feel like it doesn’t matter. And there are a lot of great causes, ministries, and charities out there competing for your church members’ generosity.

Even if you can’t translate your ministry into meals served, people rescued from addiction, or Bibles distributed, you can still tell compelling stories about what God has done through your ministries.

There are lots of ways to do this. Your ministry leaders should have a wealth of stories for you to draw from. Some of those stories may be worth sharing with the whole congregation during a service, through an interview, a testimony, or a video of some kind. Others may work better as a mailer, a donor newsletter, or an impact card in the Pushpay app.

As donors see the fruits of their generosity, they’ll be encouraged to continue giving.

10. Talk about what generosity looked like in Scripture

The Bible has a lot to say about generosity. And it has something for everyone, whether they’re homeless or a CEO. However much we have, the Bible has a story that challenges us to give. It also reminds us that generosity is relative. In the story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4), Jesus makes it clear that those who have little can still be far more generous than those who have much. 

In the early church, we see a humbling approach to stewardship that goes far beyond tithing. Early Christians sold their possessions—even land—to meet the needs within their community (Acts 2:44–45).

And of course, it’s healthy to remind your congregation that they should never give out of obligation, because generosity has to do with the state of our hearts, too, not just the state of our wallets (2 Corinthians 9:7).

11. Show more ways they can get involved

Ultimately, giving comes from people’s connection to your church. The more distant church members become, the less likely they are to keep giving. Giving is an extremely important way for people to support your ministry. But you should encourage your major donors to participate in other ways as well. Just because people give doesn’t mean they’re already involved in a small group or volunteering in some capacity. 

Your donors have clearly indicated that they want to be involved in what your church is doing, and that they feel it’s worth their support. So show them other ways to invest in your community.

Don’t take giving for granted

Donor engagement is crucial to getting people to give more, and more often. This isn’t about asking people for more money though. It’s about reinforcing the value of what they’ve already done and strengthening their connection to your church. And it benefits you and your donors alike.

For more strategies on engaging your congregation in more meaningful ways, download the free ebook, The Definitive Guide to Successful Church Engagement, today!

Ryan Nelson

Ryan Nelson has been a volunteer youth leader with Young Life for nearly a decade. He writes in the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his wife and twin boys.