Generosity in adversity
Advice on how congregations can maintain income during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In every parish throughout the country, ministry and mission continue to be delivered even in these times of challenge and restriction. You may be concerned as to how your congregation’s income is being impacted while buildings are closed and gatherings are cancelled. Below are some ways to help your congregation’s financial stewardship at this critical time.
Use every means you can to communicate with your church family at this time. Websites and social media are crucial tools for this. Highlight what your church is doing and how people can support each other through the use of technology. Encourage folk to continue to play their part through prayer, practical help and regular giving.
A time of Offering during online services
Over the last few months, many of our congregations have adapted their services for online worship, providing people with a place and time to gather to worship God. Just as hymns, readings, the sermon and prayers are important parts of our services of worship, so too is the Offering. It may be, however, that the usual time of Offering within our services has been omitted because the physical offering is not being taken up.
Having a dedicated time of Offering provides worshippers with an opportunity to recognise and actively respond to God’s generous grace, love and mercy. Our offerings are an act of worship to God, whether we are in church or at home.
A time of Offering can be incorporated in different ways into your church’s online worship services. You may find the following advice worth consideration:
An act of worship
This time should be sacred, focused, prayerful and intentional. The Offering is not an intimation, an intermission or an after-thought and should be incorporated within the order of service at the most fitting point. Make use of engaging resources, readings, prayers, images and thoughtful questions to enhance this act of worship.
Give thanks for generous giving
Over this period of restrictions on church gatherings, many of our members have faithfully given their offerings to ensure that the ministry and mission of the Church continue to be resourced. This giving should be acknowledged and encouraged. Remind your congregation of the importance and impact of their giving, expressing thankfulness for it. Relate their offerings to the church’s present work and future vision.
Provide information to enable giving
Provide different giving methods to accommodate the varied needs of your congregation, possibly highlighting these during the intimations or, if appropriate, during the time of Offering itself. (A range of ways to give is featured in the ‘digital giving’ section below.) Include links to digital giving methods on your online platforms and provide information on Standing Orders and freewill offering envelopes too.
For practical resources to support an online Time of Offering, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
During these current restrictions, congregations are looking at how to provide safe and easy ways of enabling people to continue to give offerings and donations to support the work of the church. Whilst standing orders are the preferred method for regular giving, Kirk Sessions should also be considering digital giving options.
For each of these options, it is important to inspire people to give, telling the story of your congregation’s work, for example how it supports the local community and others through its ministry, practical support and loving care.
Whichever option is chosen a merchant account is necessary to process the donor’s payment card and transfer the donation to the congregation’s bank account. Most providers will have step by step guidance on how to set this up. You will be required to complete an application form, supply proof of ID for one or more congregational trustees and proof that the bank account into which the funds will be deposited belongs to the congregation (usually a bank statement is sufficient). You may also be required to provide a link to your website or a copy of your annual accounts.
The Church of Scotland does not recommend a particular supplier but offers some information about a few suppliers to help congregations get started. It is imperative that, before making a commitment, the local Congregational Trustees take time to fully consider the costs, terms and conditions, regulatory compliance and whether ongoing customer support is available.
Contactless giving devices
Contactless devices allow donors to give to the congregation with a simple tap of their card or smart device. The device is set with usually three or four different amounts for donors to choose from. These pre-set amounts can be changed at any time to suit different circumstances or projects.
All devices are managed by a password protected online portal or dashboard. This provides information on all donations and in some cases allows customisation of the device. As contactless giving is eligible for the Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme (GASDS) the information collected can be used for such a claim. Some suppliers also enable the collection of Gift Aid information through a secure encryption.
For any contactless device to be of real benefit donors must know it is there. This sounds simple but without effective communication and attractive publicity donors may well walk past the device unaware of its presence.
Contactless devices should not be passed from person to person but situated in a prominent location. Donors should sanitise their hands before and after selecting a donation amount or use a disposable glove and the screen should be cleaned regularly.
Online giving page
A ‘Donate Button’ on your congregation’s website is a great way to encourage members, friends and supporters of your congregation to start or continue to give. It will also offer the opportunity for continuing support once church buildings are fully operational again and looking to encourage online giving either for the general work of the congregation or for particular appeals and projects.
