Review: Mega Gifts by Jerold Panas

April 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Fundraising

newbills150x131If you are a church leader, who is even remotely involved with fundraising, as soon as you finish reading this post, drop everything, go online, and buy Jerold Panas’ book, “Mega Gifts –Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them.”

Jerry Panas is one of the deans of fundraising. Armed with forty years of experience, Panas interviewed 50 men and women who had made gifts of one million dollars or more and surveyed about 1,000 fundraisers.

His goal? To document the factors that leads to and motivates donors to make mega gifts.

Virtually every page contains a gem of wisdom that can make the difference between your visit to a potential major donor a success and going home empty-handed. Here are some examples…

Preparation

  • Why 85% of securing a major gift is in getting the appointment.
  • Why “doing your homework” can be the difference between success and failure.
  • Who is the best person to make the initial contact and set the appointment?
  • What is the one element of an organization’s staff that Panas found to be a requirement in every major gift?

The Approach

  • Who is the best person to set the appointment?
  • Can you reach a donor through his or her children?
  • Why no one ever got milk from a cow by sending a letter.

The Presentation

  • What is the most important aspect of your church’s appeal for funds?
  • Why should you sell this first?
  • Why involving both spouses can prevent your most compelling presentation from failing.
  • Is a donor’s close friend a good choice for making the presentation?
  • How many people should attend the presentation?
  • Should be presentation be done over lunch?
  • What is the chance of getting a major gift on the first visit?
  • How many visits should you make to a major donor?
  • Why is listening the most important component of the fundraising presentation?
  • What you should be listening for?  When you find it, what should you do next?

Ask

  • Why “ask and you shall receive” is a critical component.
  • How many times should you ask?
  • Why “you’ll be hurt more by those who would have said, “yes,” but weren’t asked than by those who say, “no.”
  • What is the “Rule of Thirds” and how can applying this rule multiply your results?
  • What is the “greatest commandment” of fundraising?

Donor Mind Set

  • Are major donors’ decisions to give spontaneous or do most want to think it over?
  • Why most donors are not motivated by the needs of your organization.
  • Can you secure a major gift by making the donor feel guilty?
  • What is the singular most compelling reason a donor makes a major gift?
  • Why do major donors make gifts?  Why incorporating the answer in your presentation is essential.

Mega Gift Characteristics

  • What is the “Rule of Sevens” and why it can lead to larger and larger subsequent gifts?
  • Are “matching gifts” effective?
  • What kind of a gift suggestion will often increase the donor’s gift?
  • Does a major donor have to be a member of your organization?

‘Nuff said. Buy the book.

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A Church Building Fund’s Friend: The Lead Trust

April 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

electrician150x131The current poor economy provides a climate for some planned giving techniques to yield greater benefits than any time in recent history. One example is the charitable lead trust.

A lead trust is normally funded with income-producing assets. In one model, the trust pays a stipulated percentage for a certain number of years to a charity. At the end of the designated time frame, the trust assets either revert to the donor or are passed to children or grandchildren.

If you are a church leader, you’ll want to pay special attention because lead trusts are funded with an average of five million dollars.

What could your church do with an income stream of 5-10% on 5 million dollars paid for 5 to 20 years?

 A lead trust can be a solution for people who have specific problems or goals. For example…

  • They’ve received a large bonus or just sold a business and need a large current tax deduction.
  • They have a stock portfolio that has decreased substantially in value but feel certain that the stocks will rebound in time.
  • They have a large estate that will be taxed at 50%+ and they want to pass their estate on with little or no inheritance tax.
  • They have a large estate and don’t want to dump significant wealth all at once on children who may not yet be financially responsible.

So why is a lead trust such a good deal now?

One of the components of the formula that computes the income tax deduction a person gets is the Applicable Federal Rate, AFR for short. Due to the decline in interest rates, the AFR has reached record lows. The lower the AFR the higher the tax deduction.

$1,000,000 Lead Trust Paying 5% for 10 Years

AFR

Tax Deduction

8 %

335,000

5 %

386,000

2 %

449,000

 

Charitable lead trusts have many applications and can simultaneously provide a benefit to your church.

