When Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a PLAN and NOT QUITE ENOUGH TIME,” he was surely talking about churches...
With the right payment processing and merchant services tools, your church can increase giving to better support the good you're doing in your community and the world.
Payment processing (also called merchant services) both refer to the handling of financial transactions within your church’s online giving platform. When your church’s software solutions make these processes more efficient, you’re improving the giving process for both your members and your finance team.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which your church can improve your payment processing and merchant services to encourage giving. We’ll answer all of your most essential questions, including:
- Why is payment processing for churches essential?
- Why are merchant services important for your church?
- What are the best payment processing and merchant services for churches?
Your members will be happy to support their favorite church programs, and you can encourage them to do so by making the process as convenient as possible. Whether they prefer online giving or traditional methods such as cash or check, strong payment processing tools facilitate giving.
1. Why is payment processing for churches essential?
Payment processing allows your church to gather the contributions that your members and other supporters make via cash, check, and credit or debit card, as well as help direct those contributions toward the intended campus, ministry, or program. Payment processing makes online giving possible and facilitates traditional giving methods, saving time for your team.
Your church’s payment processor and online giving tools are interconnected, but they aren’t the same system. Your church uses your online giving tools to create a form or page on your website where members can go to make their contributions, which are collected by your payment processor.
Your church wants to provide your members with as many giving options as possible to encourage generosity. To encourage giving by making it convenient, you’ll need a payment processing system equipped to efficiently process credit cards, checks, and cash.
Church Credit Card Payment Processing
As more supporters of all types of organizations increasingly prefer giving online, you should expect that many of your members will want to make their contributions to your church in this way. Your church needs a payment processor that can facilitate gifts made online using credit and debit cards.
The easiest way to ensure that your church has a secure and effective payment processor for gifts made via credit and debit cards is to choose a church giving platform that provides both online giving tools and a payment processor. This way, your church will be able to:
- Accept gifts from multiple channels. Members who wish to give online via credit or debit card can do so from their computers, their smartphones, or your text-to-give service in place of your online giving form. When your payment processor is a part of your church giving platform, you can guarantee that your church will receive all contributions made using any of your online giving tools.
- Stay up-to-date on your accounting. As your payment processor facilitates the completion of your members’ gifts, your church will need detailed records on each of these transactions. The best credit card processing systems for churches will integrate with your accounting software, eliminating the need for any manual data entry in the online giving process.
- Direct gifts to the appropriate campuses, ministries, and programs. Especially important for larger churches with multiple campuses, multi-site giving capabilities mean that your church giving platform can direct gifts to the specific campuses on which your individual supporters worship. Churches of all sizes will want to use an online giving platform that can direct members’ gifts to the ministries and programs that matter most to them.
While many of your members will be comfortable giving online, others may feel connected to traditional methods of giving such as by cash or check. Your church’s payment processor can facilitate these transactions as well.
For members of your church who have regularly attended services and are accustomed to making their gifts via check, this form of giving remains important to their experience at your church. Processing payments made via check is easy when your church online giving platform includes check scanning features.
Check scanning and processing features mean that your church’s finance team doesn’t need to enter information from the check into individual fields manually or work with separate software systems. With Remote Deposit and Optical Character Recognition, you can:
- Gather all the information included on the check. You’ll want to gather essential information, including the amount of the gift, the name of the member who made it, and any additional notes they may have provided to indicate their direction or intention for the gift.
- Organize, record, and store important data. Detailed records of your members’ gifts result in an easier accounting process for your church. Choose a church payment processing system that automates return processing and adjusting journal entries.
- Gain new insights into your members’ giving preferences. Check scanning and processing features provide more comprehensive information on their giving preferences. The best church payment processing systems automatically identify and match different members with their giving behaviors.
Look for a payment processing system that is capable of accepting gifts made via any form of paper currency, including money orders and traveler’s checks in addition to personal and business checks. You’ll also want to choose a system that can process cash gifts.
Whether they’re making offerings or contributing to one of your church’s programs, many of your members will feel connected to the process of making their gifts in cash. The best church payment processing systems are able to record your members’ intents for their cash gifts.
Understanding your members’ intents helps your church direct their gifts to the correct ministries or projects and learn more about the aspects of your church community that those members are interested in supporting. Choose church giving software with payment processing capabilities that allow you to:
- Scan envelopes containing cash gifts. Members can make their cash gifts in envelopes on which they include valuable information, such as the program they want their gift to support. Make sure that your church’s payment processor can scan these envelopes so that all cash gifts reach their intended destinations.
- Create cash deposit tickets. Managing multiple software systems isn’t the best use of your finance team’s time and can result in important information getting lost. When your church payment processing system automatically creates cash deposit tickets, you won’t have to rely on an additional platform to provide this important documentation.
- Protect your members’ information. Some members may wish to make their cash gifts anonymously. Ensure that your payment processing system has security measures in place to keep your members’ information protected.
The best payment processing system for your church is one that facilitates all forms of giving, whether through your online giving platform or traditional methods including check and cash.