There are numerous providers available including well-known names like Just Giving, PayPal or Charities Aid Foundation. It may be worth considering a provider who has specialist knowledge of how churches operate to make the process a little more straightforward. Three such providers are:
- Data Developments: Many congregations are already making use of software and support for accounting, Gift Aid and church management from Data Developments. Their software package (MyGivingOnline) can be used to accept online donations, process all your donations (online and otherwise), process and reclaim Gift Aid and provide detailed reporting. They also give the donor the option to add the transaction fee to their donation which can make a significant difference to the congregation. You can find more information on their website.
- Give.net is part of Stewardship.org, a Christian not-for-profit charity. They also process and reclaim Gift Aid on eligible donations as well as providing reports which can be downloaded for accounting purposes. You can find more information on their website.
- Stewardship.org is a useful website for other aspects of stewardship too. More information can be found on their website.
- Dona Donations offers a simple stand-alone giving page for congregations. Gift Aid information is collated for you to reclaim. The donor can choose which fund to give to, should you have a range of projects. You can find more information on their website .
National donate facility
If your congregation does not have its own donate button, the donate facility on the Church’s national website has the capability to direct donations given to specific congregations via a central donation page through PayPal. You can find out more here.
Quick Response (QR) code
This is a unique image code of small black and white squares. It is read by the camera or code reader on a smartphone or tablet and takes the donor directly to a website giving page. It can be included in printed material, websites or online services. There are several providers available and, if you already have an online giving page or donate button, your provider may also be able to supply a QR code.
Takepayments has developed an attractive QR code package called ‘Dot Donations’ specifically for congregations. This includes a personalised landing page as well as a pull-up advertising banner, donation boxes, QR stickers and posters.
For more information please email Fiona Penny at email@example.com.
Text giving enables anyone with a mobile phone to give to the congregation by texting a keyword and donation amount. The donation is added to the donor’s phone bill or deducted from their credit. Keyword information can be incorporated into social media, websites, printed material and online services. There are several providers including:
Many congregations benefit from the talents of their members who make and contribute goods for church sales and fetes and get involved in other fundraising efforts throughout the year. These efforts and events promote fellowship and help reduce social isolation within a congregation and community, as well as providing an additional source of income from all of this creativity. Gatherings have not been possible this year, but there are a number of alternative fundraising methods available.
There may be events in your church’s calendar which would work online such as music concerts, quiz nights or coffee mornings. These may need a bit of creative thinking, taking into account the range of gifts and talents within your congregation and community, but with planning and publicity these events could successfully be run online. You may wish to sell tickets beforehand (sites such as Eventbrite.com can help with this), with the tickets providing access to the events.
Where resources and restrictions allow, virtual coffee mornings or crafting days might involve the safe delivery of participation boxes, filled with cakes or craft supplies, to those who have bought tickets.
An easy way to get people involved in fundraising efforts is to encourage sponsored events. As well as individual sponsored events, collective challenges can bring a joint sense of purpose. For example, having everyone’s individual sponsored walk contributing towards a cumulative goal such as 500 miles in a month or the miles to your church’s twinning partner if you have one.
In all of these matters, the safety and wellbeing of our volunteers, staff and participants are key. Please follow Government and Church of Scotland guidelines at all stages of planning and implementation of your fundraising events.
Facebook Marketplace enables users to sell a wide range of goods. Facebook does not facilitate transactions, but provides a place for sellers to advertise their goods, leaving the details of any sales, such as the price, shipping and other logistics, to the buyer and seller. Selling an item on Facebook Marketplace is an easy process which can be achieved in five steps:
- Log on to your Facebook profile
- Click Marketplace in the left column of News Feed
- Click + Sell Something
- Enter your item information
- Click Add Photos to upload a photo of your item from your computer and then click Post.
EBay is a well-established online marketplace. To sell an item you must register for a selling account. You will be required to add a payment method for eBay selling fees or charges. Fee information can be found on their website. To sell your item:
- Describe your product in detail and add photos
- State the selling price and choose the auction or fixed price format
- Select shipping options, return policy and payment method.
