Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Online Giving; Perfect for the Holidays!

This is an excellent time to add special collections for Advent, Christmas, the New Year and Epiphany into your Online Giving application. You may have a special project or cause that is important to your parish. Add a collection in Online Giving for contributions to needy families or other projects. You can add new collections at any time and even schedule the time they are visible and available for contributions.

If you don't have Online Giving, then this is the time to make the move! You can have it set up and ready for contributions from parishioners and guests who come for Christmas Mass.

The Quick Give option in Online Giving provides an easy way for people to contribute to the church without registering in the Online Giving application. When you send out your Christmas mailing and publish your Mass times, include directions for Online Giving and Quick Give.

Encourage parishioners to bring their envelope to Mass and select the "Gave Electronically" option on the envelope.

And with Online Giving in place, your parish will continue to receive contributions in the event of bad weather. The story from St. Paul Catholic Church is one example.

I'm grateful for this time to step back and consider the Hope of the season. May you and your families have a Merry Christmas and may your parish be vibrant and engaging in the upcoming year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Websites and Online Giving Tips for a Great Combination - Like Peanut Butter and Chocolate

This is an updated version of an earlier blog topic
 As we continue to learn from our work with the Archdiocese of Boston, and across the country, your website is your "virtual front door" to your parish. One of the key components of a great parish website is easy access to Online Giving. This past week we talked with several parishes who are very interested in pursuing Online Giving. The website is a significant impediment to their progress rather than a useful tool to enable access to web-based giving.  OSV "Faith In Action" websites are designed to make this easy for you.

Set a Communication Plan

As you prepare to offer web-based giving, you should create the initial communication plan and get the system set up so parishioners can immediately access the application. So one of the steps is to update your website to include information about Online Giving, plus a link that connects to Online Giving. Once you announce that the service is available, you want parishioners to be able to get to Online Giving easily so they can get started right away.
 Incorporate Website Best Practices

Your website must be organized well and easy to navigate. A great parish website can help you improve the acceptance of Online Giving by making it obvious how to get started, easy to access, and by providing useful information about the importance of Online Giving. If your website provides other compelling information about the Faith, then as parishioners access the site for Online Giving, they may also be able to spend time learning more about being a good Catholic!
 Here are a few tips:
  • Display your parish name, city and address and contact information prominently
  • Feature a map to your parish
  • Add information about the Faith
  • Add a section to welcome newcomers
  • Add dynamic information
  • Offer people the opportunity to give a gift! 
 Make Sure Your Website and Online Giving Are Easy to Manage
The parishes I referenced earlier were embarrassed and frustrated by their web sites. The web sites were not compelling and not up to date. The person who is setting up Online Giving did not have the ability to do updates. In a couple cases, the person who updated the website worked part time and was the only person who had access to update the site.

The parish website is the best place to access your online giving application. And we should all be implementing Online Giving at our parishes so that our parishioners have this additional convenient option to contribute to the parish. So we need both. Parish Website and Online Giving. When the website is good and you have your Online Giving link prominently displayed, they work together. That's why the web site and Online Giving are like peanut butter and chocolate, which is one of my personal favorite combinations!

How about your experience with your parish website and Online Giving?

By the way thousands of new parishioners per month are signing up to use OSV's Online Giving at parishes across the country. The average parishioner use for parish is now at 13 to 14% of parishioners, up to a high of more than 50%.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Online Giving and Envelopes: Synergy for your Parish

As I meet with parishes and dioceses I find that people think of their electronic giving application and their offering envelopes separately. Recently we were visiting a parish where these were two different staff members who managed the different offerings! When we asked them if they were working together on how to get the most out of both, they said no. By the end of our meeting they recognized the need to plan together to coordinate the two.

Even more concerning are parishes who place electronic giving and envelopes at odds with each other. "How do we decide which to use? Can we eliminate envelopes?" This approach completely misses the idea that we are providing options to parishioners so everyone can give from a sense of abundance and gratitude. we don't want to exclude anyone.

In our desire to compartmentalize functions and organize ourselves, sometimes we miss the opportunity to create an environment to foster cross-communications. Both web sites and electronic giving are technology based; however, their use is for communications and for contributions. While the skill set to understand the administration of electronic giving is different from the skill set to manage offering envelopes, the purpose of both of them is the same. So periodically it makes sense to step back and talk about these tools together as a parish staff. This includes how we represent them to parishioners.

As we all have gained experience with electronic giving it has become clear that we have to think about electronic giving and offering envelopes together as options for parishioners to use for contributions. Use them to reinforce each other by including your electronic giving URL on your envelopes and by reminding Online Giving users they can use envelopes at Mass and select "gave electronically". Remind envelope users if they forgot to give to a special collection they can use Online Giving and give to that collection as a One Time Gift.

