The $99 Plan for Church Tithing

God gives us 100%

As hard as we may try, the best we can give is 99. No matter what we do or how we do it, we can never give us much as God gives us.

Stewardship and Development. What’s that? Generally speaking, Stewardship is taking care of what you have or are responsible for. So if your friend goes on vacation and she wants you to watch her house… you are the steward of the house while she is away. You are also the steward of the material things (and money) that God has blessed you and your family with. And in church life, you and your fellow church members are stewards of the church buildings and grounds, etc. As a good steward, you take care of these things so that they will be there long after you have moved on, or passed on.

Development is increasing the participation of people in the act and mindset of Stewardship. So, development is getting more people to become stewards, and getting current stewards to be more active.

At many parishes, there is a person (or council) in charge of Stewardship & Development. And many parishes often struggle with encouraging parishioners to give more… or give at all. The Bible asks us to tithe 10 percent, though the vast majority of people (including really amazing and generous people) give nowhere near that number, and usually closer to 1 or 2 percent. So rather than feeling particularly GREAT about what they usually give, most people walk around feeling a bit GUILTY for never giving the biblical 10%. And that’s just not good. I believe that people should wear an honest smile, being able to give and participate.

Before making any progress, all leadership and parishioners should first read the short book, A Disciple’s Response.

Thom Hiatt offers the following new tithing concept, based on a specific zip code in San Diego County… with data from a specific Catholic parish. A parish in your area will have different characteristics and might want to consider massaging some of the following techniques to better fit its own demographics and statistics.

The parish in our example has nearly 2000 registered families, is financially sound, is not in debt, and has some cash in the bank.

Not all of the 2000 registered families attend weekly Mass. (Just like many people who have a gym membership simply don’t go to the gym.) And of the people who actually go to Mass, not all of them offer a gift. In this case, only about 20% of registered households make a gift to the church, while 80% make no gift… perhaps due to lack of attendance, or because maybe the traditional 10% rule can be intimidating.

Each week at this church, 391 households give a total of $16,137, based on the 3rd week of October 2013. 80% of weekly gifts are less than $50. And 60% are less than $25. An extremely common gift is $20, the average weekly household gift is about $40. What if there were an EASY way to get that $40 average up to $50, representing a 25% increase in giving, from the majority of households…?


There is an easy way… The $99 Plan. After prayerfully considering their individual financial situation, families choose one of three gift options:

  1. $99 per week
  2. $99 every other week
  3. $99 per month

(People love 3 of anything. Three is easy. A-B-C. 1-2-3. Good-Better-Best. Bronze-Silver-Gold. Small-Medium-Large. And, yes, 99 is 3 x 33.)

The credit or debit card charge is automatic every one, two or four weeks as requested.

  • The smallest option of $99 per month would be attractive to the 62% of people who are giving less than $25 per week. It’s only a tiny bit more than they are already giving. If those 62% are paying an average of $20 per week right now, the $99/mo option would represent a 20% increase from those families to the parish.
  • I estimate that about 100 families are currently giving just a bit less than $50 per week. These 100 families could easily choose the middle option of $99 every two weeks, and the parish collection from them would go up 10-15%.
  • The middle option of $99 every other week is the target plan the parish would seek for most families… not only for the folks who are currently giving a bit less than $50 per week, but ALSO for the folks who are giving in the smallest bracket. The goal would be to get some of them to jump from $99/mo to $99/every-other-week…. which would represent a massive increase in weekly church collections.
  • The higher option of $99/week is something that about 50-75 families would go for. It’s about what many of them are already giving, and it would also represent a small increase for a few of them.
  • The folks who are currently giving $150-500 per week (there are a dozen of them) I would recommend calling them on the phone, and getting them on board to stay where they are and not “drop down” to any of the three new options. Some of them may even want to give more… like $999/mo!

You see, in this research area, the average Household Income is only about $65,000… based on 2010 census data. These families are not giving 10% ($542/mo) and they won’t ever give 10%. So praying for 10% or 9% or 8% or 7% is a lot of fun, but the reality is that 2/3 of donors are giving closer to 1.5%.  ($20 per week X 52 weeks = $1040… then divided by $65,000 equals 1.6%). These same folks investing $99/mo instead of their current $80/mo would represent an increase to the church of $55,276 per year… after year… after year… after year. And this doesn’t even include the larger, majority of gifts coming from the remaining 38%.

This is not about ignoring the Bible. And it’s not about straying away from the Disciple’s Response. But it is about being realistic in an environment where currently 4/5 people don’t participate at all. And out of those that DO make a gift, 4/5 aren’t anywhere near 10%. It’s far less…

If we can get some folks from 0% to 1% and the other folks from 1% to 2% — we’re talking about big growth — like 200% growth. What’s even better is that when you invest and get involved, your heart is more into your faith, your faith grows, you begin to make a positive impact on others… perhaps even bringing new people into your faith… and that’s priceless.

Parishioners place slips in the offertory basket, so that it does not pass them by...
Parishioners place slips in the offertory basket, so that it does not pass them by…

Signing up will be very easy online or in the office. Make it part of the conversation with new parishioner registrations. Plus each family receives 3 gifts (yep, there’s that 3 again) when they sign up:

  1. People who sign up will receive a set of “$99 Plan” slips that are the same size as a paper check. They are gorgeous, double-sided, full-color slips that the family (and kids) sign and feel good putting into the basket at Mass. On the back, it  shows the three options and encourages all parishioners to sign up, or consider jumping up to the next level at some point… Three different versions of slips show what donations are generally used for (lights, maintenance, etc) and why it’s necessary.
  2. The head of household who signs up in the office gets a cool T-Shirt that says, “I’m part of the Plan.” (See below).
  3. As a bonus… by participating in the $99 Plan at ANY level (weekly, two weeks, or monthly) the family gets free admission to select popular annual events at the church, i.e. Chili Fest, Food Fair, etc. (These events, by the way, should never be promoted as parish “fund raisers” as they too often make a big deal out of earning $2000, which in reality is a drop in the bucket for an annual parish budget. Instead, allow participating parishioners to attend for free, as they are members of the family. Profits simply go in the bank and are not published.)
The head of household who signs up for The Plan gets a cool T-Shirt.

With The $99 Plan, there are no tiers, and nobody knows which option another person or family is on. We’re all together in the whole Plan…. just at our own private level.

It’s not a capital campaign… yet the big increases provide for capital needs over time. Theoretically, a parish that brings in more than it needs, and is a good steward with those funds, has plenty of funds on hand to purchase and build what it needs in the future, without ever having to conduct a single capital campaign (or bake sale).

We all know that cash and paper checks are declining in use and popularity. We all know that electronic-giving is consistent whether I’m in town, sick, or on vacation. And we know that many parishes have really never marketed electronic-giving other than sideline mentions. It’s a direction parish leadership should be taking in a much bigger way, with a smile on our collective face.

Bottom line… The $99 Plan…

  1. is easier for everybody
  2. can develop some big financial increases
  3. uses a very marketable $99 number that never goes out of style

Do consider using “The Plan” for your church, and call Faith in Marketing at (858) 877-3733 for supporting materials including strategy, execution, graphic design, printing, t-shirts, video production, web development and more.

Peace be with you,

Thom Hiatt