4 Stories Hiding In Your Giving Data and What to Do About Them
Your giving data could be hiding important opportunities to connect with your people—but what if you could quickly analyze that data to know why people give, what causes them to stop giving, and track your givers so you can take the right actions to keep them engaged?
The Story Behind the Stats
Churches collect all sorts of data, but without knowing the story behind it, the information lacks value.
Generally, when you notice a shift in behavior, whether it’s someone giving for the first time, dramatically increasing their gift, or a reduction in giving, you’ll want to uncover the hidden story. Before you can, however, there are a few conditions you should meet, which we’ll cover in this blog.
We’ll also discuss:
Four common stories behind changes in giving habits
What you can do about them
How software makes all of this easier and gets you back to doing what you do best—ministry
If you’re short on time and want to see how software makes this possible, check out Church Analytics. Talk with a data expert about uncovering the stories in your data with the click of a button—get your demo now.
Certain insights help you uncover deeper stories behind your people’s giving behavior. Without them, you’ll only ever see the ripples on the surface.
Identify Your New, Lapsed, and Retained Givers
Givers commonly belong to one of three groups: new, lapsed, and retained—and the amount they donate varies across the board. Identifying who belongs to which group is an important step to uncovering the narrative of giving in your organization.
Let’s break it down.
New givers represent people who give to the general fund for the first time. This represents the "front door" of giving to your church. Generis CEO, Jim Sheppard explains that one of the keys to growing the church is to make this front door as "sticky" as possible—that is, making sure people stay when they start showing up. These new givers represent growth and are a key first-step to building a habit of financial support to the church.
Lapsed givers represent people who have given $500 or more to the general fund in the last 12 months, but give less than $500 to the general fund the following year. This represents a “back door” to giving at your church. As a church focused on fundraising, you want to make the back door as small as possible. In other words, try to catch people on the way out, before they leave. You’ll also want to decide the specifics of what lapsed givers look like in your church.
Retained givers provide stability. They represent your ability to engage with your givers and nurture them through a growing financial commitment. They can also signal a loss of message or focus if you notice dropping levels of giving, even though they remain active. Watching your level of retained givers helps you monitor the impact of your efforts to communicate with and keep your people engaged.
Consider conducting an audit to see an overview of different givers, percentages, and giving trends. To do this, you’ll want to analyze giving records over the previous three to five years. Most churches have this information in their church management system or giving management tools, but lack the software to analyze it. If this is the case, we’ve got software that can help.
Compare Audiences and Locations
Giving habits can vary by location.
You may find that a high density of your new, lapsed, or retained givers live in the same geographic area. You can use these unique geographic insights to tailor your outreach strategy, identify ministry opportunities (more about those ministry opportunities in a minute), communicate new initiatives, and even align your ministry’s budget.
Assess Your Giving Bands
While money is not the point of church and ministry, giving trends can provide indications around the life and stories of your people.
According to Tithe.ly, 30–40% of church attendees give $0, 30–40% of attendees give $1–500 annually, and 80% of attendees give less than $10 per week. In addition, Christianity Today found that only 10–25% of families pay a tithe, but they often provide 50–80% of a church’s funding. Categorized into different tiers, a giving band analysis provides the opportunity to see who gives what in your ministry.
Obtaining software that allows you to identify the giving bands within your ministry can help you identify your givers, and make sure your ministry is aligning with their needs. In addition, you gain the ability to see if givers progress from one tier to another.
Identify Their Values and Motivations
When you identify what matters to your givers, you can make informed decisions of how to structure your ministry, budget, and more.
A lack of giving doesn’t always mean a lack of money. Chances are, your givers might just not be wanting to give. A recent article by Pushpay states that 32% of all donations go to religious organizations. And yet, the New York Times recorded in 2016 that religious giving had decreased by about 50% since 1990. The reason, they say, is because the money being spent doesn’t align with people’s values and motivations.
Two helpful resources:
The free Mind of the Giver guide from Generis will help you identify the different types of givers in your organization, as well as how to engage them.
You may find it useful to create personas for your different givers using these free persona templates. Once you identify personas, you can begin to make decisions that align with them.
It All Comes Back to the Story
Remember, changes in giving habits are often indicators of a deeper story. Once you meet the conditions, you can begin to venture below the surface of your giving data. In this section, we explain four common hidden stories, and how to use them as opportunities for ministry.
A Hidden Spiritual Story
When we interviewed Jim Sheppard, he talked about the role someone’s spiritual story can play in their giving. He encouraged us to consider someone who may be wrestling with their faith. Perhaps they aren’t sure they align with the message of the gospel or what they’re reading in scripture. It could even be a matter of them finding themselves in the midst of a spiritual drought. Whatever the case, it’s not at all uncommon for the state of someone’s spirituality to inform their giving habits. After all, how often do you find yourself increasing the amount of money you give to something you aren’t sure about (or even giving to it at all)?