This is a wonderful opportunity to remind parishioners about prayerful giving. As we talk about the introduction of electronic giving to our parish, we can use that opportunity to thank people for using envelopes. Our parishes can provide us options that are convenient for us as parishioners, and we can even use both as the need arises! What a great time to update your envelope designs and to express gratitude to people for their contributions. As a result we can raise overall awareness, remind people of the tools available to them, and get more engagement and contributions from both our electronic giving and our envelopes.

Use the introduction of new tools like Online Giving to create synergy for your parish! The same goes for web sites and Online Giving, but that's good for another time!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Make your website work for your parish!

We recently had the pleasure of joining members from the Catholic Media Secretariat in the Archdiocese of Boston for a forum on "Creating Excellent Parish Websites". Pilot New Media had completed the survey of parish websites across the archdiocese and the forum was to present results to parishes and make recommendations for web site best practices. The entire presentation may be viewed at: http://www.pilotnewmedia.com/parishwebsites/.

Website reviews covered three broad categories: Appearance (such things as Inviting and well-organized), Content (including parish address, mass times, directions, faith formation materials), and Functionality (such as calendar, interactive map, electronic offertory). The team also referenced the study conducted by the Villanova University Center for the Study of Church Management: "What Do Parishioners Value in Parish Websites?"

The next presentation focused on what makes a great web site for a parish. Dom Bettinelli, Creative Director for Pilot New Media provided valuable information starting with how to select a clear and memorable domain name. I liked the general recommendation to use www.parishsainttown.org or .com. For long saints names, abbreviate, but include the town or city you are located in. This helps people differentiate between your St Marys parish and the one across the country! Make sure your parish name and the address of the parish are prominently displayed on the site. The Archdiocese of Boston recommends a line under the parish name that states: A Parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to help create an overall sense of community and identity. Include a photo image of the church, plus a map with directions.

Those are the most straightforward recommendations. But Boston went further: Include news feeds, links to Online Giving, information for new members and for returning to the church, and importantly, information about the faith, what we believe, the sacraments. Provide parishioners information they need to know and an easy way to find it. Make the website a useful educational tool and not simply a listing of location and mass times.

Scot Landry, Secretary for Catholic Media, says in Chapter 7 of 'The Church and New Media':

"Every one of the churches media vehicles is a 'virtual front door' to the church and we want it to be welcoming, well cared for and worthy of someone's visit..."

Let's make it worthwhile for everyone to visit our parish websites, including parishioners and those searching for a home! For an example of a website that adheres to the best practices outlined by the Archdiocese of Boston, please visit: sampleparish.org

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stewardship and Web Sites: OK is not Enough!

There are many wonderful examples of engaging and useful parish websites across the United States. Oh the other hand there are also many sites that are poorly organized, and rarely updated. If we are not using our websites as an integral part of our parish communication plan, we are poor stewards of this resource. In addition we are missing a key component for education and communication.

In researching his book “ Best Practices in Parish Stewardship”, Chuck Zech determined that a newsletter is the most effective way to communicate with parishioners, and web sites were the second most effective.

Why then do we leave the web site to fend for itself?

Key challenges include staff time, and technical knowledge. Parish leadership must also recognize the web site as one of the key tools for the parish and apply the appropriate priority and planning for the web site.

St. Anne parish in Columbus, GA is one of the exceptions. They converted their web site to a system they are able to maintain and update. And they have created a site that incorporates both important standard information PLUS a section devoted to stewardship topics and how to get engaged at the parish. They have been good stewards of the website itself while also using it to enhance their overall stewardship efforts with parishioners.

The Archdiocese of Boston Secretariat for Media team researched all the parish web sites to assess the quality and effectiveness of web sites across the Archdiocese. Based on their research there and other work to evaluate web sites they developed recommendations for what makes a great parish website and subsequent designs and guidelines for web site templates.

At ICSC today, an attendee who is part of his parish stewardship board put it accurately: “Our web site is OK. We saved some money on it but we have a very difficult time updating it and it could be better. If we focused more on making it better and a little less on saving money, think how many lives we might touch…”

What do you think?

EFT is not the answer

Does your parish have EFT set up for direct debit with banks? Are many parishioners using it? Probably not. In one of my previous posts I wrote that I heard parishioners did not like EFT because they find it difficult to set up and even more difficult to make timely changes.

That was reinforced in a big way this week in discussion with a few dozen parishes. EFT originally seemed like a good way to go because it was a direct withdrawal from bank or checking accounts. However as banks have started charging for this service it all gets a double whammy because it is inflexible and now it has additional associated costs. Put this together with the requirement to provide bank account information to the parish office to set up the withdrawal and EFT becomes a “non-starter”.

Web based Online Giving offers parishioners the security of entering their own account information privately. The account information is immediately encrypted and secured. Parishioners can select and change their contribution amounts, frequencies, and the dates of contributions at any time. This kind of service provides the convenience and flexibility we have come to expect from electronic systems.

