Note: This post originally appeared on Voices of Stewardship, a newly sponsored initiative by Vanco Payments. I've written a lot about church stewardship and giving over the last decade. Review a diverse sampling of that work here.

I know what you’re probably thinking: Offering envelopes aren’t exciting. And you might be wondering if anyone still uses them.

The truth is, offering envelopes are an incredibly effective tool to prompt a response from your donors. Don’t believe me? Then why do the largest nonprofits and even direct marketers use envelopes and response cards in their mailbox communications with donors, supporters, clients, and customers? Because they work. It’s the closest tool you can leverage to re-create an in-person ask.

It’s probably been a while since you revisited your offering envelope strategy. If you don’t have one, that’s fine. But I want to encourage you to rethink your approach and consider ways you can use those little envelopes to invite people into a journey of generosity that will change their lives forever.

At the outset, let me say that there is nothing magical or mystical about the offering envelope itself. There is no incantation or blessing you can say over one that will make it more productive. They are simply a response mechanism. What makes them so effective is how and when they’re used.

Let’s explore the wild world of offering envelopes and see if you find an idea or two that might re-invigorate your thinking about them.

There are three main types of offering envelopes, and they each have a slightly different function:

  • Bulk offering envelopes. A large order of identical envelopes is great for pews and events and for placing inside your bulletin for members and guests. They are inexpensive and you can choose their color and design.
  • Boxed offering envelopes. Many churches distribute a yearly supply of offering envelopes to members. They come in a box and are often numbered and dated. Again, you can choose the color and design.
  • Offering envelopes via a monthly mailing program. This is the nirvana of offering envelope options. Each month, you mail a set of offering envelopes to each member. You also can include contribution statement summaries and communication cards in the mailing. This is one of the most effective ways to increase usage across your congregation.

Now that we’ve talked about offering envelope options, let’s dive into ways to put the pizzazz back into using them.

  1. Don’t rely on just one type of offering envelope. Let the venue, preferred action, and use drive your decision between bulk, boxed or monthly mailing.
  2. Talk about them often. Some people who visit your church have never seen an offering envelope. Don’t assume everyone knows what they are or how to use them.
  3. Add an “I gave online” option with a box to check so e-givers can participate in offering time. That helps promote non-traditional giving options.
  4. Include an offering envelope with every contribution statement. It implies you want people to take action. This is especially effective if you report year-over-year giving data. Sometimes people respond when they see a gap in their giving from last year.
  5. Pick a color other than white. You can even change it up throughout the year or have different color offering envelopes for special funds. People are more visually driven than you might think.
  6. Host a contest in your children’s department. Let different groups submit a design. Then use that design to create envelopes for that quarter or year with the class name on the envelope itself. Start training the next generation of donors today.
  7. Put them in the bulletin with your other inserts every Sunday. Don’t assume pew envelopes are always available.
  8. Choose an envelope style that allows people to privately share their credit card or debit card details. Most people don’t carry cash or checks.
  9. Mail offering envelopes to your members and donors. It’s worth every penny. And who doesn’t like to get mail! It’s probably one of the least cluttered “inboxes” in our lives these days.
  10. Include a short letter from the pastor on a communication card with your monthly offering envelopes. No one ever gets tired of hearing about ministry impact and life change.
  11. Sign up people for your offering envelope mailing program during your new member class. Of course, that means you’re going to have to talk about stewardship and generosity as a core value of your church.
  12. Print unique bulk envelopes for events. That helps visitors and non-givers distinguish between giving to the budget and giving to a project or initiative associated with the event itself.
  13. Simplify your fund options. Please! If your offering envelope looks like a tax return, you’re doing something wrong.
  14. Include postage on special mailings for missions, contribution statements, etc. It removes one step from the donor in giving to your church.
  15. Coordinate your offering envelopes with your preaching. Choose a key verse and challenge everyone to memorize it. This is, of course, predicated on the idea that you plan your messages significantly in advance to allow lead time for printing.
  16. Report ministry impact on the front or back of each offering envelope (such as “50 families fed in the last 90 days because of your generosity”). That reminds people what they are giving to.
  17. Determine the correlation between regular and occasional givers and those who are using offering envelopes. You may discover some ministry and spiritual growth opportunities as you measure behavior.
  18. Utilize a welcome-style offering envelope instead of an additional printed visitor’s card to reduce your cost on more expensive bulletin options. It’s only an incremental expense and gets your visitors acclimated to using offering envelopes.

Make offering envelopes part of your church giving system.

I could come up with more ideas, but you’re probably already shaking your head in disbelief about all the ways you’re not fully utilizing this important and effective response mechanism. It’s not hard to get started. Gather a small group of staff members and volunteer leaders and your stewardship committee. Brainstorm ways you can use offering envelopes as an invitation to a journey toward generosity for every person who sits in your pews.

It’s rarely one thing that makes the difference in your stewardship strategy. It’s connecting a series of systems that deliver the money your church needs to fulfill the ministry God has called you and your congregation to accomplish. Take time to consider how offering envelopes can be part of your funding strategy. You won’t be disappointed!

REFLECT: How are you using offering envelopes today? In what ways can offering envelopes help people be faithful in their giving and get a jump-start on their journey toward generous living? Who needs to be part of making recommendations for a broader, more thoughtful approach to offering envelopes? What’s your next step?

Image Credit: Shutterstock