The Electronic Offering Plate

October 3, 2011


Donate Now!  We are accustomed to seeing “click here” buttons on Face Book pages, websites, and even on TV commercials that encourage donation via texts.  Offering an electronic donation webpage is worth exploring, especially given that many people today conduct most of their financial transactions through electronic banking. Many parishes and dioceses that have online donation capability report that they capture gifts that would likely not have been given had there not been an easy and convenient way to give.   But if you want your donors to have a positive experience when they make an online donation, know the questions to ask as you pick the right firm.
Providers are broken into two groups—for-profit and non-profit.  This is important because there are different financial regulations that govern transactions and money movement.  A for-profit firm, must debit your bank account or credit card within one day and deposit to your organization’s account the next day. (Vanco--this is a top firm to check out).  A non-profit firm is able to conduct the same debit, but disperse the money later to your organization.  As an example, Network for Good sends one check to your organization for the previous month’s donations.  It might be helpful to your system to reconcile one check, and it might be more valuable to have steady donation cash flow.  Just know that non-profit firms might have more flexibility.
Know your website.  Some online providers are simply trying to sell you software.  That means you have to set up your own system (potential cost from your website administrators) and maintain it.  Look for firms that manage the entire experience of clicking on the “Donate Now “ button and provide a secure site.  Good companies will set up your page as though the donor was actually on your website, with your own logo and donation wording you’ve developed.  Ask if you can make unlimited and free changes to the page; how long does it take to make a change (one hour? one week?); will they track how many times your site is visited; and can they link from Face Book, twitter.
What is your financial system? Ask providers the format for donation reports and find out if it is compatible to your needs.  Will you know what to do with a deposit and then be able to match that to the donor record?  How often will the firm give you reports?  Can you go online and get your report anytime?  What kind of correspondence do they give the donor?  Will they send tax receipts?  Can the donor set up ability to track their donations?  Good firms will be asking what format you need.  If you want recurring transaction capability—ask!  PayPal, for example, allows only one-at-a-time donations.
Be diligent about the fees.  Assert that you are shopping for many options and that the fee is only one of the considerations.  Decide what you want: checking and savings account drafts; credit card/debit card (specify—Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express); text and social media?  Know what you might expect for transactions by your donors each month.  Expect to pay around 3% for credit card transactions and higher for American Express.  However, the question to ask every firm is, “what is your highest fee you charge?”  Most of the teaser fees are for unrealistic numbers of transactions.  Also key, good firms are set up to let the donor to pay the transaction fee.
Then, communicate your new system broadly when set up.  Find creative ways to allow people to place a card into the offertory place each week, honoring and affirming their participation in the Offertory. But above all, make your online donation page the first place your donors go to for pledge payment, spontaneous donations, emergency appeals and year-end giving--offering them a positive experience in offering their gifts to build up God’s reign.
Editors Note:  
Some recommended e-giving programs include:
Parish Pay at
Envelope Service at
Network for Good at
Vanco Services  at