The Real Reason 80% Don’t Give – Part 1: Simplicity

by Jana Gering   |  Article from  May 11, 2015

**This post is the first in a 4-part series digging deeper into potential reasons why 80% of church-goers don’t give on a regular basis**

In generations past, if you had cash, you put it in the offering basket/bucket/bag/plate. Now, despite the simplicity of plastic, things are not quite so obvious.

It’s pretty clear that most of your would-be givers are busy. Regular church attendance is trending down, and these potentially generous folks are working overtime to earn what they and their families need and give away. In today’s fast-paced work world, they’ve barely got time to do their taxes and wrestle insurance companies over deductibles and rates over the phone. Navigating yet another complicated financial system of passwords and id numbers every month is the last thing they want (or need) to do.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but this happened to me recently with a non-profit I’m committed to and excited about, one that I feel I can trust.

I’ve sponsored a child since I was a child myself–my sister and I sang in a fund-raising concert when I was 10 years old, and I remember picking out “our child” from the photos lined up on the table. That one grew up and aged out of the program, and we sponsored others. As an adult, I continued a monthly sponsorship.

A few years ago at Christmas, it was time to choose a new student. Abirami lives in southern India, and I picked her because she wore glasses and had two thick braids and an intense expression as she stared hawkishly into the camera. Abirami is smart; she writes me letters in very neat English addressed to “my dear sister in Christ, from your loving Abi.” She’s now nearing 18, but she was approved for an extension of the support because she was accepted into a medical training program. That means I get to correspond with her for one more year. I’ve supported her financially since 2008.

This month, I got a kindly-worded paper notice to inform me that I owed a back payment of 3 months’ support.

You see, I used to be in the auto-pay system. When my credit card got replaced after a fateful trip to Target, I replaced it in the system, but forgot to select autopay. Now I needed to log back into the system, re-enter my credit card info, and opt-in again.

I took the notice with me to work, and tried to log on to the system. I couldn’t remember my password, and my password program was only saved on my home computer. I forgot when I got home that day. And now, a few weeks down the road the bill is sitting crumpled in bottom of my purse. I’m sure it’s an extra cost to the non-profit sponsorship organization to send reminders of late payments, too.

Despite having a personal connection to the purpose of giving, despite understanding Abi’s story and despite having a deep desire to continue giving and trust in the organization, I still failed to give.

Why? Because of complexity. Just now, I went  to the website to login to my account. Here are the steps I had to go through, which all told took me just over 6 minutes:

  1. Enter username and password, OR donor ID number. (seriously, who knows their donor id number by heart?)
  2. I had forgotten the username, so I had to re-set my account, wait for the email, enter the code, and then re-set the password and username, confirm the new information, and then log in with it.
  3. Once there, I had the opportunity to set up my direct payment system (again).
  4. After entering my credit card information, I got a confirmation page. I’m back in the system, at least until I get a new credit card and get kicked out of autopay again.

Six minutes might not seem like a lot of time. But it’s plenty of time for a child to need a busy parent, or for a phone to ring, or for a computer to shut down in order to run updates. It’s enough time to be interrupted, enough time to complain about if you were on hold with Comcast. The experience prompted me to ask a few questions:

  • What if logging in to update my payment information for my sponsorship was a joy instead of a chore?
  • How many would-be givers drop out of the system for a time, or forever, simply because of a forgotten password or difficult-to-remember ID number, or the lack of 6 minutes to figure it out?
  • How many givers start out willingly and even cheerfully, and end up frustrated and discouraged by the time they are finished entering their bank account or credit card information into a complex online system, possibly phoning customer service because the email confirmations went to the spam folder, or mistyping the visual confirmation codes?

Having sponsored Abi for over 7 years, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with the website of the organization in question. With the experience of these years, whenever I get a notice, I know I have a dry, confusing, and unenjoyable task in front of me. So far, I have persevered in spite of painful donation management process. But when Abi graduates, I’m not entirely sure I’ll stick around.

It may seem like a small thing, but there’s so much complexity and fear surrounding financial transactions of any kind already. So, what if making a financial gift were the exception? Simple, even beautiful or–dare I say it–joyful?

Could providing a simple giving experience make a dent in that 80% figure?

About Jana Gering  –  Jana Gering is freelance writer with extensive experience in the non-profit and faith based sectors. She’s passionate about using content as a means to develop community.