Note: this is Part 2 in a series of three blog posts about the future of ministry giving. Read the first post: It’s the End of the Offering Plate as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)
One of the things I keep hearing over and over is that COVID-19 has taught many congregations that the church “is not a building, it is the people.” If the church doesn’t need walls, why does giving need walls?
Before the world of online giving, we used the offering plate almost exclusively. However, even then, there were people who didn’t give using the offering plate. Some people have been early adopters and used their home bank’s online bill pay to send monthly donations (still a great option for recurring gifts and saving on postage). Some people who ended up being shut in at home due to mobility or health issues found other ways to give, like the US Postal Service and paper checks.
And now that the offering plate is being retired, we are lucky to find ourselves in a world filled with technology. Don’t get me wrong, the options I mentioned like using your online banking, mailing checks, or using some kind of basket system will continue to work for those that use them, but there’s a whole different world waiting for us if we are bold enough to explore the world of online giving.
Honestly, we have access to way too much amazing technology to worry about the end of the offering plate. Within giving platforms, ministries have access to online giving, text-to-give, app-based giving, and more.
We are in the midst of a virtual all-you-can give buffet of options when it comes to online giving. Some are free, some are pay-to-play, and some use hybrid versions. Some of the options are more robust in terms of offering email clients and donor management software, while some of them are only designed for online giving (and you keep your own records). Some even include personalizable apps (free or paid) that can plug your congregation in to sermons and lessons anytime.
Worried about the learning curve? There are videos to show people how to give, and tutorials available for almost anything else you need to know for online giving. Many of these platforms offer videos you can put into your church services, too. Even if you can’t teach someone in person, you can likely text them a link that will show up as a video right on their cell phone.
Here are some of my recommendations based on the software that I’m familiar with, in order of preference. I have asked other local pastors in my area what they use, and will share some insights about the products they use as well. As with any program recommendations, I highly suggest you take the time to compare different products, because one program is not the best fit for all ministries (which is why there are so many different options available).
I have a few clergy colleagues who use Tithe.ly, from both traditional and non-traditional worship spaces. It’s interesting, because it seems like Tithe.ly is most popular with younger clergy colleagues (but not exclusively), and their dedication to a younger demographic is clear on their online interface. My colleagues cite using Tithe.ly because it has easy-to-use tools, great extensions and integrations, and perhaps the most important part is that Tithe.ly has no up front or monthly fees for online giving (through an app, online or mobile), and is really easy to set up.
Honestly, once I started exploring its platform and options, I was really jealous that our church doesn’t use this platform! Although we are happy with what we currently use, don’t get me wrong, I just think Tithe.ly has some really interesting attributes and skips the monthly fee model. Plus, it’s super easy to sign up for (I signed up in about 5 minutes). They even have an exclusive, private FB group where Tithe.ly users can share best practices!
This is why I became an affiliate for Tithe.ly – if you decide to use their service and use the link above, it helps support the ministry of Affirm Fundraising.
Tithe.ly uses a no-monthly fee base model and charges on the back end from donations only. The no-up-front fees can make it easier for groups that don’t have a budget yet. I generally recommend using a service like Tithe.ly for groups that are short on start-up capital, because they really do provide a lot of services without an upfront fee.
Tithe.ly is an online giving platform that is on the move – they just announced some major upgrades to their services, their platform, and even added check readers for counters to use (for those who give with checks). I’m excited about the idea of their credit/debit card reader (imagine the potential for in-person meals, when they resume). They just started interfacing with Quickbooks Online, a major plus for churches that use that service.
It’s important to note that Tithe.ly is free for church giving, but does offer other pricing tiers if you want to move from online giving to church management and customized app-based software. This is a good option if you are hoping to grow your ministry into needing those services; you can use the free version until you have enough “saved up” to invest in the higher tiers. Tithe.ly can transform into a church management system when you’re at the stage you need one, without losing data. Check out their pricing and plan page to learn more.
Vanco is the software widely (but not exclusively) used within the Upper New York Conference of the United Methodist Church (where I reside). The church I am currently serving uses it as well, so I’ve had a birds-eye view of its offerings. They cite 20 years in the market, and are used by over 20,000 churches.
I was pleased that they offer a 20-minute tutorial on online giving offerings – I highly recommend taking a look at the webinar before you decide if Vanco is right for you. It outlines the three main online giving options (text, app-based, and web-based) that they offer and how you can utilize them in a changing worship space.
