Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Web sites are your parish front door

I just finished reading Scot Landry’s chapter in the newly released book by Brandon Vogt: The Church and the New Media. Scot describes the work they have done in the Archdiocese of Boston to use all forms of electronic and printed media to build the Catholic community across the Archdiocese. Scot makes an observation that really resonates with me. Your parish website is your front door to anyone searching for a parish (and those currently involved with the parish).

When a person makes that first step to look for a church home, where are they likely to start? Perhaps other people they know. It’s also very likely they will search the web! So what do they see when they look at our parish websites? Hopefully they will be compelled to read more, and to come to visit!

Based on the research done in the Archdiocese of Boston, approximately 30% of the parishes have a welcoming front door. Assuming this reflects the typical population, somewhere in the range of 60% of our parishes haven’t polished their electronic entrances. Will we attract people looking for a home?

We also miss the opportunity to reach our existing parish community and keep them engaged. As we at OSV talk with parishes about setting up Online Giving, we often hear “our website is not good”. As we incorporate our new tools for giving, we have an opportunity to provide other great information about the faith and our parish community through the website. We can improve the experience of Online Giving with a web site that opens the door and provides useful tools and information.

What is your experience?

Quick Give

Practically every church has one or more events during the year for fund raising or other social purposes. They sell tickets at the event site and most of the attendees pay by check or cash.  Many administrators had been asking us to provide them with an easy solution to process these payments on site or in advance through Online Giving. So we responded a few months ago by introducing “Quick Give.” Quick Give is designed to let anyone make a payment for an event set up in advance by the church in their Online Giving application as a fund. All the person has to do (without creating an account in Online Giving) is to enter their personal information, credit card or bank account data and click submit.

Although the process is quite simple and relatively quick, it requires a computer with internet access to be set up at the site for processing payments. The individual could also process their own payment online prior to the event if the parish has set it up as a fund and made them aware of  it. Obviously processing payments prior to an event will depend on the type of event being held. An auction –vs- a raffle would be a good example.

A resourceful and creative administrator came up with a really “cool” way to collect payments for an auction and process them through Online Giving. He created a simple paper form for people to fill out and provide all the required information. He then took all the completed forms back to the office and had a volunteer process them in the church’s Online Giving application using the Quick Give feature. When all was said and done it only took him less than an hour to process 57 payments.

This is what he had to say about the process: “We found the Quick Give feature to be very user friendly and fast as we uploaded all the charges from our weekend event. Another great feature was that all who signed up for express checkout received their auction receipt of total purchases on Monday when the credit information was uploaded in the Online Giving. Almost 60% of our total auction gross was from credit and debit cards. It was everything I hoped for and much more.”

Some of you might have reservations about the security and safety of collecting sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, on paper forms. Although this is not a “high tech” solution (we have other options in the planning stage), it does work very well, and as this administrator noted, it was fast, practical and very cost effective. After they processed all the payments in Online Giving, they shredded the paper forms so as not to store credit card data from any attendee. Best of all, Online Giving provided detailed report on all the transactions processed through Quick Give.

Some churches have been using a mechanical credit card printer (also dubbed the “knucklebuster” by some) to get an imprint of the credit card and processing the payment using the information from the imprint. It is not only a slower way to process payments but it also does not have any room for personal information of the cardholder. The form created by the church mentioned above serves the purpose very well.

Allowing people attending such events to pay by credit card helps draw more attendees to the event as many individuals, especially the younger generation, do not carry much cash these days. Combining the best features of Online Giving with the traditional form of processing payments results in a very cost effective and speedy solution. Other credit card readers may add to your cost of processing payments in the form of monthly fees or set up fees. The old fashioned form, combined with processing through Quick Give, is the most practical and cost effective way to manage church events.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Online Giving - How do we Stay Engaged with Our Parish?

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Northwest Region International Catholic Stewardship council event. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience. (The event! I hope my presentation offered something to those who listened and if they were uplifted then Thanks Be to God!)

During my talk I had just finished a section of the presentation during which I thought I made a compelling case for why all of our parishes should be using an electronic giving application. There were a number of questions and comments from the audience, supporting the use of electronic giving. Then a priest in the rear of the room suggested that electronic giving applications removed people from participation at offertory and the Mass. This concern brought me to a halt momentarily while I considered the implications.

This comment may be part of the reason behind why some parishes have not moved to embrace electronic giving applications. Please consider some of the data about how the United States population performs banking and payment functions. In 2007, the US Census reported that there were 60 million electronic bank transactions versus slightly more than 20 million checks. reported in 2010 that 80% of all households with internet access do online banking. (I propose that its possible for parishioners who do not have internet at home to use the library or even the internet provided by the parish to access their online contributions). Of the households doing online banking, 28% are ages 21 to 34, 48% are ages 35 to 54, and 24% are age 54 or older. So online banking is distributed across all age groups!

The Leadership Network survey of 1000 churches found that 40% of them plan to do electronic giving in 2011. OSV did a survey of 1000 parishes in 2009 and ALL of them that use an electronic giving application indicated that contributions increased. The OSV Online Giving Indicator shows that about 10% of parishioners are using Online Giving at those parishes who have elected to offer OSVs Online Giving.

Any individual parish may not reflect the attributes of the United States overall population, but the data should generally apply. We have overwhelmingly moved to using the internet for our financial transactions. To respond to this change, our parishes should be making it very easy for our parishioners to give to the church using whatever tool works best for them. So we should offer both envelopes and Online Giving, teach people about the use and importance of both as tools for the parish, and thank them for using the tools provided.

