May 3, 2011

Pass the Plate. Or not.

Update 06/16/2017 Some links updated - please keep in mind that this is an older resource and newer products and services may now be available.
Links Updated 01/02/2014

Update 01/26/2012  - Theresa Mathes, ECF Program Director for Capital Campaigns and Diocesan Solutions, came across the following chart of online services. 

More and more churchgoers want to make their financial contributions online. Does your church website make it easy for them to do so?

Last week I spent a few hours poking around a number of congregations’ websites to learn about how Episcopal churches are addressing online giving. I came away from this exercise with a few best practices that I encourage you to share with your congregation’s stewardship and communications teams.

PayPal, Network for Good and Just Give
From my small and unscientific survey, I noted that a majority of Episcopal congregations are using the online giving services of either PayPal, Network for Good, or Just Give. Each of these services offers a free “standard version” that many Episcopal congregation are taking advantage of. There are subtle differences between the services, however, which I’ve highlighted below. I’ve also included examples of Episcopal congregations using these services so you can test out the “user experience.”

Service The Free Option includes Fee per transaction An Episcopal Example Page
PayPal Accepts credit card payments online

Congregation members do not need to sign up for PayPal to make a financial contribution

Recurring payment functionality
Up to 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction St. Paul’s of Newport News, VA
Network for Good Accepts credit card payments online

Automated tax receipts and online donation history

Online donation tracking

Recurring payment functionality
5% is added to each contributionSt. Andrew’s of Montevallo, AL
Just Give Accepts credit card payments online

Recurring donation functionality

Immediate tax receipts via email
3% per transaction St. Andrew’s of Montevallo, AL

The Importance of FAQs
There is one major downside to using the free option on each of these services, however. As you’ll note in the congregational examples above, once members click on the “Donate Now” button, they are taken from the congregation’s website to a generic donation page. It’s all about the money at that point, which means that members who have questions about the process are left out in the cold.

One “best practice” that a few Episcopal congregations are using to address this is to include Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about online contributions on their church's donation page. Some example FAQ questions are:
  • How do I make sure my donation is credited to the correct campaign, such as updating my pledge?
  • Is my donation tax deductible?
  • What is PayPal and how is the church using it to enable online donations?
Other FAQs that I’ve seen note the percentage incurred with each transaction and ask members to add that percentage on to their pledge so the full amount is received by the congregation.

Remember December
Many Episcopal congregations are starting to plan their annual fall stewardship campaigns. As a component of this annual campaign, consider making an online "ask" in the final days of December. 

Last year, Network for Good and TrueSense Marketing released a major study on patterns of online giving. This study examined 3.6 million online gifts to 66,740 different nonprofits (including religious institutions) from 2003-2009. One of the most important insights from this study is that 22% of a year's worth of online giving takes place on December 30th and 31st. Whether it's because of the generosity of the season or that people want to make contributions within a particular tax year, it would be wise for congregations to send an email blast on those final days asking people for an additional contribution. I wrote about this study in more detail here.

Of course, December is one of the busiest times in a congregation's year so I'd encourage folks to plan ahead. So create the email and schedule it in advance. 
Online giving is on the rise for everyone and there may soon be a day when passing the plate becomes more of a ritual than an effective means of fundraising. Be sure your website makes it effortless for members to make their financial contributions online. I'd love to hear your thoughts about online giving in Episcopal Churches below.