Digital Giving - some numbers and tips for churches


In US, "the number of checks written between 2000 and 2015 declined by 50 percent." Also, 50% of Americans have less than $50 in their wallet. This stat surprises me - I'm surprised it's that low. Who has more than $50 in their purse? Tim Horton's takes debit - I often have $0. So what? Stats like this matter to churches, who have been slower to embrace digital giving.  Hence, my reminder that the Holy Spirit also speaks to people who don't have a cheque book.  Make giving easier with this helpful primer on digital giving by Alex Benson via the Lewis Center on Church Leadership.

Online giving increases every year. Canadian friends: if your church or charity website doesn't have a donate button, Canada Helps should be your first stop here.  They make it easy!

I first published this post on LinkedIn.  So much to say on this topic, one day I'll post on digital giving and 1 Corinthians 16...

Book Review: Growing Givers' Hearts


Here's my simple summary: if you are Christian who fundraises, this books is for you.  If you are working for an organization that regards fundraising as a necessary evil, you might need to buy more than one copy! I have been recommending this book on Christian fundraising for over a decade now.  Its message on Christian fundraising as ministry still rings true.  It's hard to underestimate how influential this book has been for me.  Really I could file this one under self-help: it helped me realize I was not crazy for wanting to connect fundraising and theology. I found it at a time when resources on the theology of fundraising were scarce.

An early set of my scribbly notes quotes page 10 "We believe that the central goal of a Christian fundraising program should be to help its donors' hearts grow bigger." Fundraising must connect to the spiritual values of the organization and to the faith of its supporters.  Does your organization believe in God's abundance, that God will provide enough resources to support your ministry?  How would your donors answer that question?  Jeavons and Basinger's chapter on "Confidence in God's Abundance" navigates the scarcity minefield many fundraisers tiptoe through.

I'm grateful to have found this book.  It's still out there on Amazon, enormous wisdom at a modest price.  A classic!

Funding Charity Head Office: Take a Sad Song and Make it Better


I'm applying wisdom from Beatles' lyrics to charity finances here.  Something new, after hearing a couple of sad songs about charities who were running deficits in their operating budgets. Let's start with an organization I'm intimately involved with - my family.  No matter what else is going on--university, saving for a big trip, fixing the roof--we put money aside each and every month to pay the bills.  You probably do too. Paying the electricity bill is not glamourous but everyone benefits from attention to that little detail.

Charities generally put some money aside from every gift they receive. In order to keep the lights on, they can't spend 100% of donations helping puppies.  Charities call this something unexciting like administration or overhead.  It's too bad they don't see head office as part of the mission because that can lead to a bigger mistake.

In an emergency or disaster situation, the charity might be tempted to send 100% of designated gifts to that disaster.  They figure it wouldn't be right for head office to benefit from the crisis.  This sounds short-sighted I know, but I've heard this same sad song more than once recently.

And it is a sad song because at year-end, the charity has an operating deficit.  They still bought stamps to send out thank-you letters to the emergency donors, still paid the auditor, the insurance and the electricity bill.  So, now they are in trouble.  Making an appeal for "overhead" is a tough sell.

Simple lesson here: don't sabotage your charity in an emergency (or anytime really.)  You can't spend 100% of donations on puppy food.  You will help more puppies in the long term if you are a thriving organization.  You want to have resources to screen and train volunteers, to host your website, and yes, to pay the electricity bill.

So, charity head office people, hear this: you are doing important work!  The charity simply wouldn't exist if people didn't raise funds, pay the bills and do all the other innumerable tasks behind the scenes.  Stagehands are part of the play and administrators are part of the charity. Value yourselves and your work.  Take a sad song, and make it better...

The spirituality of mobile giving


I read everything I can find about fundraising and theology.  I have yet to read anything on the spirituality of mobile giving - please do share if I am missing something! Here's my belief:  the Holy Spirit can guide people who do not have a cheque book (or check book, depending).  We Christian church and charity types should make room for people to give in a variety of ways - including using their smart phone.

Christians believe in the Holy Spirit - God's presence working in mysterious ways.  Theologians have a fancy word for the study of this - pneumatology.

We also believe in promoting generosity, in the spiritual discipline of giving.

Put this together and Christians, more than anyone, should be about making it easy to give.  But we aren't.  Too often we assume potential givers have a cheque book, an envelope and a stamp.  And they don't.