Pope Benedict invites us to make good use of technology for the Catholic Church:
“Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea,
facing into the deep with the same passion that has
governed the ship of the Church for two thousand
years…. [W]e want to qualify ourselves by living
in the digital world with a believer’s heart, helping
to give a soul to the Internet’s incessant flow of
communication.” 22 — POPE BENEDICT XVI (2010)

So rather than avoid electronic giving, we should harness it for the good of the parish as a tool to serve our parishioners and increase our operational efficiency. To engage our parishioners we may need to look far deeper to match talents and strengths with parish ministry and mission. While we do the more challenging work to change lives, let’s create a plan for our “offertory tools” so that it is convenient to give financial gifts and so that we also provide a way to participate actively at Mass.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Debit or Credit?

One of the major benefits of electronic giving is that it allows online donors to charge their gifts to credit cards, something they cannot do when they drop a check or cash in the collection box or on the plate during church service. Our Sunday Visitor’s (OSV’s) Online Giving option allows the donor to store any number of credit or debit cards in his/her account and charge gifts to the card instead of having the money taken out of their bank account. It costs the donor nothing to use the card. In fact, the donor stands to gain by charging the gift to a credit card as many of them offer incentives such as cash back, airline frequent flyer miles or some other form of reward. We have seen people charging gifts of $5,000 or even more to their credit cards. Those giving $5,000 to the church could get 1%, or $50, cash back as a “reward” from the credit card issuer. So they get the best of both the worlds.

For some of the churches accepting donations charged to credit cards has become a major issue. Pastors at these churches are concerned about the burden of credit card debt that many families are finding increasingly difficult to manage, especially in the current economic environment. They do not want their members to go into even deeper debt by charging gifts to the church on their credit cards. We have seen approximately 15% of the churches using our Online Giving not offering the credit card option to their members.  Before you decide to limit electronic giving to bank accounts only, you should consider the following:

1.    The use of debit cards is growing in popularity. These cards are issued by the banks and they are just like checks – money comes out of the card holder’s account as soon as it is charged to the card. In other words, there is no “float”. There is also no risk of the donor incurring debt on a debit card transaction as he/she cannot put off paying the charge over a long period. 

Generally the card holder does not have to pay for debit cards. In fact, some cards offer incentives similar to the credit cards although such incentives are being phased out by banks.
Use of debit cards is growing far more rapidly than that of credit cards. From 2000 to 2009, the volume of credit card transactions grew by 207% while that of debit card transactions grew by 650%. At the same time, number of checks declined by 57%.

2.    In our Online Giving, debit cards are treated the same as credit cards. The cost of a transaction is therefore the same regardless of whether the donor has used a credit card or a debit card. Allowing the church members to use their debit cards removes the stigma associated with credit cards and their effect on the debt burden to a family. 

3.    By not offering a credit/debit card option, the church misses a great opportunity to increase its collections and stabilize revenue stream. The churches offering both ACH and credit/debit card options find that credit/debit card donations are typically 7 to 10% higher than the ACH donations. Analysis of over 450,000 transactions we have processed to date confirms this fact. Of the transactions we have processed to date, 42.5% are credit/debit card transactions and they account for 44% of total donations processed. 

4.    Although the donor does not have to pay anything to charge his/her gift to the card, the church does pay for it. Fees for most credit cards are in the 2 to 3% range. American Express (AE) generally charges considerably higher fees than Visa, MasterCard or Discover. In addition to the transaction fee, AE is also likely to charge you a monthly fee. Beware of all these fees when deciding to accept AE cards. Visa, MasterCard and Discover generally charge the same amount, so it is safe to accept all three types. 

5.    OSV’s Online Giving option allows the donor to consider giving little more when he/she charges the gift to a credit card to help offset the fees the church has to pay. Adding another $3.00 to a one time gift of $100 or even higher may not mean much to the donor, but it will go a long way toward offsetting these fees to the church. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Tale of Two Churches

Here is an interesting story I would like to share with you. What we have are two Catholic churches that have been using Our Sunday Visitor’s (OSV’s) Online Giving for a year. They are about the same size, within about 10 miles of each other and they both launched Online Giving at about the same time. However, one processed more than twice the dollar amount in online transactions than the other. So we decided to learn more about their experience with Online Giving.

As of July 1, 2011, 350 parishioners at one church have switched to giving online while the other, more affluent church was able to sign up only 225 people in the same time frame. Also, the one with more families has processed over $750,000 in online contributions while the other church processed less than $300,000. This is remarkable considering the fact that the first church does not even offer credit card option for giving while the second one does.

When you dig deeper into the transactions, however, the reasons become quite obvious. The first church has allowed parents to pay for school tuition and hot lunch programs using Online Giving. They also set up funds to allow parents to pay for various athletic events. These payments made up more than half of the total payments processed online.

According to the church officials, there are two distinct advantages in using Online Giving for processing payments for various activities in addition to weekly offertory:
  1. Parishioners do not have to write checks for payment, nor does the church have to process them manually. The bank has now started charging the church to process checks, so fewer checks means lower cost to the church.
  2. As parents make payments to the school or for athletic activities through Online Giving, they realize how easy it is and they have now started using it for their weekly offertory. Those giving online do not miss the weekly offertory when they set up their gift with the recurring weekly option. The yearly offering for a family giving online will increase as much as 30% (52 weeks of online giving vs. 40 weeks of checks when the family attends the Sunday Mass).
Many parishioners have commented that the only checks they wrote in the past were to the church. They like the convenience of giving electronically and the church stands to benefit too as its weekly collections go up significantly. This is a true win-win situation.