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Missions 101

How to Maximize Your Gift to a Non-Profit or Church

Jul. 30, 2013By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

I have worked closely with the finances of TLI since it’s inception and have learned quite a bit about non-profit management. One of those things is donor and donation management. What I want to do in this post is help all of you who donate to your church or non-profit to maximize the amount of money that is actually being used toward the mission or the organization you want to support.

Four Simple Rules

  1. If you are supporting an evangelical organization, they really should be part of the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability.This ensures the organization has taken a pledge to financial integrity. The organization might also have a rating from Guidestar.
  2. Before giving to a non-profit, check their 990 form. This is a public form that should be posted on the organization's website and if not can still be found elsewhere on the internet. This will let you know how much money is actually going to the mission of the organization. You might be surprised to know how bad some organizations are in terms of how they spend their money. Check out this list of organizations that spent millions of dollars in raising money and almost none on fulfilling their intended mission.

  3. Make sure the person recording the donations is not the same person that is writing the checks. Most non-profits practice this, but churches are not aware of the risk they take in a person controlling the money count and expenditures. A church can do itself a big favor by dividing up these jobs.

  4. If you write anything on the memo line of a check, it does not count as a tax- deductible donation. The reason - you are restricting the gift. Now - you can tell the organization where you want it to go, and they should honor your request, but in order to receive a tax-deduction you must allow the organization to have complete control over your gift.
The Cost

I have broken down a chart with five different ways to give and be receipted. There are more, but these are the most frequent ways people support the organizations they love. I will admit that there are some unmentioned variables here. Still - this is 99% of the time this is an accurate assessment.

Ways to Give and be Receipted

Option 1 - You mail in a check and are receipted by mail
Option 2 - You mail in a check and are receipted by email
Option 3 - You give online via credit card and are receipted by mail
Option 4 - You give online via credit card and are receipted by email
Option 5 - You give online via ACH and are receipted by mail


Donation Amount - Amount you give.
Personal Cost - The cost to you to give the gift.
Bank Fee - The cost charged to the organization to take your donation (3% for Credit Cards and $.75 for ACH transactions).
Org. Time - The amount of time it takes the organization to process your receipt.
Org. Cost - The amount of money it takes the organization to process your receipt.
Donation Received - What the organization receives.


Breaking it Down

If you give by check in the mail (Option 1) you have to spend money on a stamp and envelope. There is no bank fee, but because you want a receipt via mail, the church or non-profit has to print one and send it in a stamped envelope. We also have to pay someone to do all of the labor to get you a receipt.

You can see by the chart that if you would give the organization you support your email address, it saves the organization the cost of paper, envelopes, stamps and labor to send you a receipt. Think how much this adds up over time if you give monthly. You might think that you should give by check and get an email receipt, but the labor costs of opening your letter and manually entering in the data and then taking it to the bank offset any advantage that may have.

Let’s turn to online giving. Should you give by credit card or ACH? Credit card fees are roughly 3%, but can be higher if you use reward cards or American Express. Donations via ACH are usually $.75 per transaction. So - if you are giving $25 via credit card (Option 4) or ACH (Option 6), the organization will receive the same amount of money, but anything over that and giving via ACH maximizes your donation.

So what’s the most cost effective way to give? Support your organization via ACH donations and ask for your receipts by email.

Let me add one more thing to emphasize this even more. If you are supporting an organization monthly, giving by check in the mail is the worst way to give, unless you are very disciplined. The amount of time we have to spend as a medium-sized non-profit to follow up with donors who forget to send their check or write something in the memo line underscores the issue. What if I told you that about 10% of a missionaries pledged support from people who give by checks is never received, not because the donor is not committed, but because they just forget. And what if I told you we spend five hours a week tracking down people because they did not submit the check correctly.

One Thought to Muddle The Whole Thing

Though it is clearly cheaper for an organization to receive your donation online and receipt you online, I want to add that I am a little conflicted about giving automated gifts online to your local church. Why?

The offertory is not just a time to hear a nice song. It is an act of worship. In handing over the money our family has earned, we are visibly telling God and ourselves that the money does not belong to us. To physically put a check or cash into the plate is worship. We rob ourselves of that in giving mindlessly through automated giving. And as a Dad with small children, there is never a moment in church where they physically see me supporting the church by declaring my money is not my own. That doesn’t mean I can’t explain online giving to them, but that doesn’t mean I am still not conflicted.


Be generous. For most of us who want all of our $$ to count, don’t use your credit card. Don’t write a check. Don’t ask to be mailed a receipt. Go for ACH and email.

Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International.  As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

Tags:  money
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