5 Best Practices for Online Giving

Years ago, I helped lead a bunch of workshops around the country to help churches create a stewardship strategy.

At the time, one of the big topics was digital giving.

We were getting questions about technology, fees, and the communication strategy for how to roll out digital giving.

  • Should we really encourage credit card giving?
  • Is PayPal a good enough solution?
  • How does giving online feel connected to the worship service?
  • Do we need a separate giving page or a giving kiosk in the lobby?

Looking back on this, it feels a little bit like wondering if automobiles, television, or the fad of wondering if the internet will stick around.

We’ve progressed to the point where online giving (or digital giving) is commonplace. It’s an accepted practice.

Even though it’s fairly normal for a church to accept digital donations and there are dozens of church-giving software solutions to enable these transactions, there’s still so much opportunity ahead of us.

Even if we have the software, we still may need to make adjustments to the process or the underlying strategy.

Here are five best practices for digital giving.

#1 – Giving online should be easy.  

Whether people are giving from your church website or on their phone, the steps need to be simple.

An important principle here: The easier you make something, the more people will do it. The donation page is one of the most important pages on your website. It should be clear, compelling, and easy to follow.  

  • Don’t ask for unnecessary information. Every extra field is a barrier.
  • Don’t require someone to create an account first.  That’s a roadblock right as they begin their journey.  
  • Don’t bury the call to action a few pages in or hide the ask among a flurry of buzzwords or jargon.

#2 – Digital Giving should be fast.  

A few years ago, I donated a small amount to the 100 fastest growing churches in the United States and both political party’s presidential campaigns and released the findings in a special report.

As you can imagine, I’m now on quite a few mailing lists.

But here’s what I found.

On average, it was 3x quicker to donate to a politician than it was to donate to a church, even the fastest-growing ones.

Every extra click invites people to STOP the process, and if they encounter too much friction, they will leave.

#3 – Online donations should be flexible.  

Digital giving should encompass your website and your app (if you have one). It needs to work on any computer and any phone using any operating system.

And it should allow the giver to give any way they want.

  • Connecting their bank account (ACH)
  • Giving via debit and credit cards
  • All types of credit cards, even ones that have slightly higher fees

There are emerging solutions that allow users to donate appreciated assets like stocks. And in the near future, crypto giving may become normalized.

These modern ways to give should not be avoided; they should be embraced. It wasn’t long ago that churches allowed people to give via check. That was revolutionary and questioned by many. 

#4 – Digital Giving should be intentional.

When physical gatherings were disrupted due to Covid, the churches who had spent the last several years teaching their people to set up automatic, recurring giving didn’t worry as much as those who were still dependent on passing the plate.

But many churches scrambled to implement quick tech solutions so people could give. There wasn’t time to carefully research and craft an implementation plan…it had to work quickly.

Maybe it’s time to step back and make sure you got into the right situation.

Just like recurring payments are the holy grail for business, recurring donations provide an extra layer of financial stability for churches.

Even though you offer digital giving solutions, particularly recurring ones, it’s not enough.

You have to teach people to use it.

You need to encourage action, not raise awareness.  

This might be:

  • Publicly thanking those who automate their giving
  • Creating intentional communication to donors showing them how to use automated solutions
  • Planning a special emphasis on this once a year (think of it like an internal communications campaign, the same way you might recruit volunteers)

#5 – Keep improving.

Digital giving is a must-have in churches today.

But it’s not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. You should periodically review your technology and processes, making it better and more user-friendly.

The thing you signed up for 5 years ago may not be the best solution today.

The decision you made quickly out of necessity might not be the thing that gets you to the next level.

That’s why it’s important to keep learning, keep evaluating, and keep improving.

Open up a private browser window and go to your own church website and make a donation like a first-timer. Record your screen so you can see how long it takes. Pretend you’re new and see if everything makes sense. Pay attention to the confirmation screens, the follow-up, and how you feel. Better yet…ask a friend, neighbor, or co-workers to do the same thing and give you feedback.

Take a look at other church's giving pages and look for ways to get better.

But your best bet might be learning from larger non-profits, e-commerce stores, and even political campaigns. See how they focus on the user interface and the user experience to make it fast, easy, and friendly.

Take the Next Step

If talking about money in church makes you uncomfortable, The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Stewardship will give you confidence. This free guide helps you create a strategy for encouraging people to give, thanking existing donors, and breaking through financially so your church can do what God has called you to do.