March 13, 2020
Funding Ministry During the Covid-19 Crisis
The arrival of COVID-19 will mean fewer people attending church—and probably some services cancelled altogether. Yet churches need to pay the bills whether people come on Sunday or not, and innovative ministries that adapt to the crisis (Zoom Bible studies, streaming sermons, etc.) require resources, too.
How can you pass the plate when people aren’t there to pass the plate? And how can your church safely receive payments if the virus can possibly survive for hours on printed materials (i.e. the mail)?
The answer is online giving
Some churches have online giving already. Some dioceses (such as the Episcopal Diocese of Central PA) have set up an emergency page to enable online giving, even if all their parishes don’t offer online giving on their own.
If your church (or diocese) does not have online giving, the time has come to make it happen. Online giving will keep resources flowing during this difficult time, and it can provide ongoing benefits after (we pray) COVID-19 retreats.
Not Just a PayPal Button
While setting up a PayPal button on your website is possible and will technically work, a more functional solution is an online giving system. Some such systems cost upwards of a hundred dollars per month and have hefty fees. Others offer much the same functionality for a fraction as much, or even pay for themselves with minimal use. Capterra.com and GetApp.com are useful software review sites that enable you to compare many leading online giving systems. You will see pricing, features, and can read user reviews.
No matter the system, all provide some common benefits. Almost all online giving systems can:
• Enable you to set up a variety of appeals
• Track donations per giver over time
• Provide detailed receipts
• Aid in year-end tax statements
• Be linked to or securely added to your website
Some systems also support:
• More complex recurring giving options
• Giving via ACH (bank transfer)
• Manual entry of gifts from any source
The Best System
If there were one perfect online giving system, there wouldn’t be so many of them. The fact is, there is a lot of variety because there are a lot of possible features. Do you need text giving? A kiosk? Multiple appeal types? Particular integrations? The best system for you may not be the best system for somebody else.
That said, I think there are a few deal-breakers.
ACH. ACH stands for “Automated Clearing House” and is a system that moves funds from a donor’s checking account to your church’s checking account. It takes five business days to get there, but for what you lose in time, you make up for in low processing expenses. By low, don’t mean 2% or 1% but, ideally 0%. By paying just a flat rate per gift (think 25-50¢) you see much less money evaporate due to fees. A $50 gift using such an ACH plan costs, say, 25¢ to process instead of $1.30 (that’s 2.2% + 30¢, PayPal’s nonprofit rate).
Complex Giving Options. Some systems enable you to set up a gift and then click to make it monthly. That’s fine, but what if your donor wants to give $50 per week, starting next month, and have the gift automatically stop on December 31st? Some online giving systems will let you do that. It is important for churches, because donors are giving over time, generally over a one-year pledge period. You want to cater to the needs of your givers.
Donor-Paid Fees. Some systems enable donors to cover the processing cost for their gift. For obvious reasons, that’s a good thing.
Discourage Credit Cards Option. Not exactly a deal-breaker, but a very good idea—some systems enable a message to be displayed if a donor attempts to pay with a credit card, encouraging them to consider paying by ACH instead. That’s a good option, because it means more money for ministry.
If you would like a deep dive into online giving to help you compare services, you can read all about it in a pdf I wrote on the topic, here.
Finally, because I founded the service GivingTools.com, I’m able to offer an easy path to Episcopal Churches and Dioceses looking for a quick, capable, and free solution.
Any Episcopal Church or Diocese that would like a GivingTools account can get one free to use from now until the end of the year. Simply go to givingtools.com and click to get a demo account. Then send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org that states the name of your Episcopal ministry. We’ll activate your account for free and share instructions on setting up a (no monthly-fee, 2.2% +30¢) Stripe account (for secure credit card processing) and an ACH account (no monthly fee, 0% + 30¢)—and how to link them to your free GivingTools account. You can be accepting gifts online in just a couple days at rates well below other systems.
No matter what service you decide to use, from a PayPal button to any number of robust online giving systems, you will enable your ministry to keep the funds flowing during this difficult time. Setup can be done in a couple days. And when the COVID-19 crisis has passed, you will have established an online resource to enable donors to miss fewer pledge payments. You will be able to rapidly launch appeals for special purposes. And you will have innovated to welcome the generosity of younger donors who do not carry cash or even use a checkbook.
A cradle Episcopalian, Jason Smith founded GivingTools.com six years ago. He is an active member of Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Carlisle PA.