You want to get an online giving solution for your church. You know that fewer and fewer churchgoers are carrying cash or checks these days, and it’s time to consider some more hi-tech options than passing the plate. You may feel like you’ve made a huge decision. (You have, and it’s a smart one!) But now you face an even bigger one.
How do you choose an online giving solution for your church?
It’s a fair question to ask, and you’re not the only one asking it.
Every month, there are more than 6,200 Google searches for church online giving solutions. And what do people find when they make that search? More than a dozen solutions! How do you choose a church online giving solution—and how do you know you’re making the right choice?
A friend and I took some time to research all the leading online giving solutions out there: from secular payment options (like Paypal) to apps specifically for the church (like echurch). And as you can imagine, there’s both good news and bad news.
The bad news: there are a lot of options.
You have lots of variety. You have plenty of price points. You have all kinds of features, interfaces, and denominational bents. That makes it very, very easy to get decision fatigue.
The good news: it comes down to three main criteria.
With all the choices out there, you really need to focus on making sure three areas are covered.
This guide should help you cut through the noise and make a decision that’s right for your church.
When you’re choosing an online giving or tithing platform for your church, you want a solution that meets three main criteria:
- Capability. It’s better to have a solution that handles all kinds of giving: mobile, desktop, kiosk, spontaneous, recurring, etc. If you plan to collect funds in various ways at your church, you will want a giving solution that covers all of them, rather than paying for multiple services to cover specific needs.
- Compatibility. You need a solution that integrates with your current tools (or replaces them). And as you’re already keenly aware, whatever solution you go with should align with your church’s vision, tone, and theological approach to giving.
- Convenience. There’s a difference between apps and software that work on paper and solutions that work in real life. Choosing a tool for your church is not just about what the tool can do—it’s also about what the people will do. Your church needs a tool that’s both capable and convenient.
Let’s walk through all three of these areas one by one, and see how to choose an online giving solution for your church that covers all three bases.
1. Capability: cChurch online giving solutions and your needs
“What do I need from a solution?”
That’s the first question you need to answer when you’re looking for an online giving app for your church. And this question goes beyond a simple list of features that sound cool—you need to make a list of your needs based on the ways your church already uses money and technology.
For example, online donations are consistently on the rise for nonprofits. M+R Benchmarks found that online giving increased by 13 percent in 2014, with one-time gifts averaging almost four times the amount of monthly gifts. Nonprofit software and services provider Blackbaud reported similar growth in online giving the same year. The takeaway? You probably want an option that supports both recurring and one-time gifts online.
Here’s another example: 2013 research by tech company Jumio found that 19 percent of US adults admitted to using their phones in church (my guess is that that number has only gone up since). If one in five people in your Sunday morning service is already on their phone, then your giving tool should include a mobile-friendly giving option for them.
The church giving software space has a lot of players in it, and so there are many, many features being offered to churches. Your job is to make sure you know which ones are going to be most useful to your staff and congregation.
Online giving via web
When it comes to giving, churchgoers aren’t restricted to Sunday mornings. Many churches enjoy giving solutions that allow members to give online wherever they are, whenever they want.
Hint: use mobile-friendly (responsive) web forms
A decent web giving solution is a good start, but because more and more people are giving via mobile devices, many churches go the extra mile with mobile-friendly web forms.
This feature tackles the problem of people using your church website on different devices. You’ve probably noticed that you use websites a little differently on a laptop than you do on your phone. You’ve also probably noticed that it’s really, really annoying to fill out forms on your phone when they don’t fit the screen. (I often give up in frustration because my fingers are just too big to handle complex forms on a phone!)
Your congregation uses sites differently on different screens, too. And they feel the same pain when they’re trying to use a form that doesn’t play nice on a mobile device.
That’s why you want to check any online giving solution to make sure your Web giving forms will look great on screens of any size.
