Start, improve & refine your online giving practices
Before COVID-19 led to church closings in March 2020, only 33 percent of surveyed United Methodist churches in Oklahoma offered some form of online worship. By July, that number had jumped to 91 percent. Of those respondents, nearly each church plans to continue to offer online worship.
This sudden and necessary focus on online worship has brought with it questions about online giving. With pandemic conditions continuing into the fall and congregations continuing to face uncertainty, Say So has consolidated information about online giving to help church and ministry leaders start, improve, or refine their online giving practices.
Concerns about online giving
The General Council on Finance and Administration addresses five major areas of concern that churches and their members often have regarding online giving: cost, security, benefits for small churches, accessibility for older members, and debt.
Online giving costs too much: While there are fees associated with online giving, when they are minimized, they are worth the added security controls and gains in staff and volunteer time.
Online giving is not secure enough: A reputable vendor will have more resources available to them to keep up with industry standards of security, especially in this continually changing climate of hacking and breaches.
Online giving is only good for big churches: Small to medium churches can use online giving to bring consistency to their giving year round. If members are on vacation, they can still give from wherever they are. Campaigns can be set up for specific ministries or last-minute needs that arise and funds can be received quickly.
Older members won't use online giving: More than 40 percent of Americans ages 65 and older own a smart phone, making online giving available to all, no matter their age. Some older members may not want to use online giving, but they can still give in the offering plate or by mail.
Online giving will encourage debt: Credit cards are only one option for giving. Members may also use a debit card or give directly from their bank accounts through automatic withdrawals.
To start: learn about the types of online giving
Once a church has addressed any concerns and decided to offer online giving options to its members and guests, the next step is to decide what kind of online giving to set up. When considering what options to use, make sure you understand the fee structure, including setup, monthly, annual, or transaction fees. Online giving requires a cost for payment processing, but when considering how to make giving accessible to those who do not carry cash or use checks, the benefits are likely to outweigh the costs.
Website donations: Setting up a giving option on your church's website is a good way to prepare for other methods of online giving. Though there are multiple steps involved, the necessary preparation for website giving can create a solid foundation for other methods of online giving.
Contact your website manager or hosting company to see if they have a preferred vendor for online giving. There may be an option such as PayPal, WooCommerce or Shopify ready to set up with minimal effort, but if you prefer a vendor that caters to churches, you'll need to see if it's compatible with your website's structure first.
You'll also want to make sure your church's website has an SSL Certificate, which means it is secure. An easy way to check is to look at your church's full URL. A website that starts with "http" is not secure; a site that starts with "https" is secure. If your site is not secure, contact your web provider to see what is needed to make your website secure.
In addition to online security, you'll also want to address whether your church's insurance includes coverage for cyber theft. The United Methodist Insurance Program added cyber liability protection into church policies in October 2017, but even if you use UMIP, you should double check what your coverage does and does not apply to in regards to online giving.
Mobile apps: Apps are an easy way for members and guests to donate online. There are several apps made to help churches and nonprofits navigate online donations, including Tithe.ly, Pushpay and easyTithe. Be aware that apps such as CashApp and Venmo are designed for person to person giving and therefore do not have options for nonprofits to send or receive money. Though PayPal is not designed specifically for churches, it does allow for nonprofit donations. A church that already has PayPal set up on their website may find this the most convenient mobile app option.
Each app has a fee structure that allows churches and nonprofits to pay according to the volume and total of donations they might receive through the app's services. A smaller church may choose to pay a higher percentage per transaction but a lower annual cost, while a larger church may find it more beneficial to pay a lower per transaction fee and a higher annual cost. Consider the amount that could be raised and the amount that would need to be paid when choosing the mobile donation app and plan that works best for your church.
Text to give: Anybody with a smart phone can text to give. MobileCause, Rally, Give Lively and Snowball are all examples of text to give services. Many donation apps also offer a text to give service, though it may require an additional charge. Donations by text are made by sending a text message to a specific number and using keywords to send money for specific campaigns or funds. Branded keywords can help drive your message home even more, and automated responses can help thank members for the difference that they've made by donating to your ministry.
To improve: be intentional when talking about online giving
Improving your church's online giving can be as simple as being intentional in your church's communication. The following tips can be found on ResourceUMC.org under the topic Stewardship.
Share where the money goes: Let members know how their gifts are making a difference in your community, in the state, and around the world. Author Jeremy Steele identifies three parts of a compelling request for support: something wonderful your church is doing, a reminder that the work is supported by gifts, and an intentional ask.
