In the midst of this pandemic, you have plenty on your plate with family and with work. And now, when we are not worshipping together in one place, we are discovering how dependent we are on the offering plate. With the abrupt move to virtual gatherings, many congregations have struggled to move all aspects of their worship online—particularly the offering. If your congregation doesn’t currently offer ways to give electronically, you may be wondering how to get up to speed on this new technology quickly. Before you begin searching for solutions, here’s a quick introduction to online giving methods, key features, and tools you can use to set the process in motion quickly.
There are many ways people can give online, via the: congregation’s website, mobile app, text, or bill pay through their bank account. Before pursuing a specific option, I invite you to check-in with a few congregation members. During this time pandemic, consider checking in with members of the council first. Ask them over the phone, text, or e-mail:
- How would you like to give online to this congregation right now? How might this shift after the pandemic ends?
- Would you prefer to give by using a phone, tablet, or computer? If by phone, would you prefer a mobile app, text giving, or both?
- Would you want the option to give a one-time gift, recurring gift, or both?
Once you have a clearer sense of the way people would like to give to your congregation, you can begin looking for a service that will fit your congregation’s needs. While most donors across the generations now prefer to give online, it is possible that members of your congregation do not want to give in this way. It’s important to only implement services people are interested in using. If you decide to move forward, here are a few key factors to consider in your decision-making process:
- Security and Privacy: Since the vendor will be handling sensitive member data, it’s vital to look into their security and privacy policies. If you can’t find it on their website, contact them.
- Ease of Use: How many steps will the member need to complete? Can someone who is less tech-savvy easily follow the steps to make their gift?
- Price: Consider the total price including any monthly costs, transaction fees, set-up costs, and other fees. You may want to check and see if your denomination has a preferred vendor with discounted pricing. For instance, the ELCA has a preferred vendor relationship with Vanco and the PC(USA) offers an Online Giving Program through the Presbyterian Foundation.
- Referrals: Check-in with denominational staff and other ministry leaders to see what services they have used and what their experience has been like.
Ready to get started ASAP? Here are a few tools to consider:
- Bill Pay: This is a free service offered through most banks and credit unions. The member simply needs to log into their bank’s website, navigate to its online bill pay feature, and then specify the church as the receiver. Payments can be sent electronically or via paper check on a one-time or recurring basis. This is an easy way to engage committed givers with no set-up (or additional fees) on the church’s side. Since this method requires a little more work for the member, you’ll want to provide instructions. Here’s an example from North Albany Community Church.
- PayPal: If you’re looking to put a donate button on your website, PayPal can help you get up and running in just 15 minutes. Members don’t need a PayPal account to donate and there’s discounted pricing for charitable organizations.
- Vanco: If you’re looking for a broader suite of services, Vanco offers a mobile app, text giving, website links, and more. They can usually get a congregation up and running within a week.
Is It Worth It?
With already strained congregation finances, you may be wondering whether all the work (and the cost) is worth it. When it comes to costs, the options discussed above have little to no monthly or set-up costs. However all (except for Bill Pay) have fees associated with them—generally 2-3%. Remember, if someone is donating in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise, receiving $97 out of the $100 donation is still worthwhile. Additionally, if you can invite members to move to recurring giving online this can help to even out church cash flow all throughout the year.
Cost aside, the most important reason to implement online giving is not the financial need of the congregation. Online giving is a way for people to knit their generosity and their faith into the fabric of their daily life. Giving online, on a recurring basis, can help people give first—right after their paycheck comes in-—making giving a more regular part of their family budget. It can also help them connect their money to the mission and ministry of the congregation all the time, not just on the Sundays they attend worship. Online giving can be a win/win for both the member and the congregation.
Blessings as you navigate this time of crisis. May you not forget what God is calling you to do and to be. May you continue to share the message of hope and abundance as scarcity and anxiety abound.
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