This December Mistake Could Cost Your Church Thousands

Leadership // December 7, 2016

I want to share a very important task with you today. This is an idea that, if you implement it by December 20, will increase giving in your church during the last two weeks of the year.

We know a large percentage of giving happens right at the end of the year. One third of all charitable giving happens in the last 3 months of the year, and 18% comes in the month of December. Also 31% of all ONLINE giving occurs in the month of December! Do I have your attention?

So here’s a way to receive a bigger slice of the pie. I’ll get right to the point of this post, and then let you read on for the full story: prepare and send an 11-month giving statement by December 20 (earlier if possible).

I’m Unusual

I’m not like most people sitting in the seats of your worship center during the weekend. I monitor giving closely. My wife and I set giving goals every year, and we strive to reach them. Giving is a priority for us.

I recall a few years back when I thought we were right on track toward our giving goal. At the end of December, I ran my usual giving report from my personal finance software. (I said I’m unusual, so here’s more proof: I actually run giving reports in my personal finance software!)

Expecting to see my giving at a particular place, I was surprised, (shocked actually) that where I THOUGHT we were for the year, and where we ACTUALLY were, didn’t match. We were significantly behind. How could that have happened? It didn’t matter – it had happened.

Fortunately it was December 30, so I was able to run a check up to the church office, and our goal was attained. (I am now in the practice of running my giving report more frequently. I don’t like last minute surprises!)

What’s the Lesson?

Most people don’t track their giving the way I do. Most people go through the year with good intentions, but likely aren’t keeping generosity front of mind the way you hope they might. They may have even heard your amazing generosity series earlier in the year and made a commitment to grow in their giving from that point forward. But as time goes on, the priority fades, and the commitment may even be forgotten as the stress of everyday life consumes their attention.

If the typical end-of-year statement arrives in January, and if, like me in my story, their giving isn’t where they wanted it, it’s too late to do anything about it for that year. (Most think of giving in a calendar year – they missed their target, but promise to do better in the current year. You know what happens – this scenario repeats itself year after year.)

I review communications strategies as part of every engagement with my church clients. One of the things we evaluate is the content, frequency, AND timing of giving statements throughout the year. Here’s what I find and what I recommend:

  • Surprising to me, the majority of churches only mail one giving statement per year – in January, per IRS requirements.
  • That’s too infrequent for sure. I strongly recommend four giving statement mailings per year, but the timing may surprise you.
    • Four statements to most means a quarterly statement, equally spaced apart on the calendar. That’s actually not my recommendation, as that rhythm misses a statement mailing in the most critical month of the year – December.
    • That’s right – you should prepare and send a giving statement with an effective cover letter in December.

Why Should We Send a December Statement?

You may be thinking that it doesn’t make sense to send a statement in December, because they’ll receive one just 30 days later for tax reporting purposes. Great point! But here are three reasons for you to consider:

1. Most people believe they’ve given more during the year than they actually have. It has happened to me – and I know it happens to others. When the typical January statement mailing comes, we see what we’ve given (or not given), and then we regret not giving as much as we had hoped or planned. People often think, “oh well – we’ll do better this year.” As a result, the church loses what might have been a ‘catch-up’ gift in late December.

2. People are considering where to make their charitable contributions at year end. Our mailboxes and inboxes are full of appeals from other non-profits, all seeking end-of-year gifts. I know you want your church to be top of mind as people are making their final giving plans of the year. Why do you think all those other organizations are mailing in December? Get in the game!

3. This time of year can be a terrific on-ramp for new givers in your church. Make it a point to invite new givers into a personal journey of generosity as they begin to invest in the mission and vision of your ministry.

One third of all #charitable #giving happens in the last 3 months of the year. Click To Tweet

What Should We Send?

  • A giving statement, reflecting 11 months of giving to the general fund: January – November
    • If you’re in a campaign or generosity initiative, the statement should also include their initial commitment, and their total giving toward that commitment since inception.
  • A bright, colorful, cover letter full of ministry impact stories and photos
    • Remember to connect the dots between the generosity of your church and those life change stories
  • The mailing should go to everyone – givers and non-givers alike
    • To the givers say, “Thank you for your continued faithfulness in supporting the mission and ministries of First Church.”
    • To non-givers, strike the thank you, and write, “We would love to encourage you to join us in the financial support of the mission and ministries of First Church.” And no, don’t include a statement with a $0. I know you may be tempted, but don’t.

Statement mailings are so important. I encourage you to create your cover letter, and then send it to me for a review. I’ll gladly offer suggestions to strengthen the mailing for optimal impact. Time is of the essence, and I’ll get numerous requests to review, so it’s first come, first served.

Ready? Go!

About Rusty Lewis

As a church leader, there’s nothing more frustrating than not having the funding to do what God’s calling you to do. But when you think about trying to address that problem, you feel overwhelmed, you dread the potential pushback from your congregation, and you’re not sure where to turn for help. Over the last 18 years, I’ve helped more than 120 churches close the gap between their current financial reality and what they need to move forward in ministry.

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