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Funding tactics churches can learn from nonprofits

By Ben Stroup

Rethink your approach to financing ministry needs and change the conversation of money in your church.

The average person in the pew no longer holds the position that the tithe is solely reserved for their local church. Giving USA reports that the percentage of giving for the average American is about 2.5 percent of disposable income. Barna reports that on average, 5 to 7 percent of evangelical Christians tithe regularly to their local church. And Passing the Plate cites that 20 percent of American Christians don’t give anything at all.

Pastors can no longer assume that tithing is a shared value among church members. This paradigm shift has put churches on equal footing with other organizations when it comes to where and how church people give their money. While some church leaders believe they are justified in their expectation, the number of people allocating their tithe to the local church is getting smaller and smaller.

Nonprofits have had to overcome some obstacles that are intrinsically built into the church life. Nonprofits typically don’t gather their supporters for weekly meetings. Instead, they must utilize technology and direct mail to replicate personal interaction. Nonprofits typically don’t tie the giving habits of their support base to any religious conviction. Instead, nonprofits must continually prove their ability to create impact.

Nonprofits typically don’t shy away from talking about money. Instead, they must make “the ask” strategically and systematically.

These obstacles have made many nonprofits lean and mean. They’ve had to learn how to pull together funding for their cause without the benefit of a built-in “annuity system.” Nothing makes people and organizations work harder than when they understand their survival depends upon their success in funding their operations.

That being said, churches still have the best shot at funding the work of the kingdom. However, churches need to adapt to a new giving climate. The good news is that many of these strategies have been well-researched and documented in philanthropic circles. The challenge is translating those proven techniques into the language and practice of the church.

Here are five suggestions – borrowed from nonprofits – that will improve giving in your church:
Focus your communication about money within the context of measurable outcomes. People are more intentional about their giving today because they have access to more data. Givers want assurance that their dollar is making a difference. Just saying “it is” doesn’t make it so. When you talk about money, make sure you connect the investment of the person in the pew with eternal dividends.

Regularly analyze giving data and trends as validation of your strategic decisions. When a church decides not to monitor giving trends and habits, it is literally operating on “a hope and a prayer.” Nonprofits understand that data do not lie, even when we lie to ourselves. Deal with “what is” and your decisions will yield greater results.

Encourage regular givers to incrementally increase their gifts over time. Each time you get a direct-mail piece from a nonprofit, the suggested gift amount increases. Why? Because nonprofits understand that incrementally moving a large base of small givers to make minor increases over time has an exponential effect on the funding levels of the entire organization.

Put in place a major gifts strategy. Some people have the ability to dramatically impact the trajectory of your church through a sizable gift today and some in the future through their estate. Be responsible with the giving capacity of the people that God has entrusted to you. Not cultivating these gifts hurts the church and forfeits the chance to help someone release God’s blessing to the kingdom.

Place giving expectations on staff and key lay leadership. Nonprofits take no issue with expecting their staff and senior volunteer leaders to give generously and help with cultivating gifts from others. If your staff or key lay leaders aren’t giving, then they aren’t invested in the success of your church. Build this expectation into your culture and watch the number of your givers multiply.

Ben Stroup is a freelance writer, blogger and consultant in Greenbrier, TN, who writes on technology, fundraising, communications and leadership. www.thecontentmatrix.com

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Study shows direct mail still works

Donors are more than three times likely to give online in response to a direct-mail appeal than an e-appeal, according to a new national Dunham+Company study.

The study, conducted by research firm Campbell Rinker, found that 17 percent of donors who gave on a charity website in 2011 said that a direct-mail letter prompted their online gift versus only 5 percent who said they gave online because of an email.

“We conducted this survey because we wanted to see if direct mail was diminishing as a source for online donations and, if so, what was driving the increase in online giving that we were seeing,” says Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company. “Finding that direct mail has actually grown as a driver to online donations and that online efforts were not really moving the needle was a bit of a shock.”

In addition, 50 percent of donors surveyed in 2012 said they prefer to give online when they receive a letter in the mail from a charity. In 2010, 38 percent of donors said they preferred to give online after getting a letter in the mail.

The proportion of donors ages 40 to 59 who reported giving a gift online in response to a direct-mail appeal rose to 47 percent in 2012, from 34 percent in 2010. Among donors age 60 or older, online giving prompted by a direct-mail appeal rose from 18 percent in 2010 to 24 percent in 2012.

Interestingly, websites lost ground in driving online giving: Only 11 percent of donors said what they saw on a charity’s website motivated a gift, which is down from 15 percent in 2010. In addition, email may be driving fewer donors to give online: Only 5 percent of respondents now say they gave an online gift as the result of an email, compared to 6 percent in 2010.

Social media shows no real improvement in motivating an online gift among donors 40 years old or older (10 percent in this survey versus 8 percent in 2010). However, social media giving continues to grow among donors under age 40, as a full 30 percent now say they have given online because of social media compared to 24 percent in 2010.

www.dunhamandcompany.com

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