Data should drive processes for engaging your existing and potential donors
by Chuck Toney for the Presbyterian Foundation | Special to Presbyterian News Service
A minister attended church in a town she was visiting. As was her practice, she made a small gift by personal check during the offering. A week or so later, she received in the mail a packet of information about that church’s capital campaign, asking her if she wanted to contribute.
“That was a waste of a stamp,” said presenter Meredith McNabb with a wry smile.
McNabb is Assistant Director for Education at the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving. She presented at Stewardship Kaleidoscope, an annual conference on stewardship and generosity, held in Minneapolis this year Sept. 25-27. The Presbyterian Foundation is a sponsor of the conference.
The church had four data points about this visitor: she made a small gift, she was a first-time giver, she was not a member of the church, and she does not live in the community. “None of those data points led to the conclusion that she would contribute to the capital campaign,” McNabb said.
The lesson? Data informs the stories we tell about our organizations and their mission, but it does not replace them.
“I am often asked questions like these: ‘Who do I ask for money? How much should I ask for? How do I get those big grants?’” McNabb told the attendees at the 2023 Stewardship Kaleidoscope conference. “Those quests for data are helpful for those seeking relationships. Sometimes, those inquiries are transactional and are simply about raising as much money as possible.
“There are no real shortcuts to the engagement part of this; there is no magic key; there are no magic words. We use data to build relationships, not just increase financial transactions. Gifts should be good for the giver as well as the recipient.”
Context for church fundraising
McNabb shared several sets of statistics and trends at the national level as context for raising money in churches and as foundation for practical advice she would offer later in the presentation.
- 64% of the almost $500 billion donated in 2022 came from individuals — $319.4 billion.
- 21% came from foundations.
- 50% of American households engage in some level of charitable giving, but that is down from 70% 20 years ago.
- While religious giving has fallen over that period, it is still the dominant form of household giving.
The Bank of America affluent household giving study, with affluent defined as $1 million in assets, shows that from 2017-20, issue-based giving rose by 13% while organization-based giving fell by 9%. As might be expected, younger donors are more likely to give in support of causes or issues that are important to them, while older donors continue to donate to organizations that they trust. Finally, trust in institutions, including religious ones, is declining. A Giving USA 2023 study reveals that while nonprofit organizations and religious institutions are at the top of the ranking, they scored only 39% and 31.3% as trusted “completely or very much to generally do what’s right.”
“Those are some landscape data to think about,” McNabb said. “I want to turn now to some data sources for your organization or congregation. How can you harness your data and put it to use for good engagement?”
The first source of data is the historic giving patterns in each congregation — the people whom you know. McNabb shared a Giving Pyramid that divided those gifts into three categories by number of giving units, not by the amount given:
- 10% — largest gifts
- 20% — upgraded gifts
- 70% — base gifts
This allows church leaders to analyze giving patterns by amount and number of gifts. Another pattern to examine is “square givers” — people who give the same amount every month, quarter, or year. These are often donors who are ready to make an increase in that regular gift. When are people making gifts? Are they giving in response to specific opportunities or purposes? This kind of data informs the way churches can communicate with donors to increase their engagement, which often leads to increased giving.
“This is not just about getting people to move up the pyramid,” McNabb explained. “Henri Nouwen said, ‘Those who need money and those who can give money meet on the common ground of God’s love.’” That, she said, is the relationship-building stewardship practice that a thoughtful and loving use of data supports.
In every community, there are people whom your church doesn’t know but who might offer financial support if a connection can be established. Available online tools such as MissionInsite (fee for service) and the Association of Religion Data Archives (free) offer “big data packaging” and access to publicly available demographic, geographic, economic, educational and other information. “The data alone does not unlock the goodness, but I don’t think the stories alone do either,” she said. “Think about how you can work with data and pull that into to your setting in meaningful ways.”
McNabb then shared a progression module for stewardship engagement:
- Linkage — What is the connection to your church? Is the person a member? Is she a community member who does not attend? What does he know about your church, good or bad?
- Ability – What is this person’s financial capacity for making a gift, being careful to honor and celebrate all gifts.
- Interest – What is she passionate about? Does that passion align with anything your church does? Cultivate that interest to develop advocates.
“There is a whole lot of data that we can pick up about our constituencies that helps us know more about who our current givers are, how they give and why they give. There is also data about the people we don’t know yet and ways that we can consider how to engage them most robustly and authentically,” McNabb said. “Where is it that our organizational goals and the donor’s best interests overlap? That is where the alignment is going to come.”
Chuck Toney is the founder of C. Toney Communications in Athens, Georgia. Chuck is an elder, usher, and lay reader at First Presbyterian Church of Athens. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, at email@example.com.
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.