Online giving solutions for churches include echurch (mobile-friendly), PayPal, Stripe, easyTithe, Tithe.ly, Network for Good, Lifeway eGiving, E-zekiel Giving, Givelify, BlueFire, Giving Fuel, Kindrid SmartGiving, SimpleGive, eGiving, Qgiv, and ClickAndPledge.com
Text giving for churches
Congregations bring their mobile phones to church. Some church giving solutions allow people to donate via sending a text message: this often involves congregation members selecting the dollar amounts they would like to donate, and then texting that amount to a number associated with your church account. Other text solutions invite the congregants into a mobile app giving experience. Either solution works, but make sure you ask the provider to share data with you about average gift size and the percentage of repeat gifts coming as a result of texting.
Text giving tools for churches include echurch, Kindrid SmartGiving, easyTithe, Tithe.ly, Lifeway eGiving, E-zekiel Giving, BlueFire, Giving Fuel, SimpleGive, eGiving, and Qgiv.
Digital giving kiosks for churches
Digital giving kiosks can turn a tablet into a standalone giving station at your church. If you’re not collecting offerings during the service (or if you want to more giving touchpoints at your church), you may be looking for a giving kiosk solution. Digital kiosks can either give churchgoers a place to swipe a card to make a donation or a screen to type information into. When researching kiosks, make sure to calculate the required upfront hardware costs into your budget planning.
Giving kiosk solutions for churches include echurch, easyTithe, Lifeway eGiving, E-zekiel, Giving, BlueFire, SimpleGive, eGiving, SecureGive, and ClickAndPledge.com.
Mobile giving apps for churches
This feature is also popular with churches simply because it is the most familiar option for attendees. Similar to the text-to-give approach above, mobile giving apps turn mobile devices in your church congregation into giving avenues. However, instead of sending a text, congregation members install an app on their phones or tablets and give through the app.
Mobile giving apps for churches generally allow more flexibility when it comes to branding, messaging options (including push notifications!), etc. Sometimes mobile giving is a function of a greater church app.
Mobile giving apps give churches a host of advantages:
- Branding. Your congregation members want to give to their church body, and using an app with your church’s name on it is a lot more meaningful than texting a dollar amount to a certain number. With a mobile app, you get to use your church’s colors, logo, language, photography, etc.
- Church integration. Having a church app that handles mobile giving allows you to integrate more of your church content into the giving story. This means your churchgoers aren’t just using the app to give you money. Instead, the app becomes a way for them to connect with the church, and giving is a natural part of that relationship.
- Push notifications. Every other digital giving capability method we’ve discussed thus far is one-way: from your congregation to you. A mobile giving app gives you a huge advantage: you can send messages to your congregation’s devices to let them know about special giving campaigns—or to just remind them that they can give via mobile during the offering session.
- Fewer mobile keystrokes. Sending people to your website involves typing a URL. Telling people to text to a certain number involves finding, typing, and double-checking that number. But with a mobile app, your church body can access your church’s giving portal immediately with a few taps.
- Higher dollar amount gifts. Industry averages show that the gifts given through a mobile app tend to be higher than online or text giving methods. For example, Kindrid reports their text gifts average around $97, Blackbaud estimates online gifts at between $125–146 on average, while the average gift size through Pushpay’s mobile app comes out at around $176.
Mobile giving apps for churches include echurch, easyTithe, Tithe.ly, Givelify, Giving Fuel, SimpleGive, eGiving, and Qgiv.
Ideally, you want all of these giving capabilities
We’ve covered a great deal of giving capabilities for you to keep in mind. Now we need to tie them all together.
The worst thing to do after reading this post would be to go choose a one-off solution for each of these functions. That would be super expensive, and a huge headache for your team! Ideally, you’ll choose the capabilities that are right for your church, and then find a one-stop solution that covers all of them.
And in case you’re wondering, here’s a list of giving tools that provide all these capabilities: echurch, easyTithe, and SimpleGive.
If you’ve already been doing research on this, you probably noticed that one very important capability is missing from this list: integration with your church management software. We’re about to get to this. Turns out, this is so important it makes up a large portion of the next category: compatibility.
2. Compatibility: church online giving solutions and your church
Compatibility can cover a variety of needs when it comes to church giving solutions, but we want to focus on two key areas: church giving culture and church management software integration.
