Trends in the ways smartphones are being used by consumers to buy goods and services make mobile an increasingly attractive giving channel for churches to explore, particularly given the demographic makeup of the group that uses them the most.
Smartphone usage continues to grow. According to a third quarter 2013 report from consumer research giant Nielsen, some 64.7% of all mobile subscribers in the United States owned a smartphone, up from 62% the previous quarter. "Smartphone ownership also continued to grow among students and recent grads," Nielsen reports, "as 70% of teens (aged 13-17) and 79% of young adults (aged 18-24) now own smartphones."
Meanwhile, another potential avenue for mobile giving, the tablet (such as Apple's iPad), is also expanding its presence. According to Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization that conducts a variety of public opinion, demographic and social science research, the percentage of Americans ages 16 and older who own tablet computers has grown to 35% as of third quarter 2013. Pew also reports that more than half of all households earning $75,000 and up annually now have tablets, up from 25% during the same period in 2012.
As the numbers of people carrying them grow, mobile devices are increasingly being used by their owners as a means to transfer funds and/or pay for goods and services, as opposed to having to pull out their wallets or write checks.
In a well-publicized example, utilizing a special smartphone application, customers at Starbucks can pay for their treats by simply having their phone screens scanned at the counter. Other manifestations of this trend include Google Wallet, where smartphone users link bank accounts to a Google or Gmail account, enabling them to make purchases by bumping their phone against the cash register, or to transfer money to others by pressing a button.
"I tell all my clients that they need to make a trip to Starbucks, get a cup of coffee, and sit down for 30 minutes and watch how customers pay for their orders," says Mark Brooks, founding partner and president of the Charis Group, an Atlanta-based fundraising consultant serving Christian ministries.
"And they will see that many of those customersme includedpay by just pulling out their smartphones and hitting their Starbucks app, never once taking out their billfolds," Brooks says.
"Churches have generally been slow to adjust," says Brooks. "We are on our way to becoming a checkless and cashless society, but we still see churches focused solely on passing the offering bucket every Sunday."
Churches that continue to focus on plate-based giving at the expense of opening up mobile channels run the risk of not developing and tapping the full giving potential of the so-called "millennial generation," the technologically savvy, adolescent-to-young-adult cohort of the U.S. population that was born between roughly 1980 and 2000.
Sometimes called the Net generation because they don’t remember a time when there was no Internet, this is a group for whom the smartphone is an ubiquitous part of life. It's also [the] group that churches need to reach out to more, according to Bryce Collman, CEO of Alpena, Mich.-based Ardent Giving Solutions, a developer of electronic solutions that help churches, schools and other nonprofit organizations grow their giving and fulfill their missions.
Mobile giving tips
"This is the group you really want to engage," Collman says. "This isn't about converting the older people that have always been faithful in their giving, showing up at every service with a check in their hands," he notes, "but about gaining and growing a group of new, faithful contributorsand one of the best ways to reach them is through their smartphones."
Collman has a couple of tips for churches that want to open up this channel for giving.
First off, churches that already have an online presence, and utilize it to accommodate giving via desktop computers or kiosks, need to make sure that their digital interfaces are appropriate for smartphones, notes Collman.
"This mostly relates to formatting," Collman says. "And you have to make sure that any website you've set up can be displayed accurately and is easy to navigate on any type of smartphone."
Churches can also leverage existing printed materials to expand mobile giving by using "Quick Response" (QR) codes. Closely related to the Universal Product Code (UPC) barcodes that are now commonplace, QR codes are easy to create and popular to use, Collman explains. Easily read by smartphones or any mobile phone with a camera, QR codes can be placed in church bulletins or any other printed materials, he notes, "and take smartphone users directly to an online giving link when they simply scan the page with their device."
Meanwhile, advances in text-to-give, i.e., giving via mobile devices in response to simple text messages, have made it more attractive to churches, according to Collman.
While text-to-give was once a channel in which donations were fixed in amount, billed by cell phone carriers, and took a long time to be credited to church accounts, that has all changed, according Collman, "and this has taken text-to-give to a new level of quick and easy mobile giving."
Enhancing the mobile channel with a more robust text-to-give option was at the top of the list among respondents to a recent customer survey conducted by SecureGive, an Evans, Ga.-based provider of kiosks, online, and mobile giving solutions for churches and other non-profit organizations.
"It was the going-away favorite for this group," which was comprised largely of church executive pastors, according to Stu Baker, SecureGive director of sales and marketing.
"When it was done through the phone carriers, with fixed donation amounts and delayed deposit times, text-to-give often didn't make sense for a lot of churches," Baker says.
But these days, donations aren't fixed, deposits aren't delayed, and churches can implement text-to-give channels that are set up and administered by providers (such as Ardent and SecureGive).
At the same time, "Text-to-give technology can be more easily integrated with what churches are doing with other aspects of their online and mobile giving," says Baker, "and can often provide the quickest path to giving through your phone."
Ardent Giving Solutions
The Charis Group