As the donation basket is passed around by parishioners during mass, the sound of clinking coins and rustling paper has traditionally echoed through the church aisles. But now, that sound could very likely be replaced by beeping – or more specifically, the sound of digital payments being processed by a terminal.

It’s already the case at one Catholic church in Paris. Saint Francois de Molitor made waves recently when it installed contactless payment terminals into its collection baskets. The connected wicker baskets are handed out to attendees at Sunday service, during which they can choose to donate €2-€10 in just a few seconds. It’s something the Church of England has begun to offer as well – and it’s all in effort to keep up with the times.

These days, fewer and fewer people are carrying cash; one U.S. Bank survey reports 50 percent of people carry cash less than half the time. So how can other churches follow suit, and bring their own donations into the 21st century?

Find the right partner

If an institution has done something the same way for hundreds of years, it can undoubtedly be difficult to transform. However, the prospect of being stuck in the past is not a nice one, so when change is due – it’s due. And when attempting to modernize on the payments front, it’s best for churches to find a partner to help them do it.

A first step is to look for a payment processor – and particularly, one that has experience with churches. A good processor should be able to put forward testimonials from other religious institutions, or even a case study that demonstrates how their products and services have saved churches time, money and energy in the past.

Churches also need to ensure the payment processor offers the right technology, at the right price. Since churches often accept smaller donations during mass, they need to make sure a payment processor can give them a decent effective rate (this is the total amount of processing fees, divided by the sales volume).

While most processors charge a percentage-per-transaction fee plus a flat rate, a good payment processor should work with churches to find their average donation amount, and tailor the pricing accordingly. This way if they mostly accept $2 donations, the flat rate can be adjusted so that most of the money won’t go to fees.

Try out contactless payment

When it comes to payment technology, it’s best to look for processors that handle standalone contactless payment devices – just like the ones used by the churches in Europe. Here, we’re mostly talking about devices that employ Apple Pay, or now the new Google Pay. Both tools only require donors to wave their phones over the terminal to make a transaction, with Apple Pay using fingerprint recognition technology. And since the payments are tokenized, churchgoers can be confident everything is secure.

Standalone devices for accepting donations during mass will run churches about $300-$500. There’s also the option of employing a mobile device for $100-$300 less – that is, one that plugs into a smartphone – however this might be a bit more hassle if the device is going to be moving around the room.

While the Father in Paris says the decision to engage with contactless payment wasn’t economically motivated – for now, it’s more of a novelty – the choice to go digital could very well help churches to boost donations. Leveraging contactless payment won’t just open the doors for non-cash carrying folks to give, but it might actually make them give more. In the commercial realm, customers spend 12-18 percent extra if paying with credit card.

Implement recurring payment forms for online giving

Instead of donating a few dollars at mass every week, many devoted parishioners choose to give monthly. Traditionally, churches have accepted envelopes which worshipers seal with cash or check – however, more innovative churches may want to consider accepting donations online via recurring payment forms.

These can be implemented on any WordPress website using a simple plugin – such as Gravity Forms – and allow parishioners to donate much more easily; they simply choose a monthly amount, and their cards are charged automatically. For churches, recurring payments can help plan for the long-term, as it gives them a better idea of the donation amount coming in each month. And better yet, they’ve actually been proven to increase donations too. One study showed recurring givers donated more than one-time donors – $220, compared with $97, on average.

Recurring forms can also help churches gain valuable data on their parishioners. In asking donors to fill out a few questions about themselves and their families, recurring forms can help larger churches gain better insight into who actually attends church. Churches might find there are more young families than they originally thought, for example, and decide invest more in bible study classes for kids. Everybody wins.

For church events, consider using mobile swipers or readers

Church events are wonderful ways to bring parishioners together, and inspire the community to raise money for future parish happenings. Whether it be a family dinner in the church hall or a beautiful performance by the choir, you want to make sure attendees who don’t have cash can easily treat their families to a meal, or pay for tickets at the door.

Offering mobile swipers or readers at events will let people pay with card – and for churches, they’re quite easy to use. Some mobile swipers plug into the headphone jack of a phone, and others are wireless. They’re portable, and come with a dock for easy charging. Actually, the devices on the market now are all pretty standard. So for churches on a budget, it’s best to go with the cheapest product.

Your payment processing partner will offer non-wireless devices for between $30-70, or might even lease one out. This is a good option for churches that don’t put on too many events, or want to test the new payment process out before buying in.

With so few people using cash these days, it’s a great time for churches to invest in digital payment methods – whether it be contactless payment devices, recurring payment forms, or simply mobile readers at events. However, don’t forget to shop around for a payment processor, as many give special rates to churches; some might give up to 25-50 percent off the normal rate. So with savings across the board – plus the opportunity to bring in more donations – there’s no reason why investing in digital payment solutions shouldn’t be your church’s next big move.

Drew Sementa is CEO of Tidal Commerce, a merchant solutions company that focuses on helping small and medium-sized businesses grow. Drew has years of industry experience in the Merchant Services and Fintech industries and started his business in his own basement back in 2003. Since then he’s grown Tidal Commerce into a leading merchant provider.


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Author: CMM Staff