Passing the plate every Sunday isn't likely to become passé any time soon. But at the same time, churches are increasingly looking at how to open a new channel for donations via mobile devices, particularly the smartphone that their congregants, both young and old, are carrying these days.
Growing smartphone usage in the United States is a major factor behind this. According to a June 2013 report from consumer research giant Nielsen, more than 61% of mobile subscribers in the U.S. owned a smartphone during the three-month period running March-May 2013.
Impressive smartphone usage stats aren't confined to younger generations. Smartphone ownership was highest (78%) among millennials aged 25-34, according to Nielsen; meanwhile, three out of four mobile users aged 18-24 already own smartphones. At 42%, penetration of smartphones remained lowest among Americans aged 55 and over, Nielsen adds, "but this group is catching up fast, as penetration among this demographic has nearly doubled over the past year."
When it comes to giving, Marty Baker, lead pastor at Stevens Creek Church, a member of the Church of God denomination located in Augusta, Ga., whose Sunday service attendance averages 1,700, says, "Mobile is definitely the wave of the future." He is also founder/president of SecureGive, a provider of kiosks, online, and mobile giving solutions for churches and other non-profit organizations.
An extension of the company's online giving and kiosk applications, SecureGive's mobile giving app enables donors to make one-time and recurring donations utilizing their smartphones or tablet devices.
First-time users of the app select the organization they wish to donate to from a list or via search; the app will remember this choice every time it is launched thereafter, taking the user to the organization's SecureGive home page. Tapping a "Make a Donation" button, meanwhile, takes users to a secure login page, where they can make a one-time donation without logging in, or log in and create an account for recurring giving.
Among other features, the system allows users to specify where they wish their donations to go (such as tithes, missions, campaigns and/or specific ministries); to send a brief message with their donation; store payment methods (i.e., debit or credit card); and view historical transactions.
So far in 2013, between 40%-50% of Steven Creek's income has come through digital means, i.e., via mobile, online, and kiosk channelup 15% from last year, according to Baker.
Based on this experience, plus that of SecureGive in working with churches across the nation, "We know that when churches add a kiosk or implement mobile giving, they get brand new donations," Baker says, adding, "Digital opportunities open the door for more people to donate to their churchand when giving is convenient, people give more."
Getting congregations to accept mobile and other channels of digital giving is not difficult, according to Baker.
"They [members of congregation] already pay for gas and groceries with a debit card, so this is not going to be that big of a shock," Baker says.
"We still pass the plate, and still take checkswe do it all," Baker adds. And, on Sunday, "When I receive the offering, I say We appreciate your generosity, whether you give at this service, at our giving kiosk, online, or on your smartphone. The method really doesn't matter, it is the heart behind it. So I want to say today, God bless you as you give.'"
Texting for dollars
Getting individuals to contribute in response to simple text messages is another way in which mobile devices are playing an increasing role in church fundraising efforts.
Approval from the nation's wireless carriers to include clickable web links inside simple text messages has enabled individuals to make donations of any size via debit and credit cards, as opposed to "micro-donations" billed through the carriers, according to Doug Plank, CEO of Calabasas, Calif.-based MobileCause, a provider of Internet technologies for mobile fundraising, [DEFINE THIS TERM] CRM, donor cultivation and communication.
It has also enabled the organizations to capture valuable data regarding their donors.
"With the old way, like the micro-donations solicited after the Haiti earthquake, the charity/church did not receive any data other than the phone number, which is not that helpful," Plank says. By adding links in text messages that take donors to a page where they can use their credit or debit cards to make donations of any size, "We [MobileCause] can offer a more complete solution that includes acquiring their name, address, and other valuable informationwhich enables the charity/church to build a donor base and communicate with them."
This technology is just starting to get traction in the church market, Plank reports. Interest among churches is broad-based, he notes. And he adds, "What is driving interest from some is full-time staff that fall into the millennial generation, which is driving more use of technology in general."
Research has shown that text messages from religious organizations (including, of course, churches) have a 93% response ratemaking this a powerful tool for purposes that support fundraising, according to Jenifer Snyder, executive director at the mGive Foundation. This Denver-based organization is a service of Mobile Accord, a mobile application service provider/cause-marketing agency that helps nonprofits raise funds through the mobile giving channel.
Also, "One of the more powerful engagement strategies for religious organizations is staying top of mind' with their congregations throughout the week in order to increase attendance at daily services," says Snyder.
"We've seen these organizations be successful with daily inspiration and devotion messages, and even pay services, where the church will get something like $4.99 per month for a daily devotional text sent to your phone," she says, adding, "Being top of mind, and leveraging this technology to help your cause is no longer optionalit is a must-do."
For the time being at least, giving via mobile text appears more successful for special, one-time donations as opposed to recurring giving, according to Jeremy Moore, regional director for Brea, Calif.-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU).
"But at the same time, it is convenient, and is readily accepted by younger, under-40 individuals," says Moore. "And this is a way to draw them in for first-time or impulse givingwhich hopefully will lead to turning them into regular givers to your ministry."