Similarly, Sheppard explained that someone could be experiencing major growth or encouragement in their faith. Perhaps a sermon series or passage of the Bible is resonating with them in a relevant way. You could imagine how a natural response would be to steadily give, or increase giving to such a source of encouragement and spiritual growth.
Sheppard’s point: dynamics within one’s spiritual journey are often uncovered as the deeper story behind a change in their giving habits. Understanding this story is valuable to your ministry. It allows you to both understand the current state of the individual, as well as assess if your ministry can do anything to help.
A Hidden Church Story
Churches we work with tell us that the current state of an individual’s spirituality is one thing, but the reason why is another—and it’s worth knowing if the church itself has anything to do with it.
Some possibilities could include your people:
Not aligning with the sermon series
Disliking the pastor
Not connecting with the church community
Not agreeing with how your church spends its money
Disliking the volunteer projects
Disliking the worship program
Feeling like the church lacks something they’re looking for
Uncovering the story gives you the opportunity to have a conversation with the individual about how your church can improve, or perhaps helping them understand why you carry out ministry the way you do. If necessary, adjusting parts of how your church does ministry will likely result in increased personal growth for your people.
People may just as likely increase their giving because they feel that your ministry aligns with them. Identifying this leads to opportunities for them to share a success story. Be sure to capture these testimonies to share with your community and further promote the mission of your church. In addition, reinforce the areas of your ministry that you find your givers to resonate with.
A Hidden Story at Home
We work with churches who have also discovered that you can’t go merely off how someone acts on a Sunday. Sheppard encourages churches to remember that anything could be happening at home. When you notice a change in giving behavior, changes at home are likely to be a reason. It’s important to have a conversation with the individual to see if this is the case. You may discover that they’re going through a divorce, have lost a loved one, had a medical emergency, or lost their house. Uncovering this story gives you and your ministry the chance to serve them and connect them to the right help. Both allow you to show them what you really care about.
For members who are experiencing positive change at home, uncovering their story gives you the opportunity to celebrate with them and ask how your ministry can partner with them in their success. Sheppard explains that having a child, getting a new job, or overcoming addiction are all positive changes with opportunities for your ministry to step in—and to not be afraid to welcome the extra giving on their part if they feel moved toward doing so.
A Hidden Relocation Story
Changes in someone’s giving behavior could be due to something as practical as a change in physical location. In this scenario, a member who’s new to the area may still be figuring out if your church is the right fit for them. Identifying this allows you to intentionally reach out to get them connected and share more about your mission.
For someone moving away from your church, you won’t be able to retain them as a church member, but you can work with them to find the right church in their new area.
Identifying your new, lapsed, and retained givers can be helpful here. Consider scanning the list of your new givers and reaching out to see if they are also new to the area. Reaching out to lapsed givers to see if they are moving away can be valuable as well.
Capture the Impact Story
As Pushpay writes, “[Givers] want to know where it’s going and how it’s being used.” You don’t have to have incredibly captivating goals, but you do need to let people know why their support is needed and how it will make an impact.
No matter which stories you uncover, be sure to always report on the result of your impact. How are lives changing because of your church? What can your church do to improve? How is the mission of your ministry aligning with the needs of your givers? Organizations with the mission to serve people will always benefit from recording their impact—and assessing for alignment. Gathering these findings doesn’t need to involve data, analytics, or software. Simply pick up the phone and initiate a conversation.
These four stories are common explanations behind changes in giving behavior. Meeting the proper conditions helps you uncover them, and informs conversations around what you’re seeing with their giving. More importantly, you’ll have the ability to connect with them on a deeper level. Whether the conversation results in adjusting parts of your strategy, or celebrating a success story, both can strengthen your ministry. Not to mention, when your givers feel their needs are being met, they’re more likely to give.
Software Makes it Easy
Your church management software holds the data you need to analyze. But doing so isn’t easy when you’re left to your own human efforts. Software exists that will take your data and report on it in powerful ways. This can include access to visualizations of your church’s giving bands, trends, percentages, and giver information right at your fingertips. With data analytics software you can gain knowledgeable insights that help you uncover the hidden stories of your people. The best tools should provide you with these insights with the click of a button—and with Church Analytics, it’s easier now than ever before.
Following the Indicators
Jim Sheppard informs us that shifts in giving behavior are often indicators of a deeper narrative in the lives of your people. Uncovering these stories is a one-way ticket to knowing them better and connecting on a deeper level—not to mention opportunities for ministry. Meeting the right conditions helps you uncover the deeper information. Though your church likely collects data, having the right software to analyze the data is the key to revealing the story behind the stats.