A Path to Fundraising for Churches

by Stephen Halliday

There are numerous books, seminars and conferences guiding churches on how to build funds. Ranging from A-Z guides on how to motivate contributions to online seminars on the keys to financial stability, these guides offer tips on targeting major givers, linking fund drives to spiritual commitment, using personal testimonials and developing financial plans. However, as well-intended as these resources are, the majority of them fail to mention a key strategy – affinity marketing, in which churches can receive a portion of their members’ cable, phone, Internet service or other bill.

Few church executives need to be reminded of the economic crisis our nation is experiencing. The ripple effects on communities across the USA and world are great. Even before September 2008 and the historic bailouts, contributions to churches were on the decline. In his “21st Century Mega-Trends Impacting Christian Fundraising,” author Brian Kluth, who is president of The Christian Stewardship Association and a pastor and “national-international generosity speaker,” chronicled a decrease in the percentage of income Christians were contributing to their churches and organizations, and the finding that the percentage of Christians tithing – giving 10 percent or more of their income – was also down. Other nonprofits are experiencing similar declines in donations as many Americans are struggling to meet their day-to-day expenses in these recessionary times. Why affinity marketing as a fundraising tool is especially important today is that it enables a church to benefit from their congregants’ spending on ordinary products and services such as wireless phones, long distance phone service, cable television, Internet service, etc. The affinity marketing process is fairly simple, but does require sound strategies and practices.

What Is Effective Affinity Marketing?

Affinity marketing based on your members’ ordinary purchases is analogous to an insurance policy annuity. Your church receives funds each time members pay their phone, cable television, Internet service provider bills, etc. All that is required of the church is to partner with a vendor of these services whose business model is that of an affinity marketer whereby a portion of the proceeds of each sale to a member of the partnering church (or other nonprofit) is given back to that organization. This percentage of “give back” ranges depending on the product or service and the affinity marketer, but 10 percent is considered a competitive number within the affinity marketing field.

While simple in principle, the affinity marketing formula does depend on more than a church’s decision to enter into a partnership with a product/service vendor. To have a positive and profitable experience, churches should adhere to the following best practices:

Be proactive in communicating your affinity marketing program to church members. Use your newsletter, Web site, direct mail, e-mail marketing and posters to let your members know about the program: your partner and the products and services involved in the program. It is also helpful to launch the affinity program through sermons and handing out of materials following services when church members are “in the moment” and you can better capture their attention. To develop effective marketing materials, rely on the affinity marketing company’s team members. They are experienced in creating high-impact, eye-catching pieces that communicate your program and reinforce the value of affinity marketing in helping your church achieve its mission.

Select an affinity marketing partner that shares your church’s values, offers high-quality products and services, and has the resources to fully support the program. These resources should include a state-of-the-art call center equipped with advanced technologies including late-generation servers, large-screen monitors, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone and plasma screens for the training of informed, well-spoken and courteous customer service representatives, who can readily access customer order information in real-time using the company’s Customer Relationship Management Program.

Designate someone at the church to serve as your affinity marketing program coordinator. This individual will be charged with liaising with the affinity marketing company and tracking the month-to-month performance of the program’s sales and funds generated. The affinity marketing coordinator can also participate in creative brainstorming sessions designed to stimulate new ways to promote the affinity marketing program.

Convey to your congregants the funds raised through the affinity marketing program and let them know how the church is applying those funds. This will reinforce the program’s value and the importance in their continued participation.

Adherence to these basic policies will lead to a successful affinity marketing program. By continuing your traditional fundraising activities (i.e. church fairs, annual pledges and capital campaigns) and supplementing them with affinity marketing, you can be confident in knowing that you are taking all of the right steps to generate a steady stream of funds.

Churches Embracing New Tools to Achieve Their Missions

Worldwide, we see churches leveraging leading-edge technologies to reach their members and broaden their base. Ministers, pastors and church leaders across various denominations are giving sermons and sharing their thoughts using video conferencing, streaming video, podcasts and blogs. In the same way that they have advanced their means of communications, church leadership should be adopting sophisticated techniques to advance their fundraising. Affinity marketing is a sophisticated tool, easily implemented, with an especially valuable role during these challenging economic times.

As President and CEO of Norfolk, Va.-based Affinity4, Stephen Halliday draws on his extensive experience as a prominent tax attorney, investment banker, consultant and college professor on tax, accounting, legal and financial matters affecting nonprofits. He has a Master’s of Law-Taxation from Georgetown Law School and a law degree from the College of William & Mary. He can be reached at 757.228.1722 or by visiting www.affinity4.com.