36 Lessons We Learned from Donating Online to 10 Churches

Giving through a church’s website continues to be a preferred channel and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Looking at the broader non-profit sector, it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a shift toward giving through online channels:

  • 2 billion dollars a year is given to non-profits through their websites. [ref]
  • Online giving is growing at a rate of 13% a year. [ref]
  • Monthly recurring giving grew online by 32% in the last year! [ref]

How does your online giving experience compare to those of leading churches? We ran an experiment here at unSeminary: we set out to make $10 donations to 10 leading churches so we could learn from what others are doing. Each of these churches is fast growing and influential. We recorded the donation sessions so you can peek inside what it was like to give to them. We’ve also provided a copy of the giving receipt for you to see.

Here’s what we learned from giving to these great churches:

  • Speed Matters // All things online should be fast. People are used to making quick decisions online and they want your website to be fast and responsive. Think through the steps between landing on your site and making a donation. Are there any “friction” points? Remove unnecessary steps in the process. Watch that you don’t require people to enter extraneous information that isn’t directly applicable to making a donation. Often, we want to use these interactions to collect information on people that might be helpful for other initiatives … resist this temptation. Think about it from your donors’ point of view. They want to make a donation and move on. Simplify every step to make it as easy as possible.
  • Make It Obvious // Don’t make people hunt for where to give.  We learned about this mistake a few years ago when we changed our website and put the “give” option on the top line of every page. Just making that change paid for the entire web redesign project in a few weeks because of the increased giving we received. Your church needs revenue to function and we’re convinced that generosity is an important aspect of thriving spiritual life … so don’t make it difficult for people to give to your church.
  • Build Trust // People are increasingly comfortable with online transactions, but we still need to build trust for donors. Provide easy access to your church’s financial statements close to your online giving tool, so people who want to dig deeper can do so. Many of these leading churches show logos of the card processing firms or security agencies they use, which gives a sense of trust. Look for grammar errors or typos … people will wonder about your ability to manage finances if you can’t manage to spell things correctly.
  • User Account vs. No User Account // Some of these leading churches require people to create an account before making a donation, while the majority don’t. This is a decision to consider carefully for your church. By getting people to create an account, you ensure that you can do solid long-term  follow up with them because they are in the database. However, this added “friction” slows down one-time donors. People will give you their email and phone number when they donate and you could use that data to drive your long-term follow up. Be cautious if you are going to require an account and ensure that you’ve counted the cost of limiting donations. From my seat, at the very least you need to provide an option for people to not sign in and just give.
  • Giving Options Considerations // There are a number of options for how people can give to your church online: credit cards, PayPal, electronic funds transfer, e-check. Tread lightly, my friends! The more options you provide, the more difficult it is for people to navigate giving online. Narrowing the focus to a small number of options is a service that helps people make decisions. However, if you narrow too far down, you’ll miss a portion of your audience. For instance, you never see a merchant who only takes VISA because they know some people prefer MasterCard or Amex. They focus on those cards with the widest reach for their market. The same is true of the various online giving options. Someone might want to take advantage of e-check, but the space required to explain it might confuse or distract other people. I’ve found providing an “other options” tab or link helps with this tremendously!
  • Keep Vision Accessible // Leading churches keep their vision in front of people constantly. They infuse it into as many different aspects of church life as they can. The online donation process is a great place to remind people of the good things that happen when they give to your church. Take time to thank people and show them how their giving makes a difference. Ensure the emailed receipt communicates why the church exists and thanks people for making a donation that drives the mission forward. Often, the financial department drives these processes and while they are functional, they can miss the opportunity to connect giving with the heart.

12Stone Church // Georgia

  • Time to Complete Donation: 1min 29sec
  • Don’t Miss: The “landing page” that gives people an option to give is clean and explains about being generous. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: Direct contact information for someone in their finance department is a nice touch for such a large church. [View]

Calvary Fellowship // Florida

  • Time to Complete Donation: 59sec
  • Don’t Miss: Two super obvious giving buttons on the front page! [View]
  • Email Confirmation: The simplest confirmation of all the churches we reviewed. [View]

The Church of Eleven22 // Florida

  • Time to Complete Donation: 1min 32sec
  • Don’t Miss: The “giving” link isn’t listed as a top-line option on the site. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: Clean and straightforward giving statement. [View]

Church of The Highlands // Alabama

  • Time to Complete Donation: 3min 39sec
  • Don’t Miss: Even for a one-time gift, it’s required to create a user account and log in. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: I like how the text focuses on the fact that together we’re making a difference. [View]

Elevation Church // North Carolina

  • Time to Complete Donation: 4min 48sec
  • Don’t Miss: The “video backgrounds” of their current site is an engaging effect. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: No email receipt was auto-generated … I downloaded this statement from my account page. [View]
  • First Time Donor Letter: A letter that gives a sense of the history of the church and focuses on financial integrity of the church. [view]

New Song Community Church // California

  • Time to Complete Donation: 1min 15sec
  • Don’t Miss: The giving interface is clean and super straightforward. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: The bottom of the email drives donors to engage more with the giving processor. [View]

Next Level Church // New England

  • Time to Complete Donation: 2min 43sec
  • Don’t Miss: One-time donations are done through PayPal. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: Provides a “next step” for donors to complete their account information online with a direct link to do so. [View]

River Valley Church // Minnesota

  • Time to Complete Donation: 3min 06sec
  • Don’t Miss: A user account needs to be set up to make a one-time donation. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: Technical information is the focus of the opening paragraph, which helps people understand the giving statement. [View]

Rock City Church // Ohio

  • Time to Complete Donation: 1min 45sec
  • Don’t Miss: The pop-out menu on the front page is elegant and worth looking into. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: Again, this provider has a clean design template for these receipt emails. [View]
  • First Time Donor Letter: Check out the letter and “insert card” that talks about various ways people can give to mission of Rock City. [view]

Saddleback Church // California

  • Time to Complete Donation: 3min 16sec
  • Don’t Miss: A user account is required to make a single donation. [View]
  • Email Confirmation: One of only two churches in this group that uses scripture in their encouragement to donors. [View]



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  1. Rich,
    Very informative as always! Thanks for pointing out the key issues to be aware of. It is something we must do in the near future.

    There are a lot of providers for processing these types of transactions. Any thoughts beyond what you’ve written on what to expect/beware of with these providers. If you covered it before, I’d like the link.


    1. George,

      A couple things to think about …
      1) Which payment processors integrate closely with your Church Management System … you want to ensure that the data passes smoothly into that system.
      2) Think “long tail costs” … what will this system cost you over the long haul. You want move a large percentage of your giving to online and think about what impact those percentage fees will have on your ministry. Negotiate up front to them lowered.


  2. […] Speed — A recent test performed by a popular pastor / blogger revealed that it takes more than three minutes to give a gift to some of the largest churches in America! (For comparison, it takes fewer than 60 seconds to give to the average presidential candidate.) It is impossible to overstate the importance of speed when it comes to online giving. If it takes more than 60 seconds to submit a gift on your website, you are going to be losing givers; the only question is how many. […]

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.