Here’s one example…

Tom is the CFO of a software company. He’s 51 and wants to retire at age 60.

Tom’s income has averaged $400,000 for the last few years.

His company just landed a multi-year contract. Since Tom was instrumental in piecing together the financial part of the deal, he will receive a one million dollar bonus this year.

He really doesn’t need the additional million in income and is not too excited at the prospect of $400,000 going to taxes. He would like to sock as much away as he can for his retirement.

Tom is very active in his church and his church has just embarked on building a new addition.

Tom puts his million-dollar bonus into a 9 year lead trust which will pay 5% to his church for 9 years. This produces a charitable income tax deduction of $400,000, saving him $160,000 in taxes.

Since his million dollars will come back to him in 9 years, he is taxed on the $50,000 a year the trust pays to his church. One of Tom’s options is to have the lead trust invest in municipal bonds so there won’t be any tax due.

However, since the stock market is down, Tom feels he can do better by paying some tax with a good prospect of getting more than his million dollars back after nine years.

So he instructs the trustee to invest in high-grade stocks that are projected to grow at 8%.

Tom’s million dollars will grow to $1,375,000 after nine years. So not only did he save $160,000 in taxes in year one, the extra $375,000 comes back to him tax-free as well.

The trade off is to pay taxes on the $50,000 the trust will pay to his church each year for the next nine years.

In addition, Tom’s church receives $450,000 over the nine years to help pay for its church addition.

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Dimdim: A Recommended Church Communication Tool

April 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Technology

digitalglobe150x131Assume you are the pastor of a church and you need to meet with your vestry, the church’s attorney and CPA. Option 1 is to schedule a meeting date, time and place, have everyone drive to the location, meet and drive back to their offices. Option 2 is for everyone to stay put and host the meeting in an online conference room.

On a larger scale, let’s say you want to host a conference for 1,000 people. Option 1 is to book a conference room, have everyone fly in, check into a hotel, pay for their meals while at the conference, transportation to and from the airport and around town, then fly home. Option 2 is to hold the conference in an online conference room.

I have been using online conference rooms almost since the technology was first invented. In 2006, I hosted over 200 webinars. This has allowed me to communicate with hundreds of people simultaneously without anyone ever leaving home. The presentations I made were the same I would have made if I presented them in person.

I have used so many web conferencing companies I can’t remember all of them. Today, the three biggest players are WebEx, GoToMeeting and Microsoft’s Live Meeting.

Now there’s a new kid on the block: Dimdim.

Dimdim has a bunch of neat features, but the most compelling reason for churches everywhere to check it out is that it is simple to use and very inexpensive when compared to the competition. Best of all, there’s a free version.

Dimdim launched in February 2006 and has more than 2 million users from almost every country on the earth. It recently rolled out version 5, which has added even more cool features.

Let’s take a look at how Dimdim works and some of the applications for a church.

Dimdim comes with a free version, which can accommodate up to 20 participants, a pro version that holds up to 50 and an enterprise edition for groups of up to 1,000. Each version has its own features. As I describe what it can do and how it works, I won’t differentiate among editions to keep things simple. Check the Dimdim web site for costs and to see what’s included in each version.

One of the most disconcerting features of hosting a meeting with most of the other applications is the fact that each attendee has to download some software or a plugin before they can enter a meeting. Let’s face it, not everyone is Internet savvy. I have hosted some meetings where I have had to walk people through the download process while everyone else sat on their hands. Some invitees just throw up their hands in frustration and bag it.

One of the best features of Dimdim is that there is no software to download. The only requirement is Flash on the person’s computer. Today, 98% of computers have Flash installed.

The only exception is if you are going to share something that is on your computer, like a software program you want to demonstrate. This does require a small and quick download to enable participants to see what’s on your computer screen.

So to enter a meeting is as simple as clicking the mouse.

Inviting Attendees

When you schedule a meeting, a widget is created which shows the date, time and agenda for your session. You can place this widget on any number of social media sites, like your Twitter or Facebook page, your blog or your web site. To register, a person only has to enter their email address.

A confirmation email is automatically sent and their name is entered as a participant in your Dimdim portal. Moreover, the source of their registration is noted, an important tracking element.