One business manager I spoke with this week had previously implemented EFT and changed to Online Giving, employing both direct withdrawal and credit card options for contributions. Today he regularly promotes Online Giving as an option for parishioners. In the materials he goes a step further to say that parish staff is NOT involved in the parishioner contributions. With this approach the parish has seen great acceptance of the new tool and over 20% of contributions are coming from this system.

Consider whether or not EFT is providing your parish a service that makes giving easy. You might be able to use a service that makes it more convenient plus provides a boost to parish income!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sacrificial Giving

I was recently working with a parish to get started on Online Giving. The pastor had some concern about whether or not parishioners would use the system, so I met with several different people to inquire about their level of comfort. As you would expect, there was a wide mix of opinion ranging from "I won't use it" to " Absolutely! it would be great".

One of the recurring messages was about participation at Mass. The offertory is a time of full participation and sacrificial giving. People like to actively participate during this time and the envelope is the evidence of that participation. When I told people that they had the option to keep their envelopes and add "gave electronically" as a message on the envelope, there was visible relief.

As we move further into our electronic age we will have to teach more about how to use the tools while maintaining our active relationship with our parishes and our participation at Mass. The Stewardship department at the Archdiocese of St. Louis has distributed several articles and white papers on how to maintain this relationship. There is one white paper created back in 2005 that explored the impact of electronic giving tools and concluded that they have a key place in our church. The paper goes on to say that it is equally important to teach about the "need to give" and to provide the offering envelope for parishioners to use at Mass.

The key is that we continue to find ways to connect people with each other and to the parish as we celebrate our Faith. Many parishes and dioceses have anticipated the possible disconnect and have provided guidance to provide people ways to be part of the celebration.

Meanwhile, the parish has implemented Online Giving and has begun to engage parishioners to use the system. The next step is to make people comfortable that this is a great tool to use while also providing them something that helps them participate while at Mass.

How has your parish addressed this?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How do you convert from a manual system to OLG?

Recently, a parish administrator called me to inquire if there was an easy way to transfer credit card information on more than 70 parishioners to Online Giving. It seems he was processing credit card donations from these people manually every month. In addition to all the paperwork he had to do every month, he also carried a huge risk of storing parishioners’ sensitive data in his office. We have had parishes that have been keeping such records for as many as 200 people!

There is no easy way to transfer this information into Online Giving. If the administrator wants to “manage” these accounts himself, he will have to create a separate identify for each person in Online Giving by creating user ID and password for each and keying in credit card or bank information in his/her account. It is undoubtedly a time consuming job that will take several hours or even days to complete.

Before you undertake this work, it would help if you were to ask each person who authorized you to process their donations and charge their credit cards if they would like to manage their own accounts in the new Online Giving program. Send them a personal letter with information on Online Giving (FAQs, Pamphlets, link to OSV’s web site, etc.) and ask them to familiarize themselves with the new option. You will be surprised how many of them decide to log in and create their own giving plan. We frequently hear from people who see how Online Giving works for the first time how easy it is to use. Once they start using it, they like and enjoy the freedom, flexibility and security it provides.

Another benefit of letting them manage their own account is that they start visiting your web site more often. When you see more families connecting with you via the web site, you can add more features and functionality to it and turn it into a powerful communication tool. In case your web site is not fully functional or up to date, OSV can help you with it too.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Are EFT and ACH the same?

Many people seem to have a misconception about electronic giving. We hear many parish administrators say they already offer electronic giving or their members are already giving electronically. In most cases what they mean is that some of the members use their bank’s “Bill Pay” feature to process contributions to their church electronically. There is a difference between the electronic process used by banks and that utilized in Online Giving.

When a member arranges to process the church donation using his/her bank’s Bill Pay service, he/she is simply instructing the bank to issue a check on a certain date for the specified amount. The bank mails a paper check to the church which the church staff has to process like any other check received during the Sunday Mass. This process is commonly referred to as EFT – Electronic Funds Transfer.

In Online Giving, there is no check issued by any bank and the member’s donation goes directly from the member’s bank account to the church’s bank account. It is transmitted over the ACH network. The term ACH stands for Automated Clearing House. ACH is an electronic network of financial institutions in the United States. It is managed by NACHA – Electronic Payment Association, a nonprofit organization with over 11,000 members that manages the development, administration, and governance of the ACH Network.

So why would anyone switch from EFT to ACH for church donations? In the first place, there is no risk of losing a check in the mail in ACH process. Secondly, the bank deducts the funds from the account on the scheduled date although it may take 5 to 7 days for the check to reach the church. If the check is lost, there is no way for the church or the member to know. The church member may be under the false impression that he/she has given to the church whereas the church may think the member simply forgot to give since the donation is voluntary. In the case of ACH transaction, the church will know what it should be collecting if the member has set up recurring donations. Also, it also does not have to process a paper check which in some cases adds to the cost. The ACH transfer takes no more than 2 to 3 days and can be traced easily.

