These are unprecedented times, and just as the economy is uncertain, the "economy" of many churches and nonprofits are also uncertain as giving falls off, but financial obligations stay constant.
It's easy (and partly correct) to blame the pandemic, but the foundation and culture of a church's online giving system before COVID-19 is what is directly impacting their experience now.
Only 60% of church attenders are willing to give digitally, and only 49% of church giving is done with a credit or debit card. Because of this, it is crucial to not only implement online giving in your church but also to do it well. Churches need to provide clear instructions to their communities when they begin to implement it. People tend to like habits, so if your members are used to giving with checks and cash, you want to make sure they know exactly how to give electronically as well.
There are three keys for churches seeking to implement or improve online giving in the age of COVID-19:
- Anchor your key givers. Churches often hesitate when it comes to segmenting givers. However, churches typically have "giving leaders," and most of the time, they are staff or volunteers. It is always good to pour into your staff and volunteers even when we are not facing a crisis, but a time of crisis like this is also a perfect time to reach out to them.
Make it a priority to genuinely check on your key givers and make sure they are OK. Refrain from using this time to ask them for something. Chances are if you notice a decrease in gifts from your top givers, it's as much on their mind as it is yours. Give them grace and love them through this challenging time.
- Conduct your offering effectively in the online church environment. There is a correlation between the quality of the online giving experience and church revenue. Churches must create a focused and special offering moment online. The fewer assumptions people have to make with online giving, the more comfortable they will become with new ways of giving. It's necessary for churches to have as many ways to give as possible. It may not be the most cost-efficient, but it is worth it to invest in the ways people will use the most.
- Communicate with your most engaged people. Make sure your community knows how to engage with your church. Utilize your social media pages, emails and website. That way, everyone will know how they can get in touch and stay informed about what your church is doing. This connection is vital so your members can remain engaged and feel supported.
If your church is not used to employing a lot of technology, there is no better time than right now to give it a try! It's crucial to meet your congregation where they are while also being agile. Speed isn't the main thing churches need right now. Churches need a sense of normalcy and consistency.
Explore all other options before cutting staff. Churches tend to overstaff, which leaves them without financial reserves. Because of that, cutting staff is one of the first things that comes to mind during a crisis, but it may not be the first step churches have to make. Measuring numbers is essential, but you should also walk through different scenarios and map out all your options to help you resist fast decision-making. It's crucial to explore all additional options before cutting your church staff.
Balance community needs with internal needs. In a crisis, it's critical to balance the community's needs and the internal needs of the organization. In the middle of a global crisis, a lot of people don't have extra capacity or are conserving their resources. In these times, it's important not to push your congregation monetarily. You can, however, deploy methods of fundraising or have your congregation get together to help the community in nonmonetary ways.
Resilience depends on a clear vision and strong giving systems. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, some churches needed a lot of time to recover from the financial blow, while other churches grew despite the crisis. Churches who rebound the fastest typically have a clear vision and strong giving systems. Churches should be aware that the giving culture of a church in a healthy, normal climate is a reflection of what will continue during a harder time.
Pay close attention to payroll and build a financial reserve. Churches should have at least three months of operating expenses in savings so you do not have to hit the panic button during a global crisis. But if push comes to shove, and hard decisions do need to be made, church leaders will need to determine which functions are essential and which are just nice to have but not crucial.
Everyone at church is appreciated, and every role is important. However, some functions must go on, while others can be dropped if necessary.
One way to reduce costs is to implement a 10% pay cut across every role for the time being so that no layoffs would have to take place. Reserves exist for this very reason. If you need to let someone go, then it's best to do so while you can still provide some support for them.
Tim Stevens is vice president of consulting at Vanderbloemen. Jim Sheppard is principal at Generis, and Holly Tate is vice president of business development at Vanderbloemen.
Founded by William Vanderbloemen, Vanderbloemen serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. William Vanderbloemen's newest book, Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, is coming to booksellers everywhere April 21.
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