You can also email the widget to any number of people just by pasting email addresses into a system email window.

These features make publicizing your event a breeze.

You can set the widget to change. For example, you can add a countdown counter, which is shown on the widget. When your session is over, access links to the transcript and/or recording of the session appear.

While a session is in progress, you can easily send an invitation to invite others to join in just by entering their email address or clicking on the URL link to the meeting and pasting it into an IM message.

Presenting

Of course, the big benefit of web conferencing is presenting visual information. Dimdim allows you to upload Power Point presentations, .pdf files, Word documents, etc. with ease.

If you want to take your attendees to a web page, just type in the URL and that web page appears on your screen as well as the screen of all attendees. You can scroll through the page to highlight important points. You can even go to a site such as YouTube and show online videos.

If you need to use the while board, not only can you add shapes, text and draw but any attendee can add or alter what you have drawn. This is perfect for communicating with your architect about alternatives for your new building.

If you have a web cam, you can elect to have the video displayed in the lower corner of the screen. Upgrades allow increasing the size of the video by 400% and adding a second video so attendees can see two presenters.

You can make any attendee a presenter, thus allowing them to bring up the documents, images or web sites they need to make their points.

To get feedback, you can conduct polls during any session.

When the meeting ends, you can set the system display any URL you want your attendees of a session to visit.

Audio

Dimdim comes with its own telephone bridge so you save money by not having to get a dedicated number for your meetings from a teleconferencing company.

If you need to communicate with people outside the U.S. (perhaps missionaries), there is a VoIP option.

Recording

You can record any meeting by pushing one button. Both your visuals and narration are captured. When the meeting ends, Dimdim sends the meeting host an email with a link to the recording. The system generates a URL for the recording, plus the embed code, and makes it available in your portal. You can paste it into a web page or your blog.

I think the recording feature is one of the most beneficial. Since Dimdim is free for participants up to 20, many presentations can be recorded and published on your web site or blog for a broader reach.

Summary

Even though many people now have high speed Internet access, Dimdim has been optimized to work on slower Internet connections. For churches, the ease of use, time savings and affordability make Dimdim a communication tool worthy of consideration.

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7 Little-Known Gift Annuity Applications

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

dollarsymbol150x131

Gift annuities are popular planned giving tools. They have been around for over 100 years. They are easy to understand, simple to set up and don’t have the higher administrative costs associated with other charitable giving techniques.

Most people think the income from a gift annuity is for the life of the donor or for the joint lives of the donor and spouse. There are, however, at least seven other ways a gift annuity can be used. Let’s take a look at the two traditional applications and then summarize the other seven options. Perhaps these will plant a seed for their use in your situation that will also benefit your church.

Your Life Only

This is the most common and straightforward way a gift annuity is structured. You contribute cash or an appreciated asset to your church in exchange for a life income. At your death, the church keeps your contribution for its use.

For as Long as You and Your Spouse Live

You can also set a gift annuity up to pay out for as long as either you or your spouse lives. This is the joint and survivor gift annuity option.

Here are the 7 techniques you may not be familiar with…

1.  For as Long as You and Another Person Live

The other annuitant does not have to be your spouse. For example, a woman could establish a gift annuity for her and her sister.

2.  For the Life of Someone Other Than You

Furthermore, the gift annuity does not have to be for you. You could have a disabled child who requires special care and set up a gift annuity to fund that care for the rest of their life.

3.  The Payments are Deferred for a Number of Years

Most gift annuities are paid out monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or yearly. Normally, the payments begin within the first year. However, it is possible to defer the start of the payments for a number of years.

For example, a person who is age 55 could set up a gift annuity with the idea that the payments would begin at age 65 to supplement their retirement income. Deferred gift annuities have the advantages of a higher payout and an increased charitable deduction.

4.  To Fund Education for a Child or Grandchild

Another example of a deferred gift annuity is funding the education for a child or grandchild. You set up a gift annuity now for your five year old grandson and when he is 18 and off to college, the gift annuity can be triggered to pay out over the next four or five years. There is some risk as the boy is not obligated to use the funds for college. You could be funding his Corvette Z06.

5.  The “Re-insured” Gift Annuity

In my opinion, this technique should be employed more often because it provides cash for the church immediately.