Church management software and online church giving software
There’s a good chance that, if you’re considering a digital giving app, you’re already using a church management software (ChMS) at your church. You’ve fought the adoption battle: you’re trying to get everyone into your database, using the messaging systems, voicing needs, etc. So, once you think a solution is a good fit with your church’s beliefs and culture, the next thing to check is whether or not the solution integrates with what you already have.
You want to choose a giving solution that plays nice with the software your church is already using.
This is usually easy to find via Google. Just type in the name of the giving app you’re considering (in quotes) and the name of your church management software (also in quotes).
Keep in mind that there are several ways two softwares can “integrate.” When it comes to church databases, you can technically export spreadsheets from one tool and upload them to another—so on that level, you can integrate almost any two tools. But that’s a lot of work (and way too much room for human error). When we look at integrations, it’s best to look for solutions that use an API to migrate and sync their data.
Of course, there’s one very specific way you need your solutions to talk to one another from day one: migrating recurring donations from one platform to another. When you start using a new online giving solution, you want to make sure that you don’t lose any of your recurring donations that are set up in your old system. Instead, you need to make sure that your new solution can either migrate those giving plans over automatically, or that your new tool provider has a way to help you migrate them manually.
If it does integrate with your ChMS:
Terrific! It’s a match.
If it doesn’t integrate with your ChMS:
Well, now you have a few options:
- You could start over and look for a new online giving app for churches that’s compatible with your church management software.
- If you think you’ve found “the one” in terms of giving solutions, you could consider running this solution alongside your ChMS. It’s more difficult for the congregation to adopt, but the benefits may make it worth the effort.
There are a lot of church management systems out there, so just to save you the effort, we’ve put together a list of church online giving solutions that integrate with a good deal of popular ChMS platforms.
Church giving solutions with ChMS integrations echurch (supports Fellowship One, Arena, ACS, Shelby, Church Community Builder, Elvanto, and more—plus, eChurch can migrate recurring donations very simply), EasyTithe, Tithe.ly, Lifeway, eGiving, Kindrid, and SimpleGive.
Church giving culture and church giving software
This is probably the trickiest area for church leaders when it comes to choosing a solution: What are the theological and ecclesiological implications of choosing a giving software for the church? (Or in layman’s terms, “What does your solution say about your beliefs about God and your beliefs about how the church should work?”)
To some church leaders, this is no biggie. You would be happy to use the app that works best, even if it were a secular option. You just want the most effective solution—and you don’t necessarily need to see eye-to-eye with the software provider on every issue.
But to some of you, this kind of alignment is the most important question to ask when choosing an app. For example, I recently had breakfast with an elder of an Acts 29 church. He and the church staff are considering technology to support online tithes and offerings. When I asked him what features he’s looking for, he said, “That’s not the issue yet! Before I look at any features, I need to know which options are even consistent with how our church talks about giving in the first place!”
It makes sense. Case in point, if your church places an emphasis on debt-free living, you don’t want a giving solution that locks you into “credit card” language. (This is something echurch’s debit-preferred settings handle very nicely, by the way.) Every church culture is going to have its ways of discussing money, giving, and how to be generous. That means you want an app that fits into one of the following three categories:
- It mirrors the way you talk about these topics.
- It allows you to customize how giving is presented in the app, so that it is consistent with how your church body addresses giving.
- It’s easy to frame in a way that fits your congregation (if it’s not a perfect match).
So, when you’re considering an online giving solution for your church, ask the following questions:
- Is this app consistent with how our church thinks and talks about giving?
- If it’s inconsistent, can I frame this in a way that is not confusing or jarring for my church?
- What does this solution say about how we as a church think of God and the body of Christ?
A note here: Compatibility with your church is important, but a very compatible tool that doesn’t do what you need is still the wrong tool. (This is why we covered capability first!)
3. Convenience: online giving tools and churchgoers
Thus far, we’ve covered criteria addressing the needs your church staff have from an online giving solution. Now we need to think about another key area: how giving tools are used by church congregations.
