Electronic Giving

Electronic giving is not the future – it is now!  If you are not offering this service to members of your congregation you are losing opportunities to receive financial gifts.  Billions of dollars in fewer checks are being written each year. A great many people under the age of 65 now pay their bills on-line.

As we visit churches, a majority of people tell us that “church” is about the only place they ever write a check – there, and maybe for Girl Scout cookies!  Most Generation X and Millennials don’t even carry a check book, and few of them carry much cash.  They are a “swipe and sign” generation.  It is fast, convenient, and easy to track.  You may forget to enter a check in your register, but the bank never misses the use of the debit card.

Now do you see the problem when it comes to the offering plate?  If a few crumpled singles or a polite nod to the deacon to “pass me by” is what you want during the offering, then continue to make cash or check the only option.  You will not be disappointed.  If, however, you are hoping to help people discover the joy of generosity and provide them with the means to support the ministry God has called your church to engage in – then you need to provide electronic alternatives.  Small church, big church, urban church, rural church – it does not matter.  The culture around money has changed, and the church needs to recognize this trend, even if we don’t care much for it or places us out of our comfort zone.

There is good news around this issue.  The ability to receive electronic payment has become both easier (with numerous service providers) and less costly (the benefit of competition).  Your local bank has likely lowered its fees for Electronic Fund Transfers and Automatic Bill Pay services because they want to encourage the move away from checks and toward electronic banking as a cost savings to them.

How does it work?  There are several ways in which your congregation can engage the new realities of money.  Contact the bank that your church does business with and ask them as to whether or not they provide electronic banking services such as automatic debit and/or electronic fund transfers.  Specifically, you want to be able to provide them with authorization to automatically withdraw funds from the accounts of your congregation’s donors who have signed up for such a service.  If your bank does this, they will quote a fee for setting this transaction up, and provide you with paperwork that you give to your financial supports.  The process is remarkably simple and the fees are generally low. (The cost to one church I am aware of was a total of $40 with no fees for monthly transactions!)  The Center for Faith and Giving provides a sample of what an Electronic Funds Transfer application might look like for your congregation. (These may also be referred to as ACH, eCheck, or Electronic Debit)

If the financial leadership feels this is not within their comfort zone, or your bank does not provide these services or if the fees appear unreasonable, you can use a professional service.  That service will receive and process the paperwork from your donors and handle matters with your bank and the bank of your givers.

There are professional service providers to help you with setting up electronic giving and they can assist you in on-line and mobile giving as well.

In addition to simple automatic debiting/transfers, you should also strongly consider developing the ability receive payments via debit cards and credit cards.  Again, commercial companies can help you establish web-based commerce so that you can receive gifts via your website.  These services however, come at a cost.  Another options is to “do it yourself” via consumer friendly services such as PayPal and Square.  They are easy to set up and use – giving you “on site” ability to receive a gift.  Have a volunteer available before and after worship with a smart phone or tablet and let people know they can make an electronic gift is all that is necessary.

Some congregations are utilizing QR codes (Quick Response) to automatically connect people with smart phones to their electronic donation page.  The church prints the code in the bulletin and at any time during worship, (or later if they take the bulletin home) the worshipper can simply scan the code and make a gift.  QR codes are easy to use and are free to create.  For those who want to explore this option, visit http://www.qr-code-generator.com/ .  You can have multiple QR codes to direct people to funding pages for specific projects or mission, should you choose to do so.

A note here about cost and fees.  In most cases, the fees charged for services are reasonable and should be viewed as a cost of doing business.  Yes, some of the options may cost you as much as 3.5% (or higher) of the gift – but consider this when making a decision — $96.50 (out of $100) is better than zero!  A fee for a gift given is small considering the cost of a gift not given at all.  Many congregations indicate the full fee charged to receive an electronic gift on their donation site, and offer the option (or at least suggest) of making a gift that includes the fee so the fully intended donation is received by the church.

The Center for Faith and Giving uses Square for our electronic commerce, and when a credit card is “swiped” (as opposed to manual entry) on our phone or tablet, the charge (cost to us) is only 2.8%.  We consider this nominal for the convenience and the opportunity it presents. (This is not meant to be an endorsement for any service provider!)

The bottom line here is simple – it is not difficult to make electronic giving available to your congregation and you are missing opportunities to receive gifts when you chose not to do so.

Some will resist making electronic giving available to the congregation.  Likely they will not see a need for it for themselves or their friends.  Leadership must assure them that they may continue to use cash/checks and that the church will still gladly receive them!  Adding electronic giving changes nothing for those who don’t wish to utilize it – it simply creates an opportunity for those who desire to give in this manner.  Another “plus” for electronic giving to raise during a discussion about adopting it is that such gifts don’t go on vacation or miss worship – even when the giver does!  Many church observe an improvement in cash flow, especially during the summer months, when they have a large number of giving units who give electronically.

There is an aspect of worship about giving, and that should not ignored.  We encourage congregations to create cards to place in the pew rack and to send with your initial acknowledgement letter when someone begins to use electronic giving.  The card (we recommend it be printed in color, on heavy card stock, not laminated) can say “This card represents a gift made electronically for the mission and ministry of the (name of your church).  On the other side, it might contain the annual campaign theme and artwork for the current fiscal year, or the mission statement or vision of the congregation.  These cards are placed in the offering plate in lieu of cash/check/envelop during the offering time.  After worship, they can be sorted out during the count, and simply replaced in the worship space prior to the next scheduled service.  When the cards look a bit “dog-eared” make new ones.  (Sample cards are available on the CFG website.)  You can produce them on a color copier for minimal cost.

A note about credit cards.  The hope is that you are also offering regular classes on personal finance, so that people understand how to use these cards to their advantage and not as a tool for long term unsecured borrowing.  (The Center for Faith and Giving provides a personal finance class curriculum – see our website.)  The ability to use debit cards – which is the electronic equivalent of paying cash (tied to the available balance in the account) comes with the ability to take credit cards.  Encourage people to use their card responsibly and encourage the use of the debit card over and against the credit card if this creates a moral dilemma for your leadership.