Instead of holding the contribution to a gift annuity, then investing and paying out the promised payment, the church buys a commercial immediate annuity from an insurance company. The insurance company is instructed to send the (i.e. quarterly) payments to the church and a check is cut to the donor.

The cost of the immediate annuity will vary and is dependent on several factors such as the age of the donor and the prevailing interest rate in the economy. Nevertheless, the cost of the immediate annuity is less than the amount received from the donor. This difference is available to the church immediately.

6.  Exchanging a Charitable Remainder Unitrust for a Gift Annuity

If you are the income beneficiary of a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT), you can exchange this interest for a gift annuity. This move can satisfy many objectives.

This gives you another charitable income tax deduction for the new gift annuity. The advantage to the charity is that is frees up money immediately that may be needed for a building campaign.

7.  Creating a Gift Annuity at Death With an IRA

All, or a portion of, your IRA can be exchanged for a gift annuity at your death. This would be a way to establish  a safe, consistent income for your surviving spouse for as long as he/she lives with the funds ultimately going to the church you both desire it would go to anyway.

Your estate would get a charitable deduction for the charitable portion of the gift annuity. However, the IRA proceeds would still be income in respect of a decedent and subject to ordinary income taxes just as if you had left the IRA directly to your spouse.

Summary

These explanations of the various uses for a gift annuity only represent the tip of the iceberg. If one or more apply in your situation, you’ll need to consult a qualified tax professional. Each technique has positive and negative income and gift tax results.

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How Your Church Can Raise 6 Figures In 90 Days

April 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Fundraising

joyousrays150x131I am a participant in a forum composed of planned giving officers, attorneys, CPAs and other professionals working in the charitable giving field.

Recently there was a question, followed by a series of posts, which asked how best to fund a charitable trust designed to pay out income when the amount was $150,000 or less.

You can learn a lot from just what briefly follows. If you are a church leader, I’m going to show you how you can potentially put 6 figures in your bank account in the next 90 days.

First, the discussion and the problems that surfaced…

The initial post outlined a tentative plan to fund a $100,000 to $150,000 gift using a charitable remainder trust (CRT). These trusts pay out a percentage of the trust assets for the life of an individual, or multiple individuals, and then pass the value of the trust to a charity.

The first response was from a CPA who indicated that the cost to file the myriad of forms required was not warranted unless the trust was funded with at least $100,000.

The second suggested using a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA) to fund a charitable gift annuity. Gift annuities are simple to set up, have low administration costs, and are best suited for elderly donors. The donor gets an immediate tax deduction and a guaranteed life income. Since a high percentage (70%+, depending on age) of the payout is excluded from tax, the effective yield can be twice that of a CD. Like a CRT, the gift annuity passes to the charity at the donor’s death.

The discussion that followed on the forum surrounded using the SPIA to “re-insure” the charity’s obligation. The quirk about gift annuities is that they are regulated by each state. If an organization has been in existence for less than 20 years and has assets of less than 2 million specifically designated to back gift annuity agreements, some states require re-insurance.

All this discussion was interesting and informative. However, I thought everyone was missing the boat. In my experience, the main reason for using a SPIA to fund a charitable gift annuity is to provide the charity immediate access to a portion of the gift.

Important!

I have done what I am going to describe next. However, before you put a plan like this in motion in your church, you need to consult with your attorney, have him or her research the charitable gift annuity regulations and reserve requirements for your state.

Let’s take a 75-year-old woman who wants to give $100,000 to her church in exchange for a life income. When she dies, whatever is left over after funding her income will go to the church.

I won’t go into why she may want to do this or the problems she has that this arrangement will solve. Furthermore, we’ll assume that a charitable gift annuity is the solution of choice.

A “normal” gift annuity that is sponsored by your national church would take the $100,000, set aside the required reserve, invest conservatively and pay out the annual rate suggested for her age by the American Council on Gift Annuities of 6.3%. These rates are actuarially calculated to leave about half of the initial gift to the charity at the life expectancy of the donor.

The church will have to wait until this woman dies to receive any benefit. Plus, I would check and see if the money goes to your national church or to your parish.