This is important because even if a tool has all the functional bells and whistles, it doesn’t do you any good if your people aren’t using it. So, when you’re choosing an app for collecting offerings from your church, you want to take some time to check out what it’s like to use from the congregation’s viewpoint.
Here are a few usage factors to keep in mind when you’re checking out online giving options for your church:
Mobile giving interface
When people are moved to give on Sunday mornings, you want clear pathways for them to take when donating. This is why a mobile-friendly solution is so important. Whether it’s text giving, app giving, logging into a website via phone, or all of these, the last thing you want is a cheerful giver to be so frustrated by a clunky mobile experience that they give up before completing the donation!
Speed of transaction
This is key: if a mobile transaction takes longer than 30 seconds, 85 percent of people will abandon the process. In other words, when people are moved to give, they don’t want to spend a great deal of time doing so. You need a solution that handles the giving transaction quickly and doesn’t involve too many steps.
The transaction speed is helpful for both regular offering sessions and special giving campaigns (such as love offerings for visiting missionaries, pastors, and musicians). When it’s time for people to give, make it as easy as possible for them to be able to do so.
It’s important to note here that this isn’t about removing the opportunity for people to think and pray about how much they should give (or if they should give at all). It’s about making the process simple for those who have already chosen to give.
Ease of setup
Last but not least, you need to look at what kind of effort it will take to get everyone on board with your giving solution. How easily can the church adopt it?
This is a two-fold issue to consider:
- Staff adoption. How long will it take to set your church up with the giving tool? How many other tools will you be integrating with it? Who needs login and permissions? How long will it take to get the hang of using it?
- Congregation adoption. How long will it take for your congregation to consistently use the tool? How will you announce the new tool to them? What sort of messaging materials will you need? (No matter which online church giving software you choose, you will probably need at least a presentation slide, an email to the church body, and a page on your church website to help people get set up on your new giving tool.)
You want to choose a solution that has the capabilities you need, the compatibility you need, and the convenience that it takes to get people to use it.
Recurring giving settings
Many churches find that their congregations don’t necessarily avoid giving—they simply don’t remember to write a check, make an online payment, or withdraw cash on Sunday mornings.
This is one reason recurring donation solutions are growing in popularity with churches. Congregations can choose how much they would like to give, how often they would like to give, and the software takes care of the rest. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it approach that only requires people to jump through the giving hoops once instead of every single time they want to give.
What I learned from studying 16 online giving solutions for churches
Let’s tie this all together with a few helpful takeaways:
- Focus on capabilities first. Ask, “What does a solution need to do?”
- Mobile is essential nowadays. It’s not enough to have an online solution: you need an online solution that plays nice on screens of all sizes.
- “Mobile giving” isn’t just a single checkbox. I was a bit surprised to see all the different giving methods that integrate mobile: web forms, text giving, apps, etc.
- Your solution better play nice with your ChMS (and you want to make sure it pulls from an API for smoother data syncs).
- Double and triple check to make sure you can easily migrate your recurring donations to any new tool you are considering.
- Don’t let the technical side of this project distract you from the cultural aspects of choosing a solution. You need a tool that meshes well with your church culture.
- An amazing tool that nobody uses is still the wrong tool. Make sure you’re looking for easy setup, recurring giving, a smooth interface, and swift transaction speed so that your staff and church members actually use the tool you choose.
- There’s a lot of information to take in here. I’d recommend choosing a solution that has an excellent customer service option—you don’t want to have to go through all the setup, migration, integration, etc., alone.
Choosing an online giving solution for your church?
You’ve seen the criteria that you need to keep in mind—and you probably have a lot of research to do. As you’ve already seen, echurch focuses on getting several of these areas right for churches, and they are the only online giving provider to offer a money-back guarantee if your church’s giving doesn’t increase.
We would love to give you a hand with your research! Click the link below to get in touch: we’ll chat with you about your church’s specific needs, give you a demo of our echurch tool, and explore what a good online giving tool looks like for your church.