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.