What Is Online Giving, and Why Does Your Church Need It?

What Is Online Giving, and Why Does Your Church Need It?

Church giving has been decreasing, reaching Depression Era lows. Members give an average of 2.4 percent of their income to the church—and according to ChurchMag, 33–50 percent of members reported giving nothing at all. There are a few reasons it might not come as a surprise:

While many churches still don’t use online giving, it appears to be the direction churches are heading. Let’s take a look at some of the ways churches offer online giving today.

Types of Online Giving Solutions

Here are the five main ways churches set up tithing online:

1. Website giving forms

A website giving form is a straightforward way to set up giving on your site. It’s simple, but may clash with your church brand. Because they’re on a website rather than an app, you’ll likely see a decrease in user engagement.

2. Giving kiosk

Digital giving kiosks can turn a tablet into a standalone giving station at your church. Digital kiosks can either give churchgoers a place to swipe a card to make a donation or a screen to type information into.

3. Text-to-give

Congregations bring their mobile phones to church. Some church giving solutions allow people to donate via sending a text message: This often involves congregation members selecting the dollar amounts they would like to donate, and then texting that amount to a number associated with your church account.

4. Mobile giving apps (the best solution)

Mobile giving apps for churches generally allow more flexibility when it comes to branding, messaging options (including push notifications), etc. Sometimes mobile giving is a feature within a church app.

12 Reasons Your Church Needs to Prioritize Online Giving

Most churches today offer some form of online giving. This is a recent change. Churches have historically been more hesitant than corporations or nonprofits to adopt new technology, but the tide has been slowly turning. And online giving continues to grow more popular every year.

If your church is still warming up to the idea of online giving, you need to have a larger conversation about the issues surrounding this trend. Churches, nonprofits, and corporations around the globe are embracing financial technology in new ways, and it appears to be having a positive impact on charitable giving. But does that mean it’s right for your church?

To make a responsible decision, your church needs to…

  • Explore why online giving is so popular
  • Investigate possible security concerns
  • Talk through the spiritual implications of this change
  • Discuss what could be gained from this shift

We’ve broken these down into 12 factors your leadership team should take into consideration.

1. People don’t carry much cash on them anymore

Passing around an offering plate gives people three ways to give to your church:

  • Cash
  • Checks
  • Credit card or bank account information

Checks require forethought. And people are generally pretty hesitant to pass around their personal information, even if you give them a secure envelope. So, for people who only remember to give during an offering, cash is the most convenient thing to put in the plate.

But there’s a problem with that.

People are carrying less cash. In 2014, Bankrate found that 59 percent of people carry $50 or less in cash—and that was reported years ago. With the advent of credit cards, cash is no longer the most convenient form of currency. And after the more recent explosion of mobile credit card readers, even small businesses can accept plastic, so there’s less reason to carry cash.

So if the offering basket is the primary way people give at your church, people are going to give whatever they happen to have in their pockets—which might be significantly less than what they feel called to give.

2. Checks are becoming less popular

How many transactions do you break out your checkbook for? Most people can probably count them on one hand. Maybe even one finger: Rent. And even that frequently happens online now. The bottom line is fewer and fewer checks are written every year.

When you ask people to use a payment method they never use for anything else, you’re increasing the friction between their desire to give and their ability to do it. Yes, it takes discipline to surrender our resources—but that doesn’t mean we should make it harder for people.

Teaching the next generation to give shouldn’t have to mean teaching them how to write a check.

3. Online giving is much faster

Every single service, churches lose precious minutes and stifle momentum by passing the plate.

People can give online at any time. And since most online giving platforms let people save their information, they can login and give even faster next time. Not to mention if people choose a recurring giving option, it happens automatically.

Online giving is fast. It’s simple. If you have an offering time, make it a choice for people who want to give—not a default based on how you’ve always done things.

4. Money handling is a hassle

When someone gives digitally, the money is transferred directly into your church’s account, and the transaction is automatically recorded. But you don’t have that luxury with physical money. It has to change hands several times before it’s deposited.

