Most churches have never thought about tracking first-time givers. While this is commonplace is traditional nonprofit settings, it’s rarely a priority in churches. I think most of it has to do with lack of training to pay attention to this group and lack of understanding on what to do with them once you know who the are.
When someone gives money to your church, it signals a commitment of some kind has been made. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a long-term commitment, but something connected with them and caused them to give to you instead of somewhere else. That action alone separates the first-time giver from the person who has never given at all. First-time gifts often come well after an individual or family has visited a church for weeks, maybe even months. This is their way of waving the flag and saying, “We identify with you. We want to support you. We are in this with you.” That’s a big deal and should be treated as such.
Once you know who these people are, you will want to follow up with them immediately. My suggestion to my clients is to – as best as possible – determine which front-line minister would be the most likely to interface with this individual or family on a regular basis. Remember, the first-time gift signals the beginning of what could be a long-term relationship. It’s still the responsibility of the church to stoke the flame and ensure it becomes a blazing fire.
Encourage the front-line ministry staff to connect in person or over the phone as well as via letter. Celebrate with the individual or family in the areas where God is actively working in their lives. Determine what the appropriate next step in their journey of engagement with your church needs to be. (e.g. Have they attended a new members class? Are they connected to a small group or Sunday School class?)
As stewards of the people God brings to our congregations, it’s vital that we respond to people as they respond to God’s movement in their lives. It could make the difference between a first-time giver and a last-time giver.
One caution that I have for you is not to underestimate the impact a first-time giver strategy could have on your overall church funding. A client told me recently that more than $100k was received in first-time gifts in one quarter. Just think if those same people gave that same amount consistently throughout the year. That might mean $400k or more in additional contributions. (I haven’t talked to a church yet who wouldn’t love to have an extra $400k to invest in Kingdom impact.)
Don’t miss the ministry opportunity with first-time givers. It could be your game-changing funding strategy in 2010.