Vanco offers many things that are similar to Tithe.ly, but with different interfaces as well as a monthly fee for use (along with a back-end fee for online donations). It’s a pricier option for groups that don’t have as much start up capital, with the basic-level option at $10/month and the next level starting at $49/month.
My church just started using the online giving app that Vanco offers called GivePlus, and it’s an solid choice for people who are savvy on their smartphones. Plus, once worship comes back together, using something like this would give people a reason to pull out their smartphones during worship (haha!).
Vanco will also provide you with a 10-digit unique phone number that you can text to get a link to donate, streamlining the process even more. The text-to-give expansion costs an extra $5 per month, but even if you only have several families using it the service will pay for itself. This works especially well for people who aren’t as familiar with using apps, or could be used for a special giving program (like donating to a local organization).
If the fees in Vanco are too high for your ministry’s budget, or you don’t need all the support and resources offered, consider the free version of a service like Tithe.ly.
A colleague of mine mentioned his church uses ChurchTeams. ChurchTeams is a complete church management software that can do anything from volunteer sign in to donor management and mass emails. They do offer additional services like online giving and text-to-give. Be sure to check the fees associated with those offerings.
In other words, he described ChurchTeams as “a Cadillac” that does pretty much anything he is hoping for. However, the downside to that is the second half of his comment: “we bought a Cadillac, but haven’t really taken it out of the garage.” If you have a small congregation and invested hundreds of dollars in this product, it may be way too much product for your needs. The funds you spend on it might be better utilized on increasing video capacity or updating email management software.
That’s why I like the idea of “scaling up” if you need church management software by using something like Tithe.ly, it gives your ministry the opportunity to try out different features and get to learn more about them before moving to the next step.
If you do find yourself locked into a year-long subscription for ChurchTeams, without any prior knowledge of the software (that happens a lot when new pastors start at churches), consider looking into their webinar and training series. Within 60 minutes, you’ll have a strong overview of what the software is capable of, and the link I provided also has advanced academies that can give you better insight into how to best utilize the software.
I’m all for donor management and mass emails, but giant church fundraising tools like this one might be a little too much for most congregations and ministries.
A much-larger ministry in my area uses Raiser’s Edge (not a church), and I have heard Raiser’s Edge being used by colleges/universities as well as other large non-profits. It’s another “Cadillac” donor management software, very much like Church Teams, but is more broad and has more features. It’s meant for those focused on fundraising and donors – built for nonprofits and “social good” organizations.
Their features and pricing lists are a bit tougher to find, so if you’re doing some digging get ready to share some of your contact information with Blackbaud (the owner of Raiser’s Edge) to get that info.
But no worries, I took care of that for you for now – and got a sneak peek into what Raiser’s Edge is and how it works (as well as about 10 follow up sales emails… you’re welcome haha). Raiser’s Edge is really rooted in donor management and fundraising, which is a really interesting approach to church- and ministry-based giving.
Raiser’s Edge processes donor information and email interaction and provides prescriptive actions based on input. The software focuses intensely on ROI, or return on investment, to help you get the most out of each interaction. They offer data enrichment services that can increase giving based on demographic information (donor targeting) and more, out-of-the-box. Blackbaud merchant services process online payments and connect online gifts to your database. The system tells you which donors are at the risk of lapsing and even has resources around crowd funding and wealth analysis.
But oh man… does this software seem super confusing. The online training listing for Raiser’s Edge is seven pages long! I feel like the training should come with their own Master’s Degree if you complete all the modules, because it will take you a really long time to get through it all and use this software to its fullest.
At the very least, this software teaches us the importance of donor management, no matter what platform you’re using. Know who’s giving, be in touch with your givers often, and show them the value of their donations and their value as people connected to your ministry. But this level of software is way more than any local ministry would need, and there are other options that cost far less and give lots of functionality that you’re looking for.
If you are ever looking into different softwares and want a more personalized recommendation, feel free to reach out to us at Affirm Fundraising for a consultation. We’re happy to help however we can.
This list was compiled based on feedback I got from friends and colleagues about what they’re using, and I’d love to expand it! Is there a giving software that your congregation or ministry uses that you’d like to share more about or get our input on – please send me a message! I’d love to see what other ministries are using so I can help provide you with the best options out there!