In past blog posts we’ve mentioned Vanco Services. For this post we asked Vanco Services to share some more information about how they can help your congregation and some specific information about their work with UU congregations.
Guest Author, Stephen J. Rose, Director of Marketing, Vanco Services, LLC
As a provider of electronic giving solutions to thousands of churches, Vanco Services, LLC is pleased to share insights we’ve gained over the past 15 years that may be helpful to Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Seasonal donation slump. Donations tend to track closely with the number of weekly worshippers, producing a seasonal donation slump in most congregations. A church’s operating costs and program expenses continue year round but weekly check & cash offerings are erratic and typically taper off after Easter and then drop—often precipitously—during summer months before recovering in the 4th quarter. Vanco data shows an average 43% decline in weekly giving by paper check from Easter to mid-summer. Even the most dedicated churchgoers miss services. Vacations, illness and weather (good and bad) all enter into the equation. In the fall of 2009, the flu—and even fear of the flu—depressed attendance at services. Late-year snowstorms in 2009 also kept worshippers at home in some areas of the country—a critical development considering most churches receive up to one-third of their annual contributions during the month of December.
Declining check use. Getting twentysomethings to attend services is one thing. Getting them to write a check is quite another. Many families no longer carry a checkbook and most young families never did. In the most recent seven-year period measured by the Federal Reserve, paper check use for all purposes declined by more than 50%. A growing number of households simply prefer to make electronic payments and contributions whenever possible. This shift in payment practices presents a stewardship challenge for every congregation.
Benefits. Electronic giving provides convenience for members and much-needed donation consistency for churches. In addition, electronic giving reduces manual processing, increases security and has an excellent environmental profile. Churches, with their historical reliance on weekly, bi-weekly and monthly check writers, were among the earliest organizations to recognize the benefits of electronic giving and adopt it as a way for members to make recurring donations. By the year 2005, electronic giving was taking off as individuals became accustomed to making all types of payments automatically—first by electronic funds transfer (ACH) and later by credit and debit card. Originally, paper authorization forms were the only method used to set up electronic donations, and even today, in many congregations, paper forms remain the primary authorization method. Increasingly though, churches are outfitting their websites with secure electronic giving pages where members can set up their own recurring donation plans or make one-time contributions 24/7.
Choice is the key. Giving is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some longtime members will always make their offerings by check. Others are happy to have the church debit their checking accounts on a regular basis but still want to use a paper authorization form. Still others would prefer to move all of their finances online—including donations.
Electronic Giving and the UUA
Vanco Services works with nearly 200 UUA congregations in 46 different states. Some churches use only one e.service® solution while others use an entire suite of solutions that includes online giving, direct debit giving (ACH), credit & debit card giving and remote check deposit. Historically, UUA churches started out with direct debit and then added other services over time. However, in 2010, new UUA clients are more likely to start out with a core set of three solutions: direct debit, credit & debit card, and online giving (96% of the Vanco church clients have a website).
Every UUA congregation is unique— from its member demographics to the electronic giving services it offers—so comparing results for any single UUA church to the average of all UUA churches has limitations. Just like car mileage, your results may vary. Vanco records for January – June 2010, show that UUA churches processed an average of 33 direct debit transactions each month with an average dollar value of $139 and 20 debit/credit card transactions with an average dollar value of $135. ACH transactions were extraordinarily consistent with single-month results never deviating by more than 5% from the six-month average. Credit and debit card transactions on the other hand exhibited an upward spike during the month of Easter when transactions came in 22% above the six-month average.
Going forward, churches will find it impossible to rely primarily on check writers for the majority of their financial support. Fortunately, Vanco Services offers many electronic giving options that are well suited for any congregation regardless of size or member demographics. If you would like to learn more, call (800) 774-9355 or visit ElectronicDonations.com.