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The Plate Runneth Over

The Plate Runneth Over

A report on the continuing upward spiral of online and mobile giving at church

As people become more and more comfortable with shopping and paying their bills online, they are also increasingly using this channel to give to their churches.

Online giving in the church setting is growing in step with national trends, according to Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Co., a Plano, Texas-based international marketing and fundraising firm.

Those trends are encouraging. The number of donors, church and otherwise, giving online has jumped to nearly 60%, according to a recent national study of online giving commissioned by Dunham+Co.

According to the study, the percentage of donors who say they have given online has increased from 48% in 2010 to 57% in 2012, an increase it says is largely attributable to a jumpfrom 44% in 2010 to 58% in 2012among the Baby Boomer generation, i.e., people born from 1946 through 1964.

The study also notes that donors over the age of 65 increased their online giving, from 29% to 36%. In addition, nearly two-thirds of females (64%) say they now have given online, compared to only half (50%) in 2010.

"The growth in donors using websites to make their donations is moving up at a rapid pace," says Dunham. This study reinforces the importance of a website being optimized for giving, he stresses.

"Nonprofits must understand and respond to the reality that donors are increasingly inclined to make their contributions online," Dunham says. This includes older donors who are responding to direct mail or other offline communication, Dunham notes, adding, "There is every indication this behavior will only continue to increase, which makes it critical for nonprofits to ensure it is as easy as possible for a donor to make a gift online."

Making it easy to give

There are a number of vendors in the marketplace available to help churches make their online giving programs easy for users and productive for the ministries.

For example, Qgiv is an online giving platform aimed at faith-based, non-profit, and political organizations, according to Todd Baylis, founder and president of Lakeland, Fla.-based Qgiv Inc. Among other capabilities, Qgiv gives these organizations the ability to accept and keep track of online donations via debit and credit cards through a secure, web-based system that looks exactly like their websites.

"If we do our job right, a donor doesn't know that we even exist," says Baylis. This is important, he notes, "because giving online can often be an emotional decision on the part of the donor, and you don't want to break that connection by taking them to another [website], perhaps causing them to wonder if it's a safe site, etc."

In the trends department, Baylis sees a move toward the integration of online and in-person church giving in the form of on-site, self-service kiosks connected to the Qgiv platform. At press time, his firm was preparing to launch such a product, "which provides more options to give for someone that is perhaps at the church just one time, or didn't happen to bring their pledge that day," he notes.

Going mobile (and tracking it)

Meanwhile, online giving via mobile devices such as smartphones is a growing trend, according to Bryce Collman, CEO of Ardent Giving Solutions. This Keller, Texas-based firm enables churches, non-profits, and schools to facilitate and track online giving (both one-time and recurrent) through a customized web-based software platform.

In the mobile arena, Ardent now provides its churches with Quick Response ("QR") codes that can be placed in their bulletins, or any other printed material. These matrix barcodes, cousins to the ubiquitous UPC codes all consumers are familiar with, can be read by smartphones, as well as mobile phones with cameras, Collman explains.

Once the QR code is read in this fashion, the user is taken directly to the giving page of the church's website, which the Ardent platform has enabled to automatically detect access by mobile devices, and present the page in an appropriate format for easy navigation.

Although mobile giving in the church environment is growing, it is doing so slowly, Collman reports.

"It's a matter of communication," Collman says. "The QR codes are really what are driving it right now. But the church does need to communicate with its members about the availability of the mobile platform before people will highly engage [with] it."

Doing it yourself

Meanwhile, Ardent has been offering its customers the option to allow online giving through debit cards only, "because there are churches that are uncomfortable with their members using credit cards," Collman explains. Recent Federal legislation that has cut debit-card processing fees, he adds, has had the result of bringing added value to the debit-card-only format.

"We discourage people using their credit card," says David McGee, founder of Cross the Bridge Ministries and senior pastor at The Bridge Fellowship, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based nondenominational church with an estimated 2,000 in attendance weekly.

Working with its bank, Cross the Bridge was able to set up an online giving system themselves, "because we are fortunate to have some sharp IT [information technology] people in the house," McGee says.

In the three years since, the volume of online giving at the church has become comparable to that given non-online, McGee reports. Its use cuts across generations, he adds.

"It was true in the beginning that it was mostly younger people that gave online, but more and more, you see everybody doing it," says McGee. "People in their 60s and 70s are going online to pay their bills and give because they like the safety and the security," he notes. "Plus, we live in an age where people don't carry cash or checksthey carry their debit cards."

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