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November 22, 2009

Electronic giving gives donors another option

By Michelle Martin


Parishes and schools across the archdiocese are starting to use a new electronic giving tool – – in an effort to both simplify everything from Monday morning donations to tuition payments and to open the giving process to more people.

“When we started researching this, we found out that about 80 percent of people under 30 don’t write checks,” said Patrick Coleman of the Coleman Group. “And that doesn’t change that much for people between 30 and 50.”

So the Coleman Group, the company that is behind efforts to save parishes and archdiocesan agencies money by having them work together to buy goods and services, set out to find a service that parishes and schools could use to accept donations and payments electronically.

“We have to give people options that meet them where they are,” said Coleman.

But it didn’t find any one solution that would address all the needs the parishes and schools had, so it developed its own, An added benefit is that the company was able to work out lower transaction fees that existing services charge – about 1.5 percent on credit card payments (“That might not be quite as good as what Wal-Mart gets, but it’s close,” Coleman said) and 20 cents per transaction on electronic checks.

The appeal for donors, especially those who already pay most or all of their bills electronically, is obvious: no more searching for the checkbook on Monday morning, or, for parents, sending checks for everything from lunch and field trip fees to fundraisers to school in children’s backpacks.

For parishes and schools, it can seem a little more scary, Coleman said.

“These are people that are used to collecting checks, and change can be a little frightening,” he said.

But this change can make it easier for them to track giving, and to set up systems for more consistent giving. For example, if a family misses a weekend Mass because they are traveling or someone gets sick, they generally don’t make their usual weekly offering. But if they have a regular weekly donation set up through the Web site, the church would still receive their gift. That leads to a more predictable stream of income for the parish.

At the same time, GiveCentral. org can track payments for other fundraisers, capital campaigns and school payments and donations. And it can be used to contact the donors who meet a certain profile, so a school, for instance, could e-mail a newsletter to all of its alumni who have made donations during a certain time period.

Offering a workable electronic giving plan seems to help parishes develop sustainable financial plans, Coleman said. A study done by another group of volunteer consultants showed that parishes in which 30 percent of donors used electronic giving were all in the black.

“We don’t really know why that is,” Coleman said. “It might be that more people are giving, or they’re giving more.”

Ironically, it might take parishes and schools that have electronic giving systems in place a little longer to start using because they have to make the transition, he said. Still, he expects that within a year or two, every parish and school will be using it.

At the same time, archdiocesan agencies that accept payments – such as subscription fees for the Catholic New World – also will be able to take advantage of it, Coleman said.

To find out if your parish has begun using, and, if so, to sign up as a user, call your parish office.