Small churches are usually tight on cash.
They have a smaller donor base from which to fundraise, and as a consequence, they can sometimes struggle to serve their members and reach their communities in the ways they want.
Without money, production quality suffers.
Without money, church staff time is eaten up by menial tasks due to a manpower shortage.
Without money, community visibility can suffer due to an inability to show up at outreach events, buy advertising, and give back to the needs of the community.
But small a small congregation doesn’t have to have a small impact for the kingdom.
God changed the world through one man, Jesus Christ, and even he had only 12 disciples.
But their mission was from God, and because they were called to a worthy mission, they got organized with their strategies, consolidated their financial assets in the early church (see Acts 15), and mobilized their small community to change the world forever.
Today, small churches are still using smart fundraising strategies to leverage their community’s collective capital to spread the gospel and change their communities for Christ.
At Tithe.ly, we have the privilege of serving over 15,000 churches by helping them grow giving in each of their congregations.
Here are the five strategies we have seen to have the highest effect on overall giving in small churches.
1. Use an easy digital giving tool
The first two problems churches need to overcome, when it comes to generosity and giving, are: the ease of giving and the scale of giving.
Digital giving software can be a great asset to a small church’s fundraising efforts, but they can also be a great liability. The two most common ways that digital giving software can become a liability to a church are: cost and difficulty of use.
Here’s what I mean:
Many digital giving software solutions take an enormous percentage of your donations on top of an unreasonable, hefty monthly flat fee.
If you have a small church, these fees can sufficiently offset whatever increased returns you get from the software, functionally negating the effort of transitioning your church to a digital tool.
More than that, most of these tools are difficult to use, unfamiliar to your congregants, and force your members to go through their company to give to your church. Many of your members may wonder why they’re talking to a customer service agent through a chatbot on a random software company’s website, wondering where their money is, instead of simply writing you a check.
Don’t get me wrong.
There are fantastic digital giving solutions for churches. Take Tithe.ly Giving, for instance. They are one of the only companies that offers completely free call-in customer support, where you can talk to real people on the phone in minutes, from 5am to 11pm PST M-F. Many companies that offer better software have no customer support team.
More than that, Tithe.ly gives you the ability to host your digital giving form on your church website so that your members aren’t rerouted to the company’s app or website. This way, your church members can feel completely secure, since they are enabled to remain on your church’s trusted website throughout the entire giving experience, from beginning to end. Most giving solutions don’t offer this.
But what about the problem of cost? Tithe.ly offers, as of today, one of the lowest transaction rates of any service (see their current rates here), but here’s the kicker—the monthly fee is $0. Yes, you heard me right. The service is free to use.
Now, this is an important juncture for the small church, because they’ll be inclined to believe that more costly solutions offer more premium benefits. And that is 100% true for most products. But in this case, Tithe.ly actually offers a superior product and service in every area compared with other options. This is a unicorn of industry, and I’m not sure why other companies aren’t following suit in their business model.
For many different reasons, Tithe.ly is growing rapidly right now, and if I were a pastor looking for a digital giving solution, I would hop on the Tithe.ly Giving train immediately. I know many pastors personally who already have. I also know many pastors personally who are tied to other digital giving software because they’re handcuffed to a contract. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Consider all your options, but give Tithe.ly Giving your most serious consideration.
Now we have solved the problem of digital giving solutions associated with ease of use and cost—what website architects call “UI” (user interface) and financial sustainability.
But we must now solve the problem of scaling your church fundraising efforts.
Most digital giving solutions require churches to pay more when they raise more money from more members. In other words, if you grow, you’re penalized. The more generous people are, the more it costs the church. Let me take off my business hat for a second—that’s just wrong. Church growth is a blessing from God. Your digital giving software should incentivize church growth. Why would you strap yourself to a digital giving solution that forced your church leadership team to ask: “Can we afford to grow?” At that point, the tool to grow has become the impediment to growth. The digital software has become a new problem rather than a final solution.
Here’s the deal:
Returning to the Tithe.ly Giving payment structure, there is no monthly fee, and their (extremely) low transaction rates don’t increase a dime, no matter how much your church grows, and no matter how much people give.
Each church should consider their unique needs before committing to any giving solution, because the worst thing you can do is “try out” a bunch of software and force your church to re-learn new tech every 6 months. They will become disillusioned with giving, and likely won’t continue to give digitally. Using a digital tool is something that only works as well as the church can establish its technological credibility with its members.
