Ideas congregations can use to boost participation and giving
By Robyn Davis Sekula | For the Presbyterian Foundation
At 7:30 a.m. on November 29, 2017, the church phones at First United Presbyterian Church in Tarentum, Pa., were ringing. Callers wanted to know if the church had met the match for Giving Tuesday — and indeed, they had, and then some, says the Rev. Philip Beck, pastor of First United PC.
First United PC had a donor who had promised to match up to $2,000 any donations given as part of Giving Tuesday that were above and beyond the normal gifts members gave or pledged. The church ended up receiving nearly $13,000 from 21 online gifts made through the Presbyterian Foundation’s online giving portal. Members also showed up at the church with checks and cash, bringing the total to about $15,000.
“It’s an invitation to be a part of something,” Rev. Beck says. “The match makes a ton of difference. People like that. It gives an extra little kick for people to do something.”
Giving Tuesday is a day designed for online giving. It follows Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when hoards of shoppers head to retail centers to snap up holiday deals. Next comes the Monday after Thanksgiving, branded as “Cyber Monday,” when many click their way through bargains.
Pastors and church leaders are invited to attend a free webinar on how their congregation can participate in Giving Tuesday. It is set for Oct. 8 at 1 p.m. (EDT). The Presbyterian Foundation, Presbyterian Mission Agency and Office of the General Assembly are partnering to provide this webinar, which you can sign up for here. The Foundation is also providing bulletin inserts and other resources for use by congregations, which you can find here.
The theology of Giving Tuesday
Giving Tuesday has become a way to redirect energy away from acquiring stuff to improving communities and lives through generosity.
While Giving Tuesday is a secular day focused on nonprofits, churches can benefit from participation, says the Rev. Ellie Johns-Kelley, Ministry Relations Officer for the Northeast for the Presbyterian Foundation. “It’s a wonderful way as we are heading into Advent to take the focus away from materialism to investing in the ministries we love,” Johns-Kelly says. “It is an opportunity to participate in generosity and answer the call of God to meet the needs all around us, every day, including those served by our churches.”
Like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday comes just as we head into Advent, Johns-Kelly says. “It shifts us away from materialism to what Christmas is about — hope entering the world.”
How they did it
First United PC is a mid-sized church, Beck said, with about 175 attending worship on Sunday mornings. The community itself is largely blue-collar and highly responsive to local needs. The church has become part of the fabric of the community, hosting a farmers’ market and a community garden, among other ministries.
Beck first learned about Giving Tuesday at Stewardship Kaleidoscope, the Presbyterian stewardship conference held each fall. He began looking for ways for his church to participate, and he set a plan into place that first fall he returned from the conference. The first step was setting up online giving through the Presbyterian Foundation. “I was so grateful to end up at Stewardship Kaleidoscope and see that the Foundation was offering online giving,” Beck says. “It was a relatively easy setup for us, and it’s been remarkably good for us. The other piece to that is it has “Presbyterian” in the name so we immediately trust it.”
During the first year of participation in Giving Tuesday, no match was offered, and in the second year, the match was $1,000. The third year, the match was $2,000. “That’s part of the mark of success,” Beck says. “We’ve built up to this. It has taken three years to get filtered into the congregation, so they are more aware of it.”
Communicating the message
During 2017’s Giving Tuesday initiative, Beck and the church staff posted announcements in the church bulletin, the newsletter, on Facebook, using the #GivingTuesday hashtag online.
While all those methods are important — and he’ll use them again — Beck believes the most effective connection tool the church uses for Giving Tuesday is a text messaging service. Congregation members can sign up to participate and will get occasional messages from the church. On Giving Tuesday, the church pushed out text messages throughout the day reminding members of the congregation about Giving Tuesday. The messages included a link for members to visit and donate.
“My generation — I’m 49 — and younger responds to causes, and if you can make it easy to give, they’re totally on top of that,” Beck says. “The older generation at our church responds to causes, too. They may have more disposable income, so we do receive a few larger gifts.”
Timing with stewardship
First United PC doesn’t earmark the money raised on Giving Tuesday for any particular mission or ministry. The money the church raises through Giving Tuesday is for general purposes, he says, and is still very much needed to assist in the operating budget.
Communicating how the church uses money overall is very helpful when it comes time to fundraise on Giving Tuesday, Beck says. Giving Tuesday is successful at his church because follows the fall stewardship emphasis, which goes into detail on how the church uses the pledges and donations from the congregation. “Folks know where that goes,” Beck says. “Giving Tuesday comes after our stewardship season, and we use a narrative budget with our congregation, so they know where our money goes and what those pieces are: mission, music and worship, youth and families.”
Robyn Davis Sekula is serving as interim senior director of communications at the Presbyterian Foundation. She is a ruling elder and lives in New Albany, Indiana. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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