Where is Mobile Giving Taking Churches?

Trends in the ways smartphones are being used by consumers to buy goods and services make mobile an increasingly attractive giving channel for churches to explore, particularly given the demographic makeup of the group that uses them the most.

Smartphone usage continues to grow. According to a third quarter 2013 report from consumer research giant Nielsen, some 64.7% of all mobile subscribers in the United States owned a smartphone, up from 62% the previous quarter. “Smartphone ownership also continued to grow among students and recent grads,” Nielsen reports, “as 70% of teens (aged 13-17) and 79% of young adults (aged 18-24) now own smartphones.”
Meanwhile, another potential avenue for mobile giving, the tablet (such as Apple’s iPad), is also expanding its presence. According to Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization that conducts a variety of public opinion, demographic and social science research, the percentage of Americans ages 16 and older who own tablet computers has grown to 35% as of third quarter 2013. Pew also reports that more than half of all households earning $75,000 and up annually now have tablets, up from 25% during the same period in 2012.

Mobile payments
As the numbers of people carrying them grow, mobile devices are increasingly being used by their owners as a means to transfer funds and/or pay for goods and services, as opposed to having to pull out their wallets or write checks.

In a well-publicized example, utilizing a special smartphone application, customers at Starbucks can pay for their treats by simply having their phone screens scanned at the counter. Other manifestations of this trend include Google Wallet, where smartphone users link bank accounts to a Google or Gmail account, enabling them to make purchases by bumping their phone against the cash register, or to transfer money to others by pressing a button.

“I tell all my clients that they need to make a trip to Starbucks, get a cup of coffee, and sit down for 30 minutes and watch how customers pay for their orders,” says Mark Brooks, founding partner and president of the Charis Group, an Atlanta-based fundraising consultant serving Christian ministries.

“And they will see that many of those customers—me included—pay by just pulling out their smartphones and hitting their Starbucks app, never once taking out their billfolds,” Brooks says.

“Churches have generally been slow to adjust,” says Brooks. “We are on our way to becoming a checkless and cashless society, but we still see churches focused solely on passing the offering bucket every Sunday.”
Churches that continue to focus on plate-based giving at the expense of opening up mobile channels run the risk of not developing and tapping the full giving potential of the so-called “millennial generation,” the technologically savvy, adolescent-to-young-adult cohort of the U.S. population that was born between roughly 1980 and 2000.