Electronic Giving Provides Simplicity and Convenience for the Modern Church

Businesses are increasingly switching to electronic payment processing systems in order to keep up with consumer demand for more payment options and flexibility-and are saving money in the process. Electronic payment services are saving businesses up to 90 percent in invoicing costs and over 55 percent in billing and collections costs altogether.

According the 2005/2006 Study of Consumer Payment Preferences, conducted by the American Bankers Association and in conjunction with Dove Consulting, consumers are opting for electronic payment methods rather than cash or check, which account for only 45 percent of their monthly payments. More than ever before, people are carrying less cash and paying more with electronic methods (such as a credit or debit card) than with paper checks or cash. Many are paying bills online and even automating their monthly payments with recurring billing.

Unfortunately, Churches and Nonprofit organizations are falling behind the curve, even though they need efficient systems as much as any for-profit business, if not more. Non-profits generally have a higher tendency for inconsistent revenue flow. But still, many are reluctant to change their methods of collecting donations and contributions. Common concerns include: fear of acceptance, unfamiliarity with technology, or even perceived conflicts of value.

The Problem with Cash and Checks

The bottom line is that trends clearly indicate that consumers are carrying less cash and leaving their checkbooks at home. If a church relies heavily on collecting donations with a collection plate, it risks losing a portion of potential donations as this trend increases.

In addition, by only accepting donations in person, members of a congregation have no way to give if they are out of town, sick, or simply can't make it to the service. A church's incoming donations can be greatly affected during summer months when families and retirees leave for vacation and forget to mail a check. With electronic giving, these members would still be able to contribute to the church and support its programs by making a weekly or monthly contribution.

Electronic Giving

Electronic giving, or e-giving, provides churches with an easy solution that not only gives members more flexible giving options, but also cuts down on the staff's administrative work and creates a more steady flow of income. As a result, the church staff can focus more on ministry efforts and the congregation will appreciate the convenience and flexibility of giving in a way that best suits their individual lifestyles.

The flexibility of electronic giving also enables churches to find a solution that best suits its needs. Several types of e-giving programs are described below.

1. Recurring Giving

Recurring giving enables churches to set up automatic schedules that debit congregation members' checking accounts or credit cards on a set schedule that they specify. Once the schedule is set, they don't have to worry about having cash on hand or missing out on the collection plate if they miss a service. The funds are automatically debited from a donor's bank account or card and deposited into the church's bank account.

Enabling church members to give automatically provides the church with a steady, predictable flow of incoming funds, which enables better planning and budgeting. Church members can set up recurring giving schedules in person or even by submitting a form hosted on the church's website.

2. Online Giving

An online giving program provides church members with the opportunity to make donations twenty-four hours a day via direct-debit from a checking account or debit/credit card. Using an online form, members can make one time donations, or as previously noted, set up a recurring donation plan. The online form can be easily hosted on the church's website. Alternately, many payment processing services will host the secure donation page, and all the church needs is a link from their website. In fact, some services will host the entire program-enabling the church to offer online giving, even without its own website. With the ease and simplicity of an online giving program, giving back to the church can be just as routine as paying the monthly electric bill.

3. Check Conversion

No matter how well the electronic giving program is promoted, some of the congregation will continue to send paper checks. Thus, when selecting an electronic giving system, it is important to look for a check conversion feature that enables the electronic processing of paper checks received in the mail or in the collection plate. Rather than spending time sorting checks and driving to the bank to deposit them, the entire process can be automated. From the convenience of an office computer, administrators can deposit checks into the church's account, easily track any rejected checks, and keep detailed member giving profiles.

Common Concerns

As with all change, there will be some who are quicker to accept and adopt new practices than others. This is of particular concern in a church environment where diversity of membership often means a community, and a leadership group, comprised of people of widely varying ages and comfort with technology. The following are some common concerns about electronic giving, and some ways to assuage them.

1. Fear of Acceptance

Whatever initial apprehension a congregation may have can quickly be remedied by providing an explanation of the program during a service. Acceptance has shown to dramatically increase when explained and promoted by the Pastor. In addition, most processing companies will provide free materials, which can be easily distributed to the congregation to explain the electronic giving process and technology. There are also many free online resources such as those found at ElectronicPayments.org.

2. Unfamiliar Technology

With today's technology, electronic giving systems are extremely easy to use and typically come with free training and free customer support. When choosing a provider, it is helpful to ask for a demonstration of the system to compare the various options.

3. Church Values

Many churches are concerned about accepting credit cards, as they do not want to contribute to increasing the debt of their members. Fortunately, there are now systems available that enable direct-debit from a checking account that provides the ease of a credit card transaction without the associated debt. Debit cards and credit cards are processed identically, but debit cards are linked to bank accounts and charges against them do not incur interest or increase debt. With the correct provider, a church will be able to pick and choose which services it would like to utilize, facilitating the ease of electronic giving while staying true to core values.

Helping the Church

Many churches and nonprofits have already experienced the tremendous benefits of electronic giving programs. For example, one ministry that recently began using an electronic giving system, had this to say:

"It has become an integral part of our ministry, especially our online presence. [It] provides a way for our donors to make a contribution to our ministry online, and provides us with a simple and efficient way to process donations that come to us by check. We are very pleased with the simplicity and convenience of the system. It has saved us time and has contributed to a noticeable increase in online donations. We're so happy we made the move."

-- Erika Klose, Woman at the Well Ministries

Electronic giving is a win-win situation for the church and its congregation. Members can easily, quickly, or even automatically, give to the church, and the church can spend less time worrying about a steady income and more time on ministry efforts. It is easy to implement, easy to use, and inexpensive to maintain, plus it makes the church more efficient and more flexible. So the real question a church must ask is, "How soon can we make giving to the church easier for our members?"

For more information about PaySimple and how to set up an electronic giving program, see Electronic Giving or call 800.466.0992.