2. Why are merchant services important for your church?
If your church is new to online payment processing, you’ve likely heard of merchant services but may not be sure what they are. Merchant services are authorized financial services that your church uses to accept payments via credit and debit card or other forms of electronic payment.
Merchant services are essential for accepting payments made electronically, whether the transaction is a one-time gift, an automated recurring gift, or another contribution such as a purchase made at your church’s bookstore. Your church will need to set up a merchant account—a bank account that allows your church to accept gifts made electronically—to facilitate these transactions.
The easiest way to set up a merchant account is to choose a church payment processing system that includes all of the necessary church merchant services. This way, your financial team will only have to work within one system! This makes it easier to keep track of essential information and stay up-to-date in your accounting.
As you compare church payment processing systems, look for the following merchant services components:
- Automatic deposit into your merchant account. Ideally, the software system that your members use to make their gifts should be the same system that your church uses to accept those gifts. Look for a church online giving platform that connects directly to your merchant account, meaning that your church is only using one system from the moment a member gives to the moment you deposit their gift.
- No floating funds. Your church needs fast-moving merchant services so that you can transform your members’ gifts into positive developments within your community as quickly as possible. When your online giving platform, payment processing tools, and merchant account are all connected within a single software solution, your church will have access to the funds as soon as they enter the system—no waiting around to make change happen!
- Ways to migrate and set up payment schedules. Because members tend to want to make recurring gifts to your church, you should look for a payment processing system that makes it easy to set up recurring giving schedules and migrate existing schedules over from your previous system. You’ll also want to make sure that members can change their recurring giving preferences as needed by logging into the system using their self-service portals.
With payment processing and merchant services tools designed especially for churches, the gifts your members make will move seamlessly through one software system so that your church can access the funds and use them for the benefit of your church community and the wider world.
3. What are the best payment processing and merchant services for churches?
As your church works to select a payment processing and merchant services system, remember that your goal is to provide a convenient and secure experience for both your members and your finance team. The best payment processing and merchant services for churches are those that save your finance team time without ever compromising the security of your members’ information.
One of the most important aspects of any payment processing solution you choose is its transparency. Your giving solution is an extension of your church. It’s important that any payment processor you work with doesn’t use intrusive branding that gets between you and your congregation. In the same vein, many giving solutions hand your gifts off to third parties like Bluepay, getting between your church and the bank and losing visibility of your gifts in the process.
To ensure that you’re choosing the most effective and the most secure payment processing system for your church, you’ll want to check out the following additional features for each system that your church is considering implementing:
- PCI compliance. Required for your church to accept contributions made via credit or debit card, PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance is an essential component of any payment processing system your church chooses. Look for one that is a certified PCI Data Security Standard Level 1 processors to ensure that your members’ financial transactions are always secure.
- Full bank reconciliation. Your church needs to make sure that your financial records are accurate and that your debits and credits match those listed on your bank statement. Choose a church payment processing system that records each transaction down to the cent and never deletes payment information. This way, you’ll never struggle with inaccurate or missing information during reconciliation.
- Data management. As your congregation grows and your church’s offerings expand to meet your members’ needs, it’s likely that you’ll receive gifts from various sources that are being directed toward a large number of campuses, ministries, and programs. Make sure that your church payment processing system allows you to manage gifts and access reports by channel, campus, time period, and additional categories.
- Integrations. While your online giving, payment processing, and merchant services tools can be contained within one system, it’s likely that your church will still depend on your accounting platform to maintain detailed financial records and your church management system (CMS) to manage member data. The best church payment processing systems will integrate with your existing solutions so that your team never has to transfer data manually.
Churches interested in a platform that combines convenient online giving tools with robust payment processing and merchant services features may want to check out the features that Vision2 has to offer. Vision2’s platform allows your church to accept gifts made through several online and traditional methods and access the funds as soon as they’re deposited in your merchant account.
When it comes to choosing the right payment processing system for your church, the needs of your members and your team are your most important considerations. Your members want a way to make gifts to your church that is both convenient and secure, while your financial team wants to ensure the accuracy of all records by minimizing the number of systems they have to use. A combined online giving platform and payment processing system provides the most streamlined options to suit your church’s needs.
Want to learn more about payment processing and merchant services for your church? Check out the following additional resources to make your church’s financial transactions more efficient and more secure.
- Church Finance: 3 Reasons to Dig Yourself out of Excel. While smaller and younger churches often begin their financial recordkeeping with spreadsheets, they soon outgrow these systems. Use this guide to learn more about how you’ll benefit from switching to a financial system designed especially for churches.
- Double the Donation’s Guide to Payment Processing for Nonprofits. Learn the key terms associated with payment processing software and review the features your church should be looking for before you make your selection.
- Why Is Merging Membership Information With Financial Data Important For Churches? When your church has a more comprehensive understanding of each of your members’ involvements within your church community, you’ll be better prepared to engage them in the future. Follow this guide to learn more from your existing member data.
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