I was at The Pursuit ministry conference last week.  I'm attaching a slide from my workshop on Best Practices for Giving in Churches to make my point.  It applies to any organization: can people donate using their smart phone?

At another workshop, the presenter (Darrell Keezer from Candybox Marketing) offered a box of chocolates to the first person who made a $5 gift to their organization using their phone.  I tried to give to my church but got hopelessly bogged down in the website.  I did not win the prize.

Mobile giving is also about efficiency, social media strategy etc.  There's lots of reasons to embrace it. But for me, it is a theological question at its core: do we want to encourage everyone to give, or only people who have cheque books?



Imagining Abundance: Book review


I recently read Imagining Abundance by Kerry Alys Robinson.  It's part fundraising story, part spiritual autobiography - its strength is showing how to integrate fundraising and spirituality. Robinson helped the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale raise $75 million, starting not just from scratch, but from debt and diminishment.  I'd say her central thesis is faith: fundraising requires a deep trust in God's generosity.  How can we ask donors to participate in what God is doing in our ministry if we don't believe God is at work? My favourite story involves food (I'm Mennonite so this is an inherent bias!): Robinson initiated monthly spaghetti dinners where students were invited to hear Catholic faculty tell their faith stories.  It was very low budget but the gatherings really grew the community.  Robinson shared these stories with prospective donors, inviting them to imagine what more they could do at Yale if they built a center.  She invited them to join in with what God was already doing.  That's powerful.

Even more recently, I was at a board meeting where the proposed budget included salary cuts for staff: salaries could be increased if more money comes in during the year.  I guess the title for the budget would be Imagining Scarcity. This charity is largely funded by individuals and small foundations.  Individual donations are steady and increasing. I understand the fear and uncertainty: grants are variable.  Foundations might give a charity money one year and not the next, support certain types of causes for a season and then shift.  The mood was in contrast to Robinson's themes.  Rather than telling donors what we need (see my post on asking for 3 loaves of bread here ), it feels safer just to hunker down with lower salaries.  Robinson did not play it safe. She dared boldly, made herself vulnerable and clung to God for dear life.  I recommend this book for Christian fundraisers.

Other Good Fundraising Reads

Robinson cites Growing Givers' Hearts:Treating Fundraising as Ministry by Thomas H. Jeavons and Rebekah Burch Basinger in her resource list, as well as Henri Nouwen's classic The Spirituality of Fundraising.  Neither choice surprised me. Growing Givers' Hearts is foundational for me - until I read it (many years ago now), I thought I was alone in thinking theologically about fundraising. Fundraising is ministry, not the science of extracting money efficiently.

Here's an example of how counter-cultural these books are. Robinson tells the story of meeting a wealthy donor in his apartment in New York City.  She is raising money for a Catholic center at Yale. Midway through the conversation, realizing that the donor's heart is really inclined toward primary education, she tells him about a network of donors focused on making quality Catholic primary school education available to all income brackets.  In other words, she directs the donor to a different cause - not the one she's fundraising for!  I can't think of many fundraising books that would counsel this, yet all of the books I mention in this post would not hesitate to advise this: growing the donor's heart is ministry.  Fundraising as ministry is bigger than any one cause. When generosity grows, we all benefit.

Lori speaking at The Pursuit, April 2016


I'm looking forward to conducting two workshops about church and money in April, at a conference called The Pursuit.

What's the Pursuit?

It's a new Christian ministry event, jointly hosted by three different groups and supported by many.  Canadians, Americans, and many denominations and types of ministry.  It's good to push the envelope!

Marcia Shetler from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (an insider!) says an important part of the conference is how "faithful stewardship and generous giving" intersects with the church.   The list of speakers is impressive and stewardship component is part of a conference serving a larger constituency and offering other organizationally-related topics.  (many, many topics in fact - fortunately videos will be available to see the sessions you missed!)

I tried to think of what that would look like and came up with a Venn diagram (when people study Math and then theology, these things happen!)the pursuit

Video links for Lori's workshops

Here's the links to one minutes videos highlighting my two workshops (these will open in new tabs)

Best Practices for Giving in Churches

What (apostle) Paul taught me about Church and Money

How do I attend this conference?

The Pursuit website explains all the details.