And during that time, it’s vulnerable.

Physical money can get lost or forgotten. (Sometimes the most secure locations are the hardest to remember.) It can get stolen when it sits in someone’s car on their way to the bank. Cash can easily be miscounted when fallible humans physically count each bill. And unless they paid with a check, your congregation may not have their own official records of how much they gave.

5. Online giving is versatile

Those hideous web forms from the 90s still exist, but they’re not your only (or best) option anymore:

  • Nonprofits, corporations, and churches have successfully used text-to-give options for more than a decade
  • Giving kiosks blend online donations with in-person giving by providing a physical location for people to donate at your church (this works well for the small percentage of people who don’t have smartphones)
  • Mobile giving apps make it even easier for your congregation to give by putting your church one tap away on their phones

6. Increases in giving often outweigh the fees

A common hesitation with online giving is that a small percentage of what your congregation gives to you goes to the company that provides your online giving. Some churches charge this fee to the donor, and others simply eat the additional cost.

But should fees stop you from providing people with the option to give online? Probably not.

At Pushpay, over half of our customers see a 75 percent increase in recurring giving within the first year. By offering online giving, churches often tap into new, previously unreached donor pools and see increased giving from their congregation. So despite the fees, you should have more resources to pour into ministry and other church functions.

7. People can give online at any time

Generosity shouldn’t be limited to Sunday. When people can give online, your monthly giving doesn’t depend on how well you execute the giving moment. In fact, if everyone gave online regularly, it might even feel strange to have a “giving moment” at all.

Online giving lets people give whenever they want. Before church. After church. In the middle of the night when they remember. After reading an inspiring passage about generosity. While watching a recorded video of your service during the week. And they can even schedule their donations to happen automatically, right after payday.

8. Online giving solutions can integrate with other tools

The best online giving platforms integrate with your accounting and church management software. Unlike an offering plate, a good digital giving tool talks to your other programs, so when it’s time to send those year-end statements, it’s easy to fetch all the info you need—in bulk. And exporting your giving data directly to your accounting software helps you track where your money is coming from and where it’s going all year long.

9. People already have their smartphones at church

Some church leaders are concerned that their congregations—especially elderly members—won’t adopt online giving even if it’s offered. You don’t want to pay for something people won’t use. But the reality is that even among older demographics, most people already have smartphones at church. In fact, Pew Research Center states that 77 percent of all Americans have smartphones.

And those phones aren’t all sitting in people’s pockets, either. Some members of your congregation are already following along with the sermon on their Bible app. YouVersion alone has accumulated more than 100 million downloads. Even if you don’t have a mobile giving solution, your congregation can be ready to give online in just a few taps.

10. Everyone uses the internet, not just young people

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to adopt a new giving method if it was too complicated for your elderly members. But most senior citizens already use the internet.

Pew Research Center says only 42 percent of those over age 65 have smartphones, but 67 percent of seniors say they go online. That’s a huge increase from 2000 when only 14 percent of them did.

Internet usage isn’t nearly as prevalent in seniors, but it has increased over 400 percent in the last two decades. As more tech-savvy generations grow older, that percentage will only continue to climb. So even if you have a high percentage of seniors in your congregation, your church can still benefit from an online giving platform.

Most online giving options are relatively easy for you to set up and easy for your congregation to learn. And to make sure nobody gets left behind, some giving platforms (like us) have a thorough onboarding system that walks people through the whole process.

11. Online giving doesn’t stop people from writing checks

There’s nothing that says you have to roll out online giving and remove all other giving options. You don’t have to choose one or the other.

Without a digital option, you limit the ways that people can give. Changing the ways you limit people won’t help. Some people really are more comfortable writing checks or handing over cash each week. And that’s great. They can continue doing so after you launch online giving for everyone else.

