How Recurring Gifts Make Giving More Predictable

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Serving a community with a naval air station and a charter school created a challenge for growing financial stewardship at Lexington Park United Methodist Church.

Many of the personnel at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Lexington Park, Maryland, are contractors who are in the area only for the length of their assignment, and the charter school’s non-traditional schedule includes several short breaks during the August-to-June school year.

“When the contractors were here they gave generously, but when they weren’t here they couldn’t,” Church Administrator Sara Martin recalls. “With the school’s schedule, there’s no summer slump, per se, but there are several mini-slumps during the year.”

Slumps at traditionally busy Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day services were attributable to the community’s demographics. Attendance dropped when naval personnel left the area to visit family and school families took advantage of breaks to travel. And the winter months bring the possibility of snowstorms that cause services to be canceled, as they were one Sunday in January 2016.

“Giving wasn’t predictable, and we were looking for a way to make it more regular,” Martin says. “So we ran a campaign to increase recurring giving.” When the campaign began, the church had about a dozen givers who contributed through Automated Clearing House [ACH] payments. These recurring debits from a bank account are the only way the church accepts online donations. The first day’s results were a pleasant surprise, Martin recalls.

“We aimed for 100 pledges and 50 ACH givers for the entire campaign. It’s a transient area, so we thought we would increase by a few on the first Sunday. We had over 40 sign up and were like, ‘We can’t believe this just happened.’”

For the rest of the campaign, the church displayed two posters—one near the church entrance and another in the sanctuary—that tracked success with charts resembling thermometers. “Giving has gone up amazingly,” Martin says. “Some Sundays, ACH giving is higher than our [cash and check] offering.”

The church has since used a similar poster to measure the success of a campaign to buy 200 new chairs for the sanctuary. “We also have a bulletin board display where we’re ‘Filling the Room’ and we’ve added a special fund to the online giving page,” Martin says.

Transparency, telling stories are important

The campaign to build ACH giving began with the church’s annual stewardship campaign. Pastors started by thanking the congregation for their gifts, and recounting how the church uses their contributions to fulfill its mission.

“It’s not three weeks of dread,” Martin says. “We have a great testimony to give. The congregation loves those stories, and they should. We have some very generous givers and they like to know where those dollars are going. When we tell a story, giving goes up.”

Similar stories are included in the church’s Ministry Spotlight newsletter, and the website has a budget summary that shows how gifts are spent.

eGiving that works for everyone

 To make recurring donations, givers sign up through the church’s hosted online giving page—there’s a prominent link on the website homepage—or they fill out a simple paper form that church staff uses to set up accounts.

“ACH giving is not just for young people. Our oldest church member is an ACH giver,” Martin says. “Some young people are still putting cash in the plate. It’s not about age or education; it’s how it’s presented to them.”

The church is saving money by ordering envelopes less frequently and in smaller quantities. They’ve also stopped using the ‘I Give Electronically’ cards that e-Givers can drop in the plate during the weekly offering. Regular communication has made the congregation more comfortable with giving online, and they recognize others are making the same choice.

“We used to provide the cards, but we don’t need them now,” Martin says. “It’s not unusual for people to not put something in the plate when it’s passed.”

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