For online giving, he recommends adding one more step: simple instructions on how to give. For example:
"Visit [church url] to use our secure giving tool."
"Use [app] and search [church username] to send your tithes and gifts."
"Text [keyword] to [number] during our offering time."
Emphasize secure giving: If your church is new to online giving, communicate early and often the measures your church has taken to keep donations and online information secure. A simple, consistent phrase reminding members that your donation tools meet secure encryption standards can help reassure members that their money and information are safe. Placing your provider's security banner in a prominent location on your website and donation page will reaffirm your message. Steele recommends communicating security measures with transparency, and he cautions against overwhelming people with jargon. Simple, consistent messaging is key to letting members and guests know their financial gifts are secure.
Keep offering times during livestreamed services: The adage "out of sight, out of mind" can apply to online giving. Even if your church isn't meeting in person, keep a time of offering in the service so those attending worship online don't miss the chance to give. Be aware that people may be in a place of financial hardship, so have grace and don't communicate panic in your appeal. Instead, acknowledge that it's okay if someone can't afford to give more, and thank your members and guests for giving what they can.
Communicate partnerships for giving: If your church has partnered with an online donation program, remind members how they can be involved. Programs like Amazon Smile and UMC Market allow churches to receive a percentage of what members purchase through their website simply by designating their church as their designated charity. Likewise, if your church is participating in campaigns such as Special Sundays or #IGiveUMC, let members know how they can designate their online gifts for those areas.
Take a free class online: UMC Communications offers a free online course for leaders to learn how to communicate about online giving. Upon successful completion, leaders receive 1.0 continuing education units (CEU). The course addresses how giving works in the UMC, how to get started with an online platform, the most effective ways to communicate about your online giving options, and basic safety and security information needed for giving through online platforms. The course is available for six months after registration. It can be found at umc.training.org.
To refine: add a donation button to your facebook page
One of the most versatile online giving tools is the Facebook donate button. The process takes several steps and may require two to three weeks for approval, but once your church is approved, a variety of donation tools are available to you.
The Facebook donate button allows you to place a button on your church's Facebook Page that allows visitors to donate straight to your ministry, but that is only the beginning. Because a nonprofit must be signed up for Facebook's Charitable Giving tools to get a donate button, the church will also be able to host fundraisers on their Facebook Page, share fundraising stickers on Facebook Stories, and add a donate button to their Facebook Live videos (such as Sunday worship services). Additionally, members will be able to raise money for the church on their personal posts, including birthday fundraisers, whether or not the church is hosting a fundraiser at the time. Eligible nonprofits can also add donation stickers to their Instagram stories.
The most valuable part of the Facebook donation button, however, might be what's not offered: payment fees. Facebook offers nonprofits 100 percent of the donations that are raised for them, and they do not take processing fees out of the totals raised for a nonprofit. To get started with Facebook's donation tools, have a page administrator follow the instructions below.
Step 1: Gather information
You will need your church's 501(c)(3) ID, tax ID number, a bank account registered with a licensed financial institution including pertinent details (bank name, bank account holder's name/organization's name, a legible and official bank letter or statement dated within the last 3 months), and the date of birth and address of the CEO or Executive Director (in this case, the pastor). You may also request a letter from the Conference Treasurer acknowledging your church as an official part of the United Methodist Church.
Step 2: Prepare the page
Make sure your Facebook Page is listed as a nonprofit category. This can be done by choosing Edit Category in the About section of your page. Your page can have up to three categories; the UMC suggests Methodist Church, Nonprofit Organization, and Community Organization. After this is done, ensure all other information in the About section is up to date, including address and phone number.
Step 3: Enroll in Facebook Payments
With information in hand, visit www.facebook.com/donate/signup and choose your church's Facebook page. Once the enrollment process begins, it must be completed in full; there is no option to save progress and start again later. Applications may take two to three weeks to process at this point. If you need help enrolling, contact Facebook's support department.
Step 4: Add the Donate Button
When your application is approved, visit your page settings and choose Donations. Check the options to allow others to create fundraisers and add donate buttons to their personal posts. You may also add or edit the Donate button on your page at this time. When you set up your Donate button, choose Donate Through Facebook (donations may take two to three weeks to arrive). Once your Donate button is active, consider how you might use it for fundraisers, Special Sundays and online worship. §