12. Young people might miss opportunities to give in person

Right now, it might not feel like that big of a deal that people mostly just give to your church on weekends. But there’s another trend your leadership team should be aware of: Young people are more likely to miss church because of illness, work, social commitments, and lack of energy or interest. In fact, a 2016 State of the Plate report claimed that people in their twenties and thirties are…

  • 51% more likely to miss church because they’re sick
  • 32% more likely to miss church because of work
  • 24% more likely to miss church because of social commitments
  • 21% more likely to miss church “just because”

And on top of all that, they’re giving less money less frequently. It’s going to take all the tools you have to combat this trend and continue growing when your congregation gets older. As the world around them becomes increasingly digital, younger generations are going to be increasingly resistant to anything that’s not.

3 Common Objections to Online Giving

You might be able to come up with a number of good reasons to consider online giving, but you’re still going to have some who will struggle to get on board. They’ll have some philosophical problems with the idea that you’ll need to overcome. As you respond to their arguments, you can help them see the real spiritual benefits of online giving.

1. “Online giving is less intentional and therefore less spiritual”

One of the most common concerns about online giving is that it removes the weekly ritual of giving as a congregation. This stems from a belief that there is something inherently spiritual about the physical act of putting money in a basket.

However: God makes it very clear that he’s more concerned about our attitude when we give than he is about how much we give, or even how we give. If you begrudgingly hand over your money each week in church out of habit or obligation, that’s less intentional and less spiritually-beneficial than prayerfully choosing to give online. And there’s nothing in the Bible that says tithing means passing a plate around. Making the decision to give in a different way doesn’t end the spiritual ritual of giving—it changes it.

2. “Recurring giving is a one-time act—not a discipline”

Similar to the argument that online giving is less intentional or spiritual, the argument here is when you set up your online tithe as a recurring transaction, it doesn’t take discipline to keep giving. It happens automatically, whether you’re thinking about it or not.

However: A huge part of tithing regularly is trusting God with your finances. Setting up recurring giving still requires you to plan your monthly budget around your giving and to pay attention when it comes out of your account. Meanwhile, forgetting to give is a common barrier to giving: People show up on Sunday without cash or a checkbook, even though they wanted (and maybe even planned) to give. Recurring transactions are a great way for forgetful people to keep giving regularly. In the end, which is more important—that the people who want to give can give, or that people develop a habit of physically opening their wallets?

3. “The process is too complicated”

If your congregation is older, it’s easy to worry that they won’t know how to use the new system, and that they’ll stop giving because it’s too complicated.

However: Most seniors are already using the internet. Online giving is easy for your church to set up and easy for your congregation to learn. Some online giving solutions provide your congregation with thorough onboarding instructions (we certainly do).

Not to mention, you don’t have to completely switch over. Mobile giving can supplement your weekly offering for the people who want a more convenient way to give.

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Online Giving

There are a number of ways to increase your digital donations and see significant increases in giving.

1. Make online giving easy and intuitive

When people do online giving, they expect it to be a painless process. If it isn’t, they bail. One of the surest ways to tell whether your online giving is simple enough is by tracking how many people abandon the process.

If you want to improve the ease of digital giving you’ll need to…

  • Link directly to your donation page
    If someone’s ready to donate online or from their phone, they shouldn’t be sent to a page with more information which they’ll have to navigate away from in order to actually give. Use a static “donate” button to direct them to the payment page.
  • Require as little information as possible
    Don’t use your online giving forms as a way to mine for information. Secure the donation by only asking for the information you need.
  • Think about different kinds of users
    Sometimes charities only have a desktop computer in mind when they think about their online giving process—but what about people on phones or tablets? So many online forms that are perfect for a computer are terrible for phones. Make sure your giving solution works in different online environments.
  • Make it easy to understand
    No one should need guidance to walk through the giving process. Make sure the format is simple and clear. If there are any fields that might be confusing, make sure there’s a clear explanation or get rid of them.

2. Focus on branding at every touchpoint

You need to create a clear and consistent message about your organization. It helps manage people’s impressions of who you are and what you do. And in a world with so many giving opportunities (and financial scams), branding is a way to build trust and stability. Branding is incredibly important for charities, nonprofits, and churches.