Having said that, Tithe.ly Giving will serve you as a great “Diamond Standard” against which to measure other services that are either feature-poor or nickel-and-diming churches in their pricing model. Look at Tithe.ly Giving’s pricing page and use it as a set of criteria to evaluate other solutions. Here’s a handy comparison page of all digital giving solutions (the ultimate church software showdown) that has already done that for you, if you’re interested.
Was all of that a tsunami of information? Here’s the summary:
Use Tithe.ly giving as the standard by which you measure all giving software. If you find something else that meets your church’s needs better than Tithe.ly, use it. But use Tithe.ly’s features and pricing as a measuring rod for every other tool. You don’t want to be married to an outdated and overpriced solution for the next 10 years.
2. Regularly show how funds are being used
A gift is an act of faith. When your church members give, they are trusting that you are using their money to manifest their values in the world. They are trusting that you are making a difference for the kingdom.
Very often, people who are equipped to give a lot of money to your church (wealthy donors) are highly competent at reading profit-and-loss statements (P&L statements), understanding operational delegation, and can often give helpful feedback on your church’s operational strategy.
But the real value of transparently sharing how your church is spending its money is that donors can feel connected to real ministries—$5,000 spent this month on improving educational resources for Sunday School, $20,000 spent this year on marketing which provided X new visitors, etc.
3. Feature stories of how the church is making an impact
This is the honey that donors crave when they give. They want to see faces. They want to know names. They want to experience as fully as possible the real, specific, unique, individual impact your church is making.
Talk about the single mother that your church helped get on her feet financially, get an apartment, and find a job.
Show a picture of children in the third world drinking clean water from a well that your church funded and built with their own hands.
More powerful than stories in the pulpit or pictures on a slideshow is video. Video, video, video.
How often in your life have you cried during a speech? How often in your life have you cried because of a picture? Now … how often in your life have you cried because of a video?
I’ll admit it — I cry every time one of those SPCA dog adoption commercials with the Sarah Mclachlan song comes on. Every time. Lump in my throat. Curled up lips. Watery eyes. Sometimes I’ll hold it together, but it always stirs me deeply.
You don’t need to produce a full, cinematic commercial. But people are drawn into video. Document as much as possible. Find some good music. Get the most video-competent 14-year-old in your church to edit the video in iMovie. That’s all you need. And that’s all donors want.
Show. Show. Show. Video. Video. Video. Video isn’t the engine of your fundraising strategy, but it’s the clutch that will kick your church’s generosity into the next gear.
4. Run a sermon series on giving
Many church members don’t give generously—or as generously as they could—simply because they’ve never heard biblical teaching on generosity. Teach from 2 Corinthians 8. Teach from Philippians 4. The Bible is full of rich teaching on generosity—”It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Teach on giving for 4 weeks, and speak to the heart. Don’t be ham-fisted and take the judgmental angle. Unfold generosity in a way that is palatable to members that softens their hearts. Here’s a sample of a 4-week sermon series you could do:
- Lack of generosity corrupts the heart.
- Generosity is a blessing to you.
- Generosity gives you purpose.
- Here’s all that our church is doing (video, video, video)—will you give?
5. Build personal relationships with wealthy donors in your church
This is the most under-utilized strategy to grow giving in your church.
This comes down to the 80/20 principle. Chances are that 80% of your church’s donations will come from 20% (usually less) of your church members who are wealthy enough to give large gifts to special causes.
Build close relationships with them. Ask for their feedback. Give them a sense that they their voice is heard by the leadership. Invite them to your personal Christmas parties. The wealthy givers in your church need pastoral care just as much as anybody. Perhaps you could even invite a wealthy donor and the single mother you helped to the same Christmas party so that they can see first hand the good that their money is doing.
Set aside at least 5% of your time each month to write cards, go to coffee, and send special thank-yous to these members. They want to be leveraged for the kingdom of God. Don’t make it difficult for them to bless the church. Every need in the church has a corresponding supply. By going out of your way to cultivate special relationships with those members, you make the supply-demand connection between your church’s needs and your members’ resources smooth and straightforward.
Remember—Rome wasn’t built in a day. As a matter of fact, neither was the church. It took time, sacrifice, strategy, deep thinking, course correction, and a village of leaders with a big dream.
Dream big, do the hard work, and follow these five steps to grow giving in your church:
1. Use an easy digital giving tool (that is easy to use and scales).
2. Regularly show how funds are being used.
3. Feature stories of how the church is making an impact (video, video, video).
4. Run a sermon series on giving (Corruption, Blessing, Purpose, Call to Action)
5. Build personal relationships with wealthy donors in your church.
Prayerfully commit yourself to these five strategies for the next 365 days, and track what kind of results you get—which means keeping your thumb on the pulse of your church’s financial stability. You won’t be disappointed.