When I was growing up, there were predominantly two ways people paid for things: cash or check. Credit cards weren’t widely used, and those that were available were unique to a store or gas station. The first “universal” credit card I can remember was the BankAmericard, later renamed Visa.
Many people, especially those who had lived through the depression, viewed credit cards as a quick way to get into debt, a terrible situation. I remember my father paying bills by check and balancing the checkbook every month with the cancelled checks mailed back to us by the bank. And with no ATMs, people got their cash by writing a check for more than the amount of their groceries or going to the bank and getting money from a teller. People carried their checkbooks everywhere.
While that’s no longer the norm, many churches still conduct their financial business as if it is, accepting only checks and a small amount of cash. When I served a local church, it was common to hear people say they wrote one check every month — to pay their church pledge.
According to the Blackbaud Institute Charitable Giving Report for 2016, about 7.2 percent of overall fundraising revenue was raised online. Of those gifts, 17 percent were made using a mobile device, a 21 percent increase over 2015, and 10 percent were more than $1,000. The report also noted total charitable giving increased 1 percent in 2016. Because of this, organizations without an effective way to accept contributions electronically probably lost gifts during that year.
It’s a lesson for churches. Those that don’t provide diverse ways for people to give might lose gifts to other nonprofits. It’s no longer practical for churches to receive offerings only during worship via check or cash in envelopes preprinted with the church’s name and date. People rarely carry checkbooks, so without other giving options, they must remember to write a check before worship and take it to church. Statistically, an “active” church member attends worship just 13 times each year. Given those conditions, it’s likely churches won’t receive contributions members intended to give, except from the few people who might mail a check.
A solution is online and electronic giving. Through a smart phone or other mobile device, an individual can give online any time or place — Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, in the sanctuary, at the beach. And electronic options make special offerings, such as for disaster relief, much easier. A church no longer has to announce the giving opportunity weeks in advance so people can remember to bring their checkbooks. Churches can ask for gifts on the spot when the issue is most current.
It’s all part of a well-planned program of stewardship, implemented throughout the year. Christians give because God has first given to them. It’s a spiritual issue, not a financial one. If we don’t provide people with more preferred giving methods, we could rightfully be accused of placing a stumbling block in the way of an individual’s spiritual growth.
People have an inherent need to give to something bigger than they are — to participate in a greater work than they could do themselves. But as long as churches only receive financial gifts “the old fashioned way,” they will be viewed as irrelevant and incapable of doing useful work. That is where we are. The links below offer tips and resources to help churches change.
Electronic/online giving resources
- Electronic Giving from Vanco Services (UM EFT)
- Make giving easy: Services, credit card readers and more
- 10 Things You Should Know About Online Giving
- Electronic giving increases offerings
Electronic giving takes the dip out of seasonal slumps
* Becker is president of the Florida United Methodist Foundation.