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Smartphone Giving: 'What's In Your Digital Wallet?'

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.

Part 1 of a 3-part series

When I started my position as Director of Stewardship at Discipleship Ministries (GBOD back then), I realized quickly that a key area of my focus would be leading churches toward digital giving.

I began to hear about some churches inviting their donors to use phone apps like Venmo, Zelle, Cash App, ApplePay, and the mobile PayPal app for their weekly contribution. Though I haven’t found any research yet on the number of churches moving in this direction, it seems an appropriate time to take a closer look.

Smartphone apps for moving money digitally from one person to another – “peer-to-peer” is the term often used – have become an extremely popular alternative to carrying cash or a debit card, especially for the millennial generation. Venmo, Zelle, Cash App, and other similar apps would fall into that category. ApplePay, GooglePay, and PayPal are payment apps made popular through online shopping services like eBay and the Apple Store but are often used for peer-to-peer payment.

If your church is considering offering a mobile cash app to its giving options (or if you already have), this series of articles is for you. In each of the three parts, I will try to explore a few questions.

Is this what our donors need and desire? This is a great question to ask: is this an expressed need, or is it a perceived need? In other words, are donors seeking this as a way to give, or is someone suggesting it because he or she thinks it’s a need (or we want to have all the “latest and greatest”)?

I will often say to churches, “More options are better than fewer options.” However, if your church has a vendor who provides you with a platform for electronic giving, it might already include an option or app for mobile giving. Does your congregation know all the helpful options your current giving platform provides? Using your existing platform might be better for security purposes and provide more accessible reporting of donor contributions.

Is it the best direction for our church? Most of the people I speak with who work in the world of funding churches and nonprofits agree that the “gold standard” for digital giving is electronic recurring giving. This should be the goal: to get as many donors as possible to use an automated process. Electronic recurring giving can happen easily through an online giving platform (Vanco, PushPay, Tithely, and many others) or through people using an “auto-pay” function offered by their banks. This may be a consideration when offering other digital ways for members to give their tithes and offerings. Will this option help move them toward programed recurring giving or further from it?

Will it encourage greater generosity? This is a tough question, and it may have to be interpreted based on your local church and context. At this point, there don’t seem to be enough churches receiving gifts in this way to provide quantitative data. I would again suggest that providing a user-friendly way for a donor or family to set up recurring electronic gifts, along with the proper resources for determining what level of giving is in tune with their growth in discipleship, would yield greater growth in generosity.

Does it provide the best donor experience? It should be relatively easy for those who wish to give generously to your church to do so. Venmo, Cash App, Zelle, and even PayPal and ApplePay are easy to use, but providing a positive user experience for donors is about more than ease of use and there needs to a be mechanism for digital givers to get a timely acknowledgment and a thank you!

excerpt from a story by Rev. Ken Sloane, Director, Stewardship & Generosity, Discipleship Ministries

United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.

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