Thirdly, Online Giving has several features, such as scheduling pledges and recurring contributions, choosing the date to give and frequency (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) suspending or cancelling future donations, etc. The EFT payment option offered by banks generally does not have as much flexibility as the ACH option offered by Online Giving.

As the volume of checks steadily declines, it is going to increase the cost of issuing and processing them. The ACH option is the most flexible, secure and cost-effective way to donate and is a true win-win situation for both the church and the member.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Remember Online Giving is a Change

This past week I was talking with a diocesan manager and also parishes about the rate of acceptance of Online Giving. Even though many people have become accustomed to electronic banking, this is still a change for how they conduct their parish contributions. It needs to be managed as a change and therefore "marketed" to parishioners.

I have experience with one parish who implemented an electronic giving tool, announced that it was available at one Mass and placed paper applications at the back of the church. Today no one is using the electronic option and the parish thinks it is not of interest to parishioners.

Parishes that treat the introduction of Online Giving as a change realize they must create a leadership team to be the first users, and they must announce the new offering in several ways and for several months. Those who have taken time to make sure their parishioners realize it is an acceptable and important option to the parish have significantly greater numbers of users than those who have made little effort.

Ideas that have been successful:
Hold receptions with food and beverages along with demonstrations to show people how to get started,
Assign a lay leader the project to roll out Online Giving
Send a letter announcing the new offering to parishioner homes
Include an insert in the mailed envelope packet.

Oh and don't forget to let them know that envelopes are valuable too. People like to use the envelope at Mass. Parishes can change their designs to add "gave electronically" to the envelope. This way parishioners stay connected at Mass and also have the convenience of a wonderful new option for giving.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Parishioners will rush to use Online Giving

Make it useful for them.

Do you think Online Giving is useful only for collecting weekly offerings? Many administrators don’t seem to think so. They are tuning in to parishioners’ preferences and unlocking the potential of Online Giving to provide added benefits that parishioners find most useful. Here are just a few examples:

A school run by the Catholic Church in Massachusetts signed up for a separate Online Giving account and took advantage of the merchant account with Sage, payment processor for Online Giving, to sign up for a hot lunch program offered by hotlunch.com. This program provided additional time saving features and benefits to parents as well as students while allowing school administrators to use the latest in technology to streamline their operations and improve efficiency. The school also set up funds in Online Giving for before-school and after-school programs, auctions and Pre-K Extended Stay programs in addition to tuition and hot lunch. Parents who found the electronic giving option so user-friendly and easy to navigate that they went on their church’s Online Giving page and signed up to make online contributions to weekly offertory as well as to other funds set up by the Church.

Another parish in Wisconsin tuned into what was most useful and convenient to parishioners and saw 250 people signing up for Online Giving in less than six months when it introduced school tuition payment option through its Online Giving site. The tuition accounted for 74% of the transactions during that period. Once parents signed up for tuition payment through Online Giving, they found it to be so easy to set up payments, they switched to online donations for weekly offering, capital improvements and holy day collections, among other things. The church in Indiana has a similar success story to share. It signed up twice as many parishioners for Online Giving than another parish just ten miles away because it allowed parents to pay for tuition and athletic events using the ACH option in Online Giving.

Online Giving is not designed to handle all the needs of the school for managing tuition payments and related issues. There are other programs, such as FACTS Tuition Payment, that have features that might be useful to some parents. However, a majority of the parents would rather pay tuition from their bank accounts than sign up for payment to a third party that charges a fee for its services. The fees may make sense to those who need additional services but the ones who prefer to keep their tuition cost as low as possible generally opt for a simpler payment option that does not cost them anything. The cost to the school of providing the tuition option through Online Giving ($0.29 per ACH transaction regardless of the Dollar amount) is relatively insignificant. More importantly, it does not cost the parents anything.

Of all the transactions processed in our Online Giving system in August 2011, little over 42% of the Dollar amount was processed for events and activities other than regular Sunday collections. The most frequent online collections are for:

  1. Diocesan Annual Appeals
  2. Building Maintenance
  3. New Church Building
  4. Capital Campaigns
  5. Debt Reduction
  6. Stewardship Campaigns
  7. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Collections
  8. Schools
  • Tuition
  • Lunch Program
  • Athletic Events
  • Facility Maintenance
  • Operating Budget
  • Overall Support
  • Capital Campaign for New Building

The main goal of the churches or their affiliated schools is to make it convenient to their members to pay for any of the events or services offered by them. In view of the ever-growing use of debit cards and online bill-pay option offered by banks, it is imperative that churches utilize the functionality and features built into Online Giving and get the most out of them.