By Ronald E. Keener
When Austin Ridge Bible Church, Austin, TX, decided to begin online contributions in the 1,600-adult congregation in July 2009, they decided not to install kiosks — but rather moved its church database to FellowshipOne and began to use its online giving (and event registration) functions when it moved to the F1 platform.
Kiosks just didn’t seem to fit the culture of the church, says David Bixby, executive pastor for Operations. “We looked into them in great detail, and it is possible we will revisit that in the next year,” he says.
“Our website has a ‘contributions’ link that redirects to the F1 giving portal,” Bixby explains. “The member can set up either one time, or regularly recurring gifts using credit/debit or EFT. A great feature about F1 is that the gift posts automatically to the donor’s church-giving record, thus eliminating a good bit of the manual data required of checks.”
FellowshipOne was acquired this year by Active Network, and Bixby says the transition was smooth and transparent, and offered no problems to the congregation. Congregants using the online feature have found it positive, he says. “There are occasional issues with the website interface; it acts up with different browsers, etc., but most people appreciate the convenience and the ability to review their giving online,” Bixby says.
The Austin Ridge budget last year (ending June 30) was $4 million, the current year it is $4.9 million. Bixby says the church had about $6.5 million in gifts, including the building fund, and 22 percent or $1.4 million came in online.
He notes too that June online gifts this year were 28 percent of overall giving, and “we continue to see that number increase,” he says.
While he can’t speak to whether there has been an increase in average per person contributions, he does say that “our giving and attendance has been increasing the past several years, so I suspect the online giving has risen in the same manner that our overall giving has, or even slightly more.”
East Lake Community Church in South Carolina runs about 1,000 adults on a given weekend, and Erik Ely, executive pastor, says they receive about 16 percent of their income through online giving. “For us online giving is defined as people who use their debit card or electronic check to contribute to the church,” he says. Currently the church does not accept credit cards for contributions.
East Lake does not use kiosks, nor is it planning on doing so. “We are taking small steps towards introducing this technology to our congregation,” says Ely. “Any time we talk about giving we make people aware of the online option.”
Interestingly, but probably not unusual, Ely finds that giving online tends to be generational.
“The younger someone is, the quicker they embrace technology and online giving.” The church has a budget of $1,116,000 and received 17 percent of that online or about $189,000, Ely says.
Some prefer ‘the plate’
“We are in the transitional period where traditionalists want to give in the plate as it goes by — and that is fine,” says Ely. “but we also have a group of people who demand online giving. I anticipate that giving electronically through kiosks or electronic means will be how we get a majority of our income in the coming years.”
“I try to be an early adopter of technology so I started online giving at a previous church in 2005. Prior to that it felt cost prohibitive to do online giving,” Ely says. He’s been at East Lake since 2007 and installed online giving late that year.
He’s been keeping statistics too. “People who give online do so very consistently; that is one of the reasons we push online giving.
We have found that some of our larger givers prefer to give online, so our average is slightly skewed to around $320 a gift,” he says.
Take out the larger gifts, and the average is about $208, compared, he says, to “an average of $25 per gift through ‘the plate’ on Sundays.”
The congregation averages 600 adults on a Sunday, and Ely has seen a positive response to online giving. “People like the convenience as well as the discipline that an automatic reoccurring gift creates. They feel good about supporting the church even when they are on vacation or miss a service for any other reason.
“It also allows people to give spontaneously, at any time throughout the week when they feel led,” he notes.
Ely has used Shelby for a database and ServiceU for online giving in the past, and at East Lake they use ACS for both. He notes that there are software issues at times, but work through them.
Online here to stay
Online giving isn’t going away, Ely says. “In order to teach a younger generation about stewardship, you need to do it in a relevant way using current technology. Our goal this year would be to receive 25 percent of our income through online giving, which translates into nearly $300,000.”
One advantage is that the regularity of online giving provides a chance to “count on” money coming in consistently. “It flattens out the rollercoaster effect of giving. The highs and lows become less noticeable and income becomes more consistent,” he says. “And another benefit is that fewer people touch the money so your internal controls are stronger, reducing the chance of fraud or theft.”
Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville, GA, began using online giving in May of this year, and in a multi-generational congregation, they find that users trend toward young people, but they’ve seen a steady increase in its use. “It’s gaining momentum,” says business administrator Roy Edwards. He notes that use of kiosks would not be well received by the congregation.
This is a church of 1,100 adults and children that has seen a flat budget for four years — and staying the same for next year. The church’s software is Easy Tithe, so it is all in the name — making it easy to contribute through online matters. The church has a $3 million budget and online contributions are less than one percent.
Easy Tithe’s online giving website tries to direct people to use checking accounts so that the church will not incur the fees from credit card companies, Edwards reports.
Michael Gill is a member of the church and a staff member at a former church, where he used online giving. “Young people don’t carry checkbooks,” he says, “and everything is becoming more paperless.”
They have been looking into the use of QR technology. Gill says that QR technology would give people a way to scan the square from the church bulletin and give through their smart phones, allowing them to give as they sit in the pew.
The cost of credit card processing
We are finding that our credit card processing is about 2.6 percent of our gross proceeds. ACH/EFT is less. While this number is high, we also know there is a cost to the personnel who have to collect, sort, scan, and record our 75 percent of paper checks that are written.
While I have not done a comprehensive study of what the staff and volunteer costs are to process our normal paper deposits, we definitely enjoy the reduced labor that online giving affords us. — David Bixby
Be intentional about online giving, focus your efforts
These days many churches offer some form of online giving; but few harness the power of it. Your church can do more than offer a donation on your website; you must intentionally emphasize it. You must teach people to set up online reoccuring donations. When you do this, here’s what happens.
- People will give to your church seven days a week instead of one.
- People will give to your church, even when they don’t have cash or checks.
- People will give to your church when they are sick and out of town.
- Bad weather days will have less effect on your budget.
- You will have more money for ministry.
Offering online giving (or digital kiosk giving) isn’t enough; you need to emphasize it. Think of this as a four-week campaign where you tell stories, show people how it works, and encourage them to give digital giving a try. Be intentional in your communication, and use all the tools at your disposal.
Churches that emphasize digital giving are finding success and actually increasing operational revenue. Since online giving often attracts a person who would not normally give in church, or gives people who do not carry cash or checks the opportunity to participate, it’s actually building the donor base.
Three Churches … Three Stories:
Revolution Church, in San Antonio, TX recently conducted a digital giving emphasis – adding a kiosk to their lobby and encouraging people to set up online giving profiles. The Sunday they introduced this program, offerings were up 30 percent, and they stayed there. Online and kiosk giving is a big part of their financial culture now.
Connexus Church in Ontario, Canada recently began emphasizing reoccuring giving. Now, more than 50 percent of its total offerings are given online. When Pastor Carey Neiuhof and his team explain what’s about to happen with the offering in the service, they take time to thank people who have already given online.
LifeChurch in Franklin, TN recently set a goal of moving 30 families from in-service giving to online giving. Through announcements on the weekend and email communication to their congregation, they just reached their goal.