How can we provide the same income stream and an immediate benefit to your local church? Here are the numbers…

The cost to buy a SPIA on a 75-year-old female that would pay $6,300 a year as of the date of this post is $64,116. For the analyticals out there, this is a life only, no certain period annuity. That means the church can put $35,884 in the bank or endowment fund and use it in any manner desired.

One astute forum participant pointed out that some insurance companies will medically underwrite annuities. If the person has health problems and their assumed life expectancy is reduced as a result, the cost of the annuity is less.

I had a case several years ago where we were trying to fund a $3,000 a month life income on a woman age 88. The best bid for a traditional SPIA was $215,000. However, this lady had health problems. When I went to a carrier that medically underwrote the case, the bid dropped to $130,000, 40% less!

Every situation will be different. If I apply this 40% discount to my original example, the cost to the church to fund $6,300 a year for life via a SPIA drops to $38,470 and allows $61,530 to available for  immediate use.

Now let’s set up a plan at your church to put 6 figures in your bank account in the next 90 days.

First, check with your attorney to make sure this will work in your state.

Next, publicize the project. I would suggest having a specific goal in mind that has an emotional appeal to the congregation.

Let’s assume that this idea only applies to 2% of your membership. After all, it works best for donors over age 70. If you have a 500 member church, that’s just 10 people.

Using the non-medically reviewed SPIA example and cutting the donation in half to $50,000, each charitable gift annuity/SPIA transaction would raise about $18,000.

Ten donors times $18,000 is $180,000. And, hey, all you are looking for is 10 folks with a $50,000 CD with a crummy (and taxable) interest rate that would be interested in doubling their income and helping the church.

I realize this is all very sketchy, but there’s your 6 figures. Moreover, this all can be done in 90 days. I devote an entire lesson to this topic in The Smart Giver.

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Need More Retirement Income? Sell Your Life Insurance Policy!

April 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Financial

dollarbills150x131Did you know that there is now an “after market” for life insurance policies? If you are over age 65, there are companies that will buy your life insurance policy for more than the cash value. They will even buy term insurance, which has no cash value.

Who buys policies and why would they want them?

Institutional investments and pension funds buy policies to comprise a portion of the fixed income segment of their portfolio. The transaction is handled by life settlement companies that are legally bound to confidentiality and privacy. The pension fund that may buy your policy doesn’t know who you are or anything about you and could care less. For them, the transaction is all about the math.

Why would a person sell their life insurance policy?

Generally, the life insurance policy has outlived the need for which it was originally purchased. The kids are grown, education completed and the person’s 401(k) plan will provide for retirement.

In other cases, the sale averts a problem with the policy. For example…

Many Universal Life policies eventually reach a point where the original premium is no longer sufficient to carry the policy.
 
The premium required to carry a Universal Life policy to a certain age is dependent on mortality assumptions, insurance company expenses and interest rates. With the sharp decline in interest rates over the last few years, many UL policies now require a substantial increase in premium to keep them going.

Some policies have large loans. People may have tapped the cash value at some point and never paid themselves back. Some may have used the cash value to pay the premium.

My experience (over nearly 40 years) is most people do not pay the interest on the loan each year. If the policy owner doesn’t pay the interest, it is added to the principal. Over time, the loan and unpaid interest can eat up the entire cash value.

Eventually, the person finds themselves backed into a corner. They either pay the premium plus a huge interest requirement each year, pay the loan down or let the policy lapse.

Even if they do nothing, the policy will eventually collapse on itself for lack of sufficient cash value to pay the interest. When that happens, there are three bad results.

First, the insurance company sends the IRS with a report stating the gain. The gain is the excess of the total cash value (not counting the loan) over the total premiums paid.

Second, there is no money in the policy to pay the tax. It must come from other resources.

Third, the tax is ordinary income, not capital gain.

The third problem is a term policy that has reached the end of its term. It may have been a 10, 15, or 20 year level term. Despite what you may think, in the real world, many of my clients in their late 50’s or early 60’s who have a policy that is soon to expire, still want and need insurance coverage. When I go shopping on their behalf, I have to break it to them that the premium is substantially more than they were paying and/or their current medical condition (even for minor things) has put them a less favorable underwriting classification with a higher premium.

Selling a policy averts all these problems. There are a number of areas to which the funds received can be applied, which I’ll cover in a subsequent post. One application can quickly add substantial funds to a church’s endowment fund.

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How a Gift To Your Church Can Also Solve A Problem

April 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Fundraising

questionmaze150x131In a previous post, I mentioned that I had just started to read, “The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks”, by Harvey McKinnon. Because I have over 20,000 face-to-face interviews under my belt in the financial and estate planning arena, I figured I could come up with my own eleven questions. However, my questions would be questions donors should be asking, but don’t.

Now that I have finished the book, I can report that Mr. McKinnon relays many more than eleven questions than his book title purports. I didn’t count them, but there could be a hundred. This is an excellent book and I recommend it for anyone who is involved in fundraising for his or her church.

The plethora of questions is going to make it even more difficult for me to come up with my own eleven, despite the fact I am taking a different slant. My list consists of questions people don’t ask because they don’t know enough about the subject matter. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it my best shot.

My first question people should be asking was, “How can I make a gift to my church without disinheriting my children”?

Today, my second question is, “How can making a gift to my church also solve a problem I have”?

This may sound a little self-serving, but, hey, we’re all human. From a practical point of view, why wouldn’t someone be interested in making a gift if a pressing problem was simultaneously solved?

More important, if you are a fundraiser for your church, wouldn’t you have a better chance at securing a gift if the process of making the gift also solved a donor’s problem?

The key to making this happen is two-fold. First, you have to determine what problem(s) your donor has. This is a skill and topic all to itself. It involves asking questions and patiently listening to the answers. Second, you have to know the potential problems. Education is the solution.

If you’ll permit a short plug, that’s where my publication The Smart Giver comes in. Each of the 16 lessons outlines a typical problem and provides a solution that results in a gift to the person’s church.

Let me give you one quick example of how a gift to a person’s church can also solve a problem.

Libby is a senior living on a fixed income. The current economy has not been kind to her. She has a $50,000 CD down at the bank that has been providing some of the income for her living expenses.

Libby has three problems:

1. The CD is only paying 4.5%.

2. All of the CD’s interest is taxable. In Libby’s tax bracket, she only has $1,900 a year of spendable income.

3. She’s scared to death she will lose her money. Her CD was with Washington Mutual, one of the biggest savings and loans in the country, and they went bankrupt. Her CD was taken over my JP Morgan Chase, another financial giant, but that’s not making Libby sleep any better.

One of the lessons in The Smart Giver goes into detail about how these three problems are solved. I also have a short video at The Smart Giver Podcast that deals with Libby’s problems.

Here, I’ll simply provide a before and after picture:

Before

After

Amount

$50,000

$50,000

Annual Interest Rate

4.5%

7.1%

Annual Income

$2,250

$3,550

Percent Not Taxed

0%

70.3%

Effective Annual Interest Rate

4.5%

8.49%

Income Tax Deduction

0

$20,047

Gift to Libby’s Church at Her Death

0

$50,000

In summary, our solution:

1. Increases Libby’s income.

2. Lowers her taxes.

3. Both of these stretch the buying power of the income from her $50,000.

4. Since Her money was moved to an institution she has supreme confidence in, her worry has evaporated.

5. Results in a gift to her church.

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Autoresponders: Church Communication and Fundraising Applications

April 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Technology

email_at150x131A number of technology tools can help a church in their fundraising and communication. Over time, I will post information about them. This article will deal with one of the most basic: autoresponders.

What is an autoresponder?

An autoresponder is an email facility that allows for the broadcast of an email, or a series of emails mailed at predetermined intervals, to be sent to people who give their OK (voluntarily opt-in) to receive the information.

Who can autoresponders reach?

Today, virtually everyone. Most people have a computer. Even my 90-year old mother had a computer. She communicated with friends and relatives all over the place. Her grandchildren grew up in an era where the word “letter” was not in their vocabulary. Everything was email. Today, my mom would have to buy an iPhone or a Blackberry and learn how to text message. But those are topics for a future post. Almost everyone who has a computer can send and receive email.

Are autoresponders intrusive?

