A Remote Roundtable Discussion: Two seasoned church giving experts share 4 tried-and-true strategies any church leader can use — featuring Eliot Crowther and Becky Kopplin
Q: For most churches, just how big of a problem is a drop-off in summer giving?
Crowther: Really, we need to expect that attendance is going to dip during the summer. Depending on the size, maturity and demographic of your church, that means summer giving can drop between 5% and 50% — the numbers are all over the map.
Kopplin: We’ve seen that many churches experience declines ranging from 13% to 20% during the summer months. We’ve also found that churches who enter the summer
months with the right tools and a planned communication strategy see less than a 1% decline. In fact, by leveraging a robust giving and ChMS platform, churches can increase overall donations by an average of 33% and avoid the summer slump entirely.
Crowther: Many churches are resigned to the reality of the ‘summer slump’ and plan for it every year. Attendance can vary based simply upon how nice the weather is. Volunteers are out of town or taking some much-needed rest.
In other churches, anxiety surrounding summer giving is a minor nuisance — particularly in newer church plants that might not have the financial stability to weather the difficult months.
But, that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to do anything about it.
Kopplin: Going blindly into the summer with no plan can be an extremely anxious experience for church leaders. (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.) Just as we approach the times of increased donations, so too must we plan for the lulls in attendance.
Nothing can make the summertime blues seem as intense as not pacing to budget. You need to plan, plan, plan! (Have I mentioned … plan?) Approaching your summer season with a proactive plan of a multi-touch donation and communication strategy alleviates all the worry that accompanies lower attendance. Plan to be fiscally conservative in the right areas, while investing early in the framework that will empower your mission as you lay the strategic plans to thwart the valleys of summer donations.
Q: What causes declines in summer giving? (And what can churches do about it?)
#1: When teaching generosity, focus on consistency — and being proactive
Crowther: People can’t pass the plate at a service they don’t attend! Recurring giving is the ‘secret weapon’ you have against the summer months. So, talk about it as an important part of your discipleship process.
In doing so, keep in mind that if the process to set up or edit a recurring gift is difficult, fewer people will engage.
“Nothing can make the summertime blues seem as intense as not pacing to budget … [a]pproaching your summer season with a proactive plan of a multi-touch donation and communication strategy alleviates all the worry that accompanies lower attendance.”
— Becky Kopplin
Kopplin: During the summer months, it’s easy to forget what we’ve disciplined ourselves to do, even as faithful stewards. We’re in a summer rhythm. Fortunately, year-round, nothing supports a faithful donor (and their church) quite like recurring giving.
In this sense, automation trumps determination; share how to sign up for recurring donations towards those funds, and continue to update folks on your progress throughout the summer. Find solutions that allow for connecting and updating recurring donations on multiple platforms. Embracing this ‘set-it-and-forget it’ mentality really moves ministries forward.
Crowther: It’s important that we teach giving as an area of responsibility that is planned rather than impulsive. Vacation or not, people know to make their car payments on time. In the same way, they have to be taught how important consistent giving is to the life of the church.
Start talking about the summer slump in the spring. Let members and attendees know how giving drops off. Show them graphs and charts about how giving has been in past summers. Share some of the ways this shortfall makes ministry more difficult. Challenge them to commit to giving throughout the summer; send a letter or email as a reminder.
Depending on your church, it might be a little awkward to talk about money at first. But, it helps to establish openness and transparency about your budget and needs with the congregation.
#2: Maximize technology to (cost-effectively & easily) stay in touch
Kopplin: One of the most critical approaches to modern giving — particularly in the summer — is providing fragmented giving types: text giving, through a mobile app, on the website, and via social media. Create targeted message opportunities to connect specific groups with personalized messages that speak to people’s expressed interests in the church, and share your donation methods with them. Mass-communicate to these segments via text, email or even a voicemail, and plan and schedule those messages in advance, so you’re firing on all cylinders.
“The best time to get started on social media was five years ago; the second best time is today. Start with small, consistent efforts to stay connected with your congregation outside of a regular service. Get a custom church app as a central digital hub for your community to engage with your church.”
— Eliot Crowther
We must leverage communications platforms and digital methods to do life together (and in this case, ministry), no matter where we find ourselves, physically.
Giving and communications toolboxes — along with social media — are the methods of choice, here. While social media is free, what really helps is being able to target personalized messages to a larger group within your organization. To fully engage, you’ll need a comprehensive giving toolset and communications solution.
Crowther: Stay present and top-of-mind with your congregation by communicating with them where they already are. If people can’t catch your podcast in the week, or stay updated about events via your app, or get devotional content on social media, then they’re probably not fully connected with your church. The more connected your congregation is, the more generous they’ll be.
A healthy digital presence is about long-term consistency, not short- term effort. The best time to get started on social media was five years ago; the second best time is today. Start with small, consistent efforts to stay connected with your congregation outside of a regular service. Get a custom church app as a central digital hub for your community to engage with your church.
For whoever runs your church’s digital platform, this will represent a time investment; but remember: consistency is key. It’s better to start small and stay consistent then to try and do everything at once. Social media, in particular, is a place where quantity actually trumps quality — as long as the quantity is consistent.
#3: Make giving easy … even from afar
Kopplin: When members are away, they’re not only missing our Sunday sermons — they’re also missing your ask to continue to support the mission. It’s that simple.
Make it easy for people to donate while they’re away with digital options, and promote those tools in the months leading up to the summer. Set a goal to ensure you have your members’ emails addresses, cell phone numbers, and are connected through social media. That way, you can share these digital giving tools and continue to engage people in your missions all summer long.
Crowther: Does it take longer than 30 seconds to give for the first time at your church? Do I have to hunt around your website for five minutes to find a link? Is your giving mobile-native, or a website displayed (sometimes poorly) on my phone?
Is the recurring giving experience at your church like filling out paperwork at the dentist’s office?
If you make it simple, easy and normal, you’ll find people are still giving when they’re on vacation. Making digital giving the norm at your church is worth the effort. In fact, we’ve even seen churches’ giving go up during the summer months as a result of implementing simple mobile giving.
#4: Plan special summer-only events & offerings
Crowther: Church attendance is going to falter in the summer. That’s normal, and it’s OK — but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to do anything about it.
Make summer at your church a big deal! Launch an exciting sermon series. Put together a couple of high-quality events with your community. Give people something to rally around.
Kopplin: It’s sort of a “chicken / egg” situation, but some churches reduce the number of services they hold in the summer as attendance drops off. So, it makes sense to offer series or events that might not happen at other times of the year.
Though we can be certain that fewer people will be joining us on Sundays this summer, that doesn’t mean we stop pastoring. It’s not enough to communicate your donation options passively and occasionally — and summer is a great time to think outside the box.
Get creative. Plan an event with a sister church, or in the community. To reach older youth, stretch events beyond VBS … and get outside!
Plan what you’ll say (what the fund is, what the event will be, what you’re building); how people can support it (what methods they can use to donate); and how to communicate it. Happy planning!
— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh