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How to move people to give or take action

By Sophia Agtarap

In August 2013, Forbes magazine published an article about what levers would move people to action. The article by Tait Martin, chief research officer at Taproot Creative, offered a prescription for mobilizing people into action.

Martin addressed our need to be certain of a return when we invest time and money. In the church, that means being certain of positive answers to questions such as: How many pledge cards will we get back if we do this bulk mailing? If we advertise our fall kickoff event on Facebook, how many from the neighborhood will come? If we do a direct mailing to homes within a two-mile radius of our church, how many will show up?

The article cites commercials such as those that leave you wondering, “What did that have to do with the actual product?” The commercial was humorous, but it didn’t really move people to buy. Similarly, a series of Levi’s commercials that came out in 2011 encouraged viewers to “go forth” and seize the day. They pulled viewers into a beautiful story about youth achievement. However, during a time of high youth unemployment, the ad came off as a little counterintuitive and was probably not very effective at making viewers feel like buying Levi’s jeans to “take on the world.”

In the Forbes article, Martin advises, “Don’t spend so much time trying to amuse or even inspire consumers.” Instead, focus on the following four levers to get people to act.

As we continue in a new year of ministry, promote giving and plan for Lent and Easter, let’s see if some of Martin’s advice can apply to churches.

1. Feeling. Unless you are a robot, you have feelings about something. Financial facts of the budget shortfall may not move you, but learning it will negatively affect a free after-school program for the children in your neighborhood might. The field of psychology recognizes eight main emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger and anticipation. You can probably think of a commercial built around a story that triggered at least one of these responses.

Consider starting a small storytelling ministry. Dig deep for great stories. For example, how exactly do you help families locally or elsewhere in the world? Study the art of storytelling. Invite the best storytellers in your congregation share short stories to promote campaigns, mission efforts or big events.

2. Function. What’s the purpose of your giving campaign? If the people in your congregation don’t understand what you are asking them to do, it’s not likely they will say “yes.” Be clear about how your goal positively affects the church and community.

If the campaign’s purpose is to provide water pumps in Africa, play a short video showing what a similar village looked like before and after installation. Let people see the resulting sustainable farm or garden, fresh food on the dinner table and vendors selling their produce at the market.

3. Compatibility. How is your call to action (CTA) compatible with the lifestyles of your congregation and community? The easier the action, the more likely they will support the cause.

  • Discover needs. Get to know the makeup of your congregation. Survey church members to see how they like to receive information, how they like to serve and the easiest methods for them to give.
  • Be clear. Specifically state what it is and how much time it will take to do what you are asking. Instead of saying, “spread the news about small groups,” say “take two minutes and post this message (give them a template) on Facebook.”
  • Be feasible. Look at the example above. Most people are already on Facebook. Give them a message to copy/paste and the CTA is now fully compatible with their busy lifestyle.
  • Provide a secondary CTA. Some people will not be able to give during your campaign. The Facebook example gives people another opportunity to support the cause by spreading the news.
  • Make it easy to give. Many people do not carry checkbooks, and cash gifts are no longer tax-deductible without documentation. Electronic giving allows for easy documentation and the use of debit cards or smartphone apps to transfer funds. It also increases the odds that people will give even when they cannot attend worship services.

4. Cost. What will make your project happen? Finances, prayer, human capital — all of these resources cost something, whether money, time or another in-kind donation. Be sure you ask the right questions to make the right ministry investments. Address these questions with all stakeholders first and then present your answers to the congregation.

Show congregants visually how each dollar will be used. Here’s an example. United Methodist Communications’ connectional giving team shows how the dollars given to the church are at work in the following special sunday infographics:

You can also find many other resources at, from information on apportioned funds and Special Sundays to support resources like videos, shareable stories and offering materials.

Remember, even after you understand and begin incorporating these levers into your conversations and communication at church, behavioral changes won’t come quickly. Such shifts take time to understand the cultures in our congregations and to match the community’s needs with people’s gifts.