Strategies for cultivating major gifts

Did you know your church management software — and the data within it — can be a big help?

Scott Romig
Vice President of Sales
TouchPoint Software, Inc.

When a church leader considers ways to drive major gifts, church management software / systems (ChMS) probably isn’t their first thought. Why should this tool spring to mind?

Scott Romig: Unfortunately, church management systems are still considered by many churches as primarily an office tool rather than a ministry tool. A lot of church leaders assume the giving experience is going to be clunky and create friction for the potential donor.

However, you want your people to give through your ChMS because that’s where your data lives.

Church leaders need to shift their thinking from seeing ChMS as a back office tool to viewing it as the hub from which their ministry’s data and insights come. With our system, you can send out reminders for people to give on whatever frequency the church prefers, while also giving them updates on where they are in their pledge.

How can ChMS be used to identify potential major donors in the church (particularly ones who, thus far, have ‘flown under the radar’ in terms of giving outreach)?

Romig: First, you have to define your criteria for a ‘major donor.’ We know that, on average, Christians are giving about 2.5 percent of their income. If we look at our donors based on that statistic alone, we should be able to estimate what the church would look like if that same donor was giving 10 percent.

Moreover, we also know that of the individuals that get to the ‘tithing baseline’ of 10 percent in regular giving, three out of four of them will go over and beyond and give between 11 percent and 20 percent on average.

Beyond simple giving capacity (how much wealth a donor has), you need to consider how committed an individual or family is to your church. Someone who is attending your church consistently, and is engaged in multiple aspects, is the most apt to give. They are investing their time, so they will likely invest their resources.

If you have good data on someone’s occupation, family status (kids in college), if they are retired or still working, etc., you can get a good handle on someone’s capacity, willingness and passion to support the church.

If your ChMS is capable of storing multiple data points about someone, you can build reports based around criteria that will uncover someone who is deeply committed to your church. 

What kind of unique data is a church leader looking for to help cultivate major gifts — and does it always fall under the ‘finance / giving’category?

Romig: Not always; I’m actually a big believer in the attendance-to-volunteer ratio. The more individuals are willing to serve with respect to the amount of time they’re coming to church, the more likely they are to fully support the ministry financially.

Something interesting that our founding church, Bellevue Baptist, has found is that on average, a person enrolled in a Sunday school (Life Group) class attends 51 percent of the time. If they’re asked to step up into any type of leadership role (taking attendance, managing prayer requests, setting up class events, following up with new visitors) in that same class, their attendance increases to 71 percent on average.

This statistic alone shows us that as individuals become more engaged in areas of the church, they’re willing to invest more in the ministry, whether it’s time or money.

Once potential donors are identified, how can ChMS come alongside the church to cultivate major gifts?

Romig: With our system, the church is able to create automated tags called status flags that will actually nurture the giver behind the scenes through different milestones and alert key individuals on staff.

The key is defining what process is right for your donors that’s continually challenging them to take small steps of faith that help them grow spiritually.

Cultivating major gifts via e-communications (using ChMS, in this case) might seem counterintuitive — and maybe even inappropriate — to some church leaders. What’s the reality?

Romig: You never want this process to feel like ‘automated-ministry,’ and too much automation can lead to your donors feeling like your church is just another one of those organizations sending them robotic messages. The church should remain personal.

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That said, we’ve found that churches are able to use our status flags to combine just the right amount of automated emails that plant seeds with key data that inspires action from your ministry teams and keeps that cultivation coming primarily through a personal relationship.

Additionally, everyone who gives to your church — whether they’re a financial leader or not — craves accountability from the church. They want to know how their money is being stewarded. You need to get the whole church involved in that and reassure people that you’re being wise with their gifts. This makes it easy for people to give.

Ask major givers what they’re passionate about from a ministry standpoint, and seek to serve your major givers by connecting them to ministries where their passions and gifts can be applied to their best ability.

It just comes down to helping people — no matter how much they can give — feel seen and known and offering them ways to contribute that feel meaningful to them.

When cultivating major gifts, what strategies have performed well among your ChMS clients?

Romig: We’ve seen the most success from our clients who aren’t afraid to routinely talk about their giving strategy from the center of influence in the church: the pulpit. Churches love it when our experts help build excitement around the new system when it’s first launched.

But in reality, this is something that shouldn’t just be done when you first roll out a new ChMS; you should do it regularly. And the best two ways to do that is 1) talk about the plan and ask for action from the pulpit, and 2) talk about the plan and encourage action from within your small groups.

If a church-based user isn’t 100 percent confident in their current ChMS’s ability to help cultivate major gifts, what advice can you offer as they shop around?

Romig: One of our favorite sayings is, ‘A lack of process in a poor ChMS is still a lack of process in a great ChMS.’ We encourage every ministry to know what their process is for cultivating donors.

A ChMS, at its core, should do primarily two things: 1) provide the data that drives and inspires your ministry’s actions, and 2) provide the most modern tools to help you execute those actions at the most efficient level. The church’s process is the framework in which those two things are built.

That said, a ChMS in 2018 should be equipped with a single portal for your donors to do everything you would want them to do digitally. Giving online, registering for events, completing spiritual gift assessments, matching with volunteer opportunities and managing their groups should all be done in one place.

This gives your congregants several reasons to keep coming back to that digital giving front door.

— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

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