Let’s face it, you’re competing with lots of other organizations that are also looking for financial support. Hopefully, your branding tells a powerful story about who you are and what you do. And once someone is committed to your brand, they should experience every touchpoint—including the donation process—in context with your brand. The donor should feel like they’re working with you and your brand every step of the way, which means every step needs to look and feel like it’s coming from you.

Your donation page should clearly articulate the same messaging and include the design elements of your organization and campaign. Or you can use a mobile app which will help you with the branding process. This will build up your donors’ confidence as they give.

3. Encourage recurring giving

Instead of relying on one-time charitable responses, it’s much easier for people to sign up for a donation to be automatically given from their bank account every month. No need to process checks or make phone calls asking for another donation.

The benefits to recurring giving can’t be stated strongly enough:

  • Recurring donors give more over time
  • Recurring donors are more loyal and easier to retain
  • Recurring donors are incredibly engaged and often give above their recurring gifts
  • Recurring donors make administration so much simpler

For churches, recurring giving can make the largest difference to your bottom line. When people are trained to only give on Sundays, they don’t give when they’re not present—and when they do give, you’re at the mercy of their emotional state at the time. Recurring giving sets you up with a steady income you can depend on.

4. Make the connection between online giving and community

As much as possible, mobile giving needs to be integrated with the life of your organization. If you have regular gatherings, you need to communicate about the opportunities people have to give digitally and even demonstrate how to use those tools to give.

Make sure that your website, your email signatures, your flyers, and all of your social media accounts link to your app or digital giving form. No one should ever have to wonder how to give to you. They should immediately know how to make a donation.

With a tool like Pushpay’s Total Engagement Solution, you can have a completely custom and branded app that members use for every element of community (sermons, blogs, bulletins, calendars, events, etc.), but is also powered by Pushpay so that giving is simple. Since they’re engaged with this app regularly, they have an opportunity to give regularly, too.

5. Spell out the benefits of online giving

Even though people are more accustomed to handling their personal finances with digital tools, there are still some hurdles that need to be overcome when it comes to online giving. For example, people want to feel good when they give. If they give without experiencing the act of giving a physical/tangible thing, they might lack that real sense of giving.

We tend to think about the benefits of digital giving when it applies to our organizations, but we neglect to adequately communicate them to the givers. Why does it benefit them to use digital means to give to us?

Here are some benefits your donors should know about when it comes to online giving:

  • It’s easy
    You don’t have to fish around for your checkbook or go withdraw some cash. You can simply grab your phone (which you always have with you) and give.
  • It’s fast
    If you’re using an app like Pushpay, you can probably give in a fifth of the time it would take you to write one check.
  • It puts your money to use quicker
    The funds are taken out of your account immediately and transferred into ours. This means we can start using those funds to change lives right away. We don’t have to count it, log it, run to the bank to make a deposit—and the bank isn’t going to put a hold on it. When you give digitally, you’re giving now.
  • It’s green
    You’re writing fewer checks, and you’re using fewer envelopes.
  • It’s secure
    Giving digitally is much more secure than cash or checks. There are no middlemen to misplace or lose your gift; it’s directly deposited.
  • Your giving schedule is up to you
    If you feel the need to give, you can. You don’t rely upon our organization or service to give your gift.

6. Require people in leadership positions to give

If you want to increase giving in your church, you and your leadership team are the places to start. Do the elders, preachers, deacons, and ministry directors sacrificially give to the church? Do you?

This is an important practical step for three big reasons:

  • Your leadership team should be the most bought-in to the church’s vision and mission
    One of the signs of their buy-in is their enthusiastic investment of their time and resources.
  • When it comes to church authority, it’s important to lead by example (1 Cor. 4:16–17)
    If you want the congregation to give sacrificially, you and the others in authority should be giving sacrificially, too.
  • People in your community (including those outside the church) often see church leaders as the primary beneficiaries when it comes to tithes and offerings
    This means that when you start encouraging your church to give, someone is going to wonder: “Do you just want more money for yourself?” If you and your leaders are already giving at least at the level that you want your members to give, it sends a message: Everyone should give generously, even those who are receiving some of what others are giving.

How much should you require leaders to give? There’s no golden salary percentage, but it should set a standard of giving for your community.

7. Set giving expectations for church members

Do you want your church members to give more?

Have you told them this?

One thing that I have observed in ministry, business, and personal relationships is that the people who set expectations are more likely to see their expectations met. There’s nothing magical about telling people what you expect: You’re just more likely to realize expectations if others are aware of them.

Maybe it’s time to set church giving expectations for your members. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Hold a series of members meetings and bring up your church giving expectations
  • Thoroughly explain your church giving expectations during your new members course
  • Include your church giving expectations in your membership covenant/agreement

Will this guarantee that every church member gives ten percent of their income to your church? No, not by a long shot. But it will let everyone know what your expectations are, and the people who want to meet them will know what to aim for.

8. Make a donation live from the stage

If you’re using a mobile giving solution like Pushpay, one way you can get more people to give is to take a moment on Sunday to show people how to use the tool. The pastor, worship leader, or even the chap doing announcements can demonstrate how easy it is to give to your church by doing a live demo of the giving solution from the stage.

Will that take too much time? Not if you have a good mobile giving solution. (For example, Pushpay helps church members give in as little as five seconds!) Plus, you’ll alleviate the fear that it will be too complicated for your congregation to install, set up, and figure out during a worshipful moment in service.

9. Make all online giving options clear and available

Does your church know all the ways they can give, or do they think they’re restricted to bringing cash or a check to drop in the plate?

You may have implemented high-tech mobile and online giving tools, but if your church doesn’t know about them, then you have a tree-falling-in-the-forest-with-nobody-around situation. Here are a few ways to make all your giving avenues known to your church:

  • Mention your church mobile giving app in your pre-service and post-service presentation slides
  • Include your list of giving avenues when you discuss giving expectations in your church membership classes
  • Mention your digital giving options in your church bulletin
  • If you use a giving kiosk (such as an iPad stand for collecting tithes and offerings), put it in an easy-to-see place in your church lobby, and make sure the signage clearly explains how to use it—it can even help to have someone standing by the kiosk at high-volume times to explain how it’s used

10. Make mobile giving your focus

In 2014, the worldwide number of mobile internet users exceeded the number of desktop users, and the gap has been growing ever since. So you’re truly missing out if your donors aren’t experiencing a giving scenario that has the mobile user in mind.

Another important mobile consideration is how much time users spend on mobile apps as opposed to mobile web browsers. According to mobile media data from Nielson, users spend 89 percent of their mobile time on apps! Not only has mobile overtaken the desktop computer experience, a lion’s share of mobile computing is being done through designated, native apps.

Using an app like Pushpay enables you to make the giving process incredibly easy, but also simplifies future giving. After someone gives to you one time, they’ll be able to give to you again in seconds. You’ll be able to brand the experience, create custom fundraising campaigns, set donors up for recurring giving, and completely track and manage all the information.

It’s so much more convenient than online giving forms, and so much easier (and more secure) than text donations.

Ready to Learn More?

The old sci-fi movies of the 50s never predicted that we would someday carry phones around in our pockets that would operate as wallets, encyclopedias, atlases, and virtual communities. There was just no way for us to even fathom the idea of the internet 60 years ago. But it has changed the way we do everything, including how we raise funds.

In 2014, a record $358 billion was donated to charity ($258 billion came from individuals). If you want your church to benefit from record-making benevolence, take advantage of modern online giving platforms. The sooner you prioritize them, the faster you can get your giving on track.

Contact us today to schedule a free demo.

Jayson D. Bradley

Jayson D. Bradley is a writer and pastor in Bellingham, WA. He’s a regular contributor to Relevant Magazine, and his blog JaysonDBradley.com has been voted one of the 25 Christian blogs you should be reading.