Bob Dylan was right: “The times, they are a-changing.” Nonprofit organizations are grappling with the quickly changing landscape of charitable giving. We are facing a rapid transformation from predominantly cash and check giving towards more online, mobile and debit/credit card giving. Here are some ideas we have tested and implemented at Unity Temple on the Plaza, Kansas City, Mo., to leverage these new opportunities.
Last year we began a project called “The Ambassador Program” in which we encourage congregants to set up recurring giving through automatic withdrawals from their bank accounts or via debit/credit cards. The campaign helps us more effectively manage our budget with increased consistency in monthly donations. This program helps relieve the financial stress that arises when Sunday services, a key source of donations, is interrupted with treacherous winter weather or other unexpected events—such as our professional football team having a winning season!
Senior Minister Duke Tufty emphasizes that there is no minimum amount of giving required to be an Ambassador. It is not a tithing program. Instead, we focus on the positive by giving away free tickets to Ambassadors to one event each month, and we included all of our Ambassadors in this year’s board/staff holiday party. One additional step was to put special “gratitude” cards in the pew racks that enable recurring givers to write a blessing and place it in the donation plate. It becomes a delightful way to deepen a sense of community.
To promote the campaign, we put special cards explaining the program in all pew racks. We sent letters to previous donors and promoted it through our weekly online newsletter, made announcements on Sunday, and got the board involved. We set a target for number of recurring givers and have achieved 50% of that goal so far. Donations are processed through Vanco Services, a company that specializes in church-based giving.
Prior to the campaign, we strengthened our data security to ensure compliance with federal requirements for handling personal financial information. We moved our server to a more secure location and shredded all personal financial data after entering it into the system.
Some congregants are delighted with the program, happy to no longer carry cash or checks. However, some congregants are still reticent to participate, uncomfortable with giving out their checking or credit card information to anyone. For a few long-time congregants who were already regular givers, we allowed them to continue sending in a monthly or weekly check, and included them in The Ambassador Program. Some congregants do not want to be committed to any regular giving. We bless them and allow them to continue giving in whatever way feels comfortable to them.
We have also created other ways of making donating easier. There is an online giving button at the top of the website homepage, as well as two kiosks in our lobby. Location is key for kiosks. We have one on our bulletin board that is most used. We recently purchased a second kiosk and put it down the hall to avoid traffic jams, but discovered that, although the newer kiosk is easier to use, people are not finding it. We will try moving it to the narthex and evaluate if that helps.
Lastly, we have mobile options. Congregants can use their phones to scan the QR (quick response) code on the bulletin and go directly to the mobile giving page. The downside of this alternative is that they have to enter all the information on their mobile device—something you may not want happening in the middle of service! We also offer text giving, where a congregant signs up in advance, then texts their secure PIN number and the amount they are donating to a special phone number. Although these last two alternatives are cutting-edge and cool, we are not seeing much mobile activity—yet!
Our experience has been that the most important components of donating are relationship-building and personally communicating appreciation. With gratitude and a shared desire to sustain and grow our spiritual home, we all thrive.