Etsy is a global online market place where small businesses and independent organisations come together to buy and sell items. The security of buyer and sellers’ details is a priority for Etsy. There are some costs involved. Further information can be found on the Etsy website.
For more information or advice on these selling platforms please contact Ashley Johnston, firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a wide variety of external fundraising sources which may be used to increase congregational income, including:
Online shopping cashback
Platforms such as Amazon Smile (for Amazon purchases) and Easyfundraising (for purchases from a wide range of sellers) allow individuals to support charities when shopping online from the comfort of their own homes and at no additional cost. This involves registering with a platform which links to your online shopping. Shopping through these platforms results in a percentage contribution being made to your chosen charity.
Many national supermarkets have schemes to support local charities, such as Tesco Bags of Help and Sainsbury’s Local Charity Scheme. Whilst application processes can be lengthy and involved, if successful these can result in a significant grant to your congregation.
Crowdfunding is a way to raise funds through the internet by appealing to many people to give a little each. If you are seeking funds, a profile for your project can be set up on a crowdfunding site such as justgiving, Facebook fundraising or GoFundMe. You can then use social media, alongside traditional networks, to promote your fundraising. People give to a cause if they believe in it, so it is important to communicate well and promote effectively.
Facebook Fundraiser Page
The creation of a Facebook Fundraiser page can enable and encourage people to give. Some congregations are already using this quick and easy way to enable remote giving. A guide to creating Facebook Fundraiser pages is available here.
Grants and funding
External grants and funding can provide a financial lifeline to congregations during these difficult times. COVID-19 funding page lists a number of grants that are available during this crisis. Whichever grant making bodies you choose to contact, ensure that the specific criteria is addressed in your application. An early email or telephone call to the grant-giving body can save a lot of time and effort in the application process.
Hall usage review
This may be a good time for Kirk Sessions to review their stewardship of church hall space in ‘normal times’ in preparation for the future, taking time to discuss and consider:
- Whether or not hall-using groups are likely to resume once restrictions have been removed;
- If hall rents are set at a realistic level (nb rent levels may rightly be influenced by the intended purpose of the activity);
- If the congregation has become too reliant on income from hall lets, potentially impacting on offerings;
- Whether or not the right balance is being struck between generating income from lets and the availability and use of hall space for the congregation’s core purposes ie more direct mission and community engagement.
You may be interested to watch the third Chalmers Lecture 2019 which considers this matter in more depth.
Many members already give their offerings by standing order. Encourage those who usually give through envelopes or the open plate to consider setting up a standing order. A form is available on our site for emailing or posting to interested members. (Please note: the form can be filled out on a computer but you must download it before filling it out, otherwise you will not be able to save your changes.)
Freewill offering envelopes
Encourage those members of your congregation who wish to continue giving through their envelopes to continue to do so and make arrangements for their uplift when it is safe.
Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme (GASDS)
In response to the COVID-19 situation HMRC officials have released the following statement with regards to the Gift Aid Small Donation Scheme:
“In respect of GASDS, guidance on the eligibility for donations for inclusion in this scheme is clear in stating that claims can only be made on cash donations of £30 or less; and contactless card donations of £30 or less collected on or after 6 April 2019. The decision over what constitutes an eligible donation is one for the church/charity to make for themselves, rather than for HMRC, but the conditions for something to be considered a ‘small donation’ are clearly set out in legislation. Where it is the case, for example, of separate donations being given in a single envelope, then if the church/charity official is happy these are clearly separate ‘small donations’ (and clearly stated as such) then they will be eligible for GASDS, as is the case where separate envelopes are used.”
Therefore if a member, for example, puts £250 cash in an envelope and marks it as 10 weeks of £25 weekly donations for the occasions where they have not been able to make a regular cash offering, it appears HMRC would be happy for the gift to regard them as eligible donations under GASDS. Alternatively 10 separate envelopes less than £30 could be included where these are clearly separate donations.
Please remember that only cash and contactless payments are eligible for GASDS. Cheques and other electronic payments are NOT eligible.
Some congregations have had the opportunity to create reserves over previous years. Now may well be the time for careful stewardship of these reserves and assessing if they could be used at this time, starting with restricted funds wherever possible.