No. First, a person normally has to fill out a form on a web site, enter their email address and give permission for information to be sent to them via email.

To prevent someone from entering your email address, reputable autoresponder companies use a double opt-in process. After you fill out the form, an email is sent to the email address you provided with a link you must click on to activate the autoresponder. For a church, this is also an added safeguard in that this confirmation provides proof of the opt-in if the person forgets or if there is a spam complaint.

What if you are a church with an existing email list? Can you import all these emails into an autoresponder? Generally, no. Most autoresponder providers either require everyone on your list to opt-in or require the church to show that everyone has already opted in to another list.

Autoresponders in general

The mechanics are very simple. There are ways to use an autoresponder without a web site, although a web site or blog would be necessary in order to put up a form allowing folks to put in their name and email to subscribe.

Emails can be sent out in text or HTML format. Some autoresponder companies have their system programmed so that if you send out an HTML email and the person’s email client can’t read HTML, a text email will be substituted.

If you choose to use HTML, there are tons of template choices. You can use the autoresponder provider’s templates or a company that specializes in email templates.

With that quick overview, I want to spend the rest of the article suggesting applications of autoresponders in your church. This is certainly not an all-inclusive list. Perhaps one topic will spark your creative juices and you will come up with many more uses.

Register for an event

It’s a simple process to put up a form on your web site allowing people to sign up for a class, dinner, teleseminar or webinar. I’ll discuss below how you can customize your form to gather many different kinds of information. For example, you could find out how many in the family will be attending the dinner. Once they have registered and are on that specific list, the church can follow up with reminders, change of plans or the specifics on how to access the teleconference or webinar. After the event, the autoresponder can provide for any follow up necessary.

Email classes

The class could be about anything. The pastor could provide an email class similar to one he/she would teach in person. The key is, however, is that the class would only have to be composed once. Subsequent classes would be sent by the autoresponder at, for example, weekly intervals as new students sign up.

Updates

While the most common use of autoresponders is to send out prewritten messages at intervals, there is a broadcast feature that allows a message to be sent out to everyone on a specific list whenever you want. Your church could be involved in a capital campaign or the search for a new pastor. The autoresponder could be used to broadcast updates.

Newsletter

The most common use of the broadcast feature is to send out a newsletter. With postage rates going up, the ability to send a newsletter for free is a welcome alternative.

Collect information

The web form where people enter their name and email address can contain many other fields. As such, it can operate as a mechanism to collect things such as birthdays, anniversaries etc. It can also function as a way to conduct a simple survey.

Communicating with non-attendees

The two groups that immediately come to mind are the home bound and service men and women.

I’m sure every communication, announcement and update about what’s going on at the church is very much appreciated by those who are tied to their home. What could brighten a person’s day more who is half way around the world, putting their life on the line to defend our freedom than a message or prayer from the pastor?

Those who have moved away

We are in a mobile society. Just because someone moved to another community doesn’t mean they have lost interest in what’s going on at the church they attended. I think that includes potential financial support as well. Keep in touch.

Send links to other resources

To be delivered and read, emails should be short. The autoresponder can send out a broadcast message, which includes a link to a video or audio posted on your web site or blog.

On the fundraising side, you could produce DVDs or audio CDs of events or sermons and sell them to raise money. The DVDs and CDs could be physical. Today, there are ways to deliver this content digitally as well. Either way, the announcement about the content can be communicated via an autoresponder.

To form subgroups

Use a web form to have church members sign up for a committee. Use the form to build a youth group. In both cases, now you have a segregated list that can be used to communicate with the subgroup as necessary.

Coordinate with a blog

If your church has a blog, you can put an autoresponder form on the blog, which allows people to sign up to get a heads up email when blog posts appear. You can set your autoresponder to send out an email whenever a certain number of blogs posts accrue, on a specific day or days of the month or automatically every time a new blog post is published.

There are a number of autoresponder providers, but only a couple that are the cream of the crop. I use two, one of which is coordinated with my shopping cart. The one I would recommend you check out is AWeber.

I hope that this post gives you some ideas you can employ in your church. Post your creative applications under ‘Leave A Comment’ so everyone else can benefit.

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Robert Cavanaugh, EzineArticles.com Platinum Author