Presbyterian Foundation online giving accounts experience record growth

January 3, 2019 by Gregg Brekke

The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Online giving is steadily growing at “Decatur’s oldest church with the newest ideas,” according to the Rev. Dr. Todd Speed. He’s the senior pastor at Decatur Presbyterian Church, an 800-member multi-generational church in the east Atlanta metro area that has used services from the Presbyterian Foundation to collect online donations since 2012.

The dollars contributed via online giving comprise roughly five percent of the total annual giving to the church, a small but growing number, Speed said. The ease of use by the congregation and finance staff makes it more than worthwhile.

“We’re trying to make sure we give people options,” he said. “We put a QR code in the bulletin and it ties into our giving page on the website. We’re able to use a couple of different funds. One of the keys for us is we can tell when someone sends a gift to operations, a capital campaign or a special gift. It’s not just one size fits all and that’s helpful for us.”

The congregation recently employed the special gift option to raise funds for a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance hurricane appeal. “We’re seeing more and more people who want to give this way,” Speed said.

Big growth in 2018

The Foundation saw a significant increase in the number of Ministry Partnership Funds (online giving funds) in 2018. Any Presbyterian-related ministry, church or institution can start a fund.

By December 31, 2018, churches and ministries had started 488 new accounts, up from 256 new accounts in 2017. Through November 30, $5.1 million had been given through those accounts for 2018, up from $3.8 million for all of 2017.

The use of Ministry Partnership Funds is growing rapidly because they meet a need, says Robert Hay Jr., Presbyterian Foundation Ministry Relations Officer for the Southeast. Plus, the accounts are easy to set up. Churches fill out the paperwork, put a “donate now” button on their web site and the Foundation takes care of the rest. Once all of the information is received at the Foundation, the funds can be ready for use in about a week.

“It’s an absolute need,” Hay said. “It’s one of the first things I do, the first thing I present, in churches that are looking to expand giving opportunities in the congregation.”

Online giving on the rise

As Decatur Presbyterian Church has discovered, it’s no secret that charitable giving via electronic funds transfer (EFT) and credit cards is on the rise. According to the Bethesda, Maryland-based Nonprofits Source, online charitable giving grew from $19.2 billion in 2012 to over $31 billion in 2017 and is forecast to exceed $35 billion in 2018.

Churches have seen a similar increase in online and electronic giving. Nonprofits Source notes that nearly half – 49 percent – of all church donations in 2017 were given via electronic means. Furthermore, when surveyed by the group, 60 percent of church participants said they were willing to give to their churches digitally.

Some of the push for online giving is generational, though not exclusively, Speed said. More important is making online giving a recognized and normal stewardship option.

“We have cards in the pews that say, ‘I gave or pledged online,’ that congregation members can drop in the plate as it goes by. I’ve used it myself,” he said. “It’s the ongoing encouragement of using this system of recognition, keeping up with how people give and changing habits that will help grow our online giving.”

Changing methods of giving

Keeping up with the needs of churches is important to the Foundation, said Vanessa Elkin, Vice President of Operations at the Presbyterian Foundation. “Online giving was really a needed piece,” Elkin said. “Some of it is generational. It’s the way we shop at Amazon, it’s the way we pay our bills online. And it has caught up to our congregations. It’s the way they want to do things too. Our younger people don’t even carry a checkbook.”

Hay has been a proponent of Ministry Partner Funds since their inception and sees them as a way to invite a newer generation of church members into financial stewardship.

“The majority of givers are going to give the way they always have, whether that’s via check or automated electronic funds transfer,” he said, adding that Ministry Partner Funds “aren’t for everyone,” but do make it easier for young people who manage all their finances online.

“When the plate comes around, people are making a calculation on what they can give,” he said. “If the largest bill they have in their wallet is a twenty, that’s what they’ll contribute. But we know the average online gift through the Foundation is $160. It’s not constrained by how much cash they may need for lunch.”

Low costs and flexibility are hallmarks of program

The process of enrollment is quite easy and involves collecting banking and tax information to be input into the system and assigning administrative roles, Elkin said. Once the system is configured, an online giving link is available for the church or ministry to use in about a week. On-site and phone support is available throughout the process and Elkin’s staff is on call following the setup to answer questions.

A flat rate of two percent is deducted from each donation to support the program, much lower than other church-centric online donation platforms, and less than half the cost of commercial credit processing systems or popular online services such as PayPal. Monthly transfers of the balances are made to the church or ministry and include any interest earned.

In addition to regular recurring contributions or tithing, the Foundation can set up long term giving opportunities that help fund mission projects, capital needs or larger expenditures, as was done for Decatur Presbyterian Church.

“The Ministry Partner Fund system has encouraged people to set up regular online giving through their bank,” Speed said. “It provides them a way to give other than a check and has broadened peoples’ thoughts on how to contribute to the church.”

“We’re glad to have online giving,” he added. “It’s been affordable and easy to use. We went with and stay with the Foundation because they offer an inexpensive solution that’s well supported.”

If you would like to set up a Ministry Partnership Fund for your congregation or ministry, contact the Ministry Relations Officer that serves your region. You can find them here.

 

Gregg Brekke is a freelance writer, editor, photographer and videographer. He most recently served as Editor of Presbyterian News Service. He may be reached at gregg@sixview.com.