Parish Giving Moves Electronic

By W. Brian Walsh

How many Catholic parents have struggled to get themselves and their small children to Mass on time, and, as a result, forget to bring their offertory envelope?

As Americans move increasingly to an electronic economy, Catholic parishes are finding that many of their parishioners prefer making their regular parish offerings by credit card or electronic cash transfer. In parishes that embrace electronic giving, typically about one-fifth of envelope holders sign up for electronic giving within the first year after a parish offers that option. Most parishioners are accustomed to monthly charges for financial transactions ranging from mortgages and car payments to utility bills and credit card bills.

Typically, those that give electronically increase their overall support to the parish. Part of the increase results from those giving electronically continuing their financial support of the church when vacation, illness, blizzards or other reasons prevent them from attending Sunday Mass at their home parish. The bigger driver of increased support comes from parishioners planning their giving with a greater sense of reflection, so that their financial support is more in line with what they really want to give to their parish. The result is that an electronic giving program provides parishes more resources to operate their programs.

Electronic giving represents just another step in the evolution of the offertory, from animals or fruits of the harvest to cash, then to checks and now to electronic payments. For those who think of placing an offering in the basket as part of the act of worship, electronic giving companies provide offertory cards that people can put in the basket.

The instrument of choice (ie: check, automatic deduction, credit or debit card) for consumer and business payments is clearly becoming electronic. In just two years, check volume is expected to be less than 20% of non-cash payments, yet currently 90% of parish envelope-payments are by check. So if only one out of five donating parishioner households are using check books regularly for their other bills, how will this affect parish collections? Automatic deduction (bank account withdrawals or credit card payments) is the next step in the natural evolution of the offertory and second collection process.

So it is clear that both parishes and parishioners experience many benefits from an electronic offertory program.

Parishes gain the predictable cash-flow that simply is not possible through the traditional method of donating, and the increased income that results when members’ donations are made automatically when they are absent from Sunday liturgies. Parishioners enjoy the convenience of not having to write a check every week, the security of knowing their contributions are automatically transferred to the church’s account, and the fulfillment of seeing an annual statement that details their generosity.

W. Brian Walsh is President of Faith Direct, a leader in secure electronic giving for Catholic parishes. For more information, please visit www.FaithDirect.net

This article originally appeared in a special “Stewardship” section of The Pilot on September 19, 2008

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