You want to get online giving software for your church. You know that fewer and fewer churchgoers are carrying cash or checks these days, and it’s time to consider some more hi-tech options than passing the plate. (For more on this, see tactics #5 and #15 in our list of practical ways to increase church giving.) You may feel like you’ve made a huge decision. (You have, and it’s a smart one!) But now you face an even bigger one.

How do you choose an online giving software for your church?

It’s a fair question to ask, and you’re not the only one asking it.

Every month, there are more than 6,200 Google searches for church online donation platforms. And what do people find when they make that search? More than a dozen options! How do you choose a church giving software—and how do you know you’re making the right choice?

I studied 16 church online giving software products:

A friend and I took some time to research all the leading online donation platforms out there: from secular payment options (like PayPal) to apps specifically for the church (like eChurch). And as you can imagine, there’s both good news and bad news.

The bad news: there are a lot of options.

You have lots of variety. You have plenty of price points. You have all kinds of features, interfaces, denominational bents. That makes it very, very easy to get decision fatigue.

The good news: it comes down to three main criteria.

With all the choices out there, you really need to focus on making sure three areas are covered.

This guide should help you cut through the noise and make a decision that’s right for your church.

3 Main Criteria for Church Online Giving Software

It turns out, when you’re choosing an online giving or tithing platform for your church, you want a solution that meets three main criteria:

1-Capability

It’s better to use software that handles all kinds of donation methods: mobile, desktop, kiosk, spontaneous, recurring. If you plan to collect funds in various ways at your church, you will want a giving platform that covers all of them, rather than paying for multiple services to cover specific needs.

2-Compatibility

You need a solution that integrates with your current tools (or replaces them). And as you’re already keenly aware, whatever app or software you go with should align with your church’s vision, tone, and theological approach to giving.

3-Convenience

There’s a difference between church giving apps and software that work on paper and solutions that work in real life. Choosing a tool for your church is not just about what the tool can do—it’s also about what the people will do. Your church needs a tool that’s both capable and convenient.

(I promise, I did not plan for all of these to begin with the letter C—but that does help me remember them!)

Let’s walk through all three of these areas one by one, and see how to choose an online giving software for your church that covers all three bases. But first, a helpful infographic we put together to demonstrate how our research came together:

How-to-choose-an-online-giving-tool-for-your-Church-infographic

1-Capability: Church Online Giving Software and Your Needs

“What do I need from church giving software?”

That’s the first question you need to answer when you’re looking for an online giving app for your church. And this question goes beyond a simple list of features that sound cool—you need to make a list of your needs based on the ways your church already uses money and technology.

The church giving software space has a lot of players in it, and so there are many, many features being offered to churches. Your job is to make sure you know which ones are going to be most useful to your staff and congregation.

Here’s a list of common features that churches find important:

  • Online giving via Web

When it comes to giving, churchgoers aren’t restricted to Sunday mornings. Many churches enjoy giving apps that allow members to give via the Web wherever they are, whenever they want.

A decent Web giving software is a good start, but because more and more people are giving via mobile devices, many churches go the extra mile with mobile-friendly Web forms.

This feature tackles the problem of people using your church website on different devices. You’ve probably noticed that you use websites a little differently on a laptop than you do on your phone. You’ve also probably noticed that it’s really, really annoying to fill out forms on your phone when they don’t fit the screen. (I often give up in frustration because my fingers are just too big to handle complex forms on a phone!)

Online giving software for churches include: eChurch (mobile-friendly), PayPal, Stripe, easyTithe, Tithe.ly, Network for Good, Lifeway eGiving, E-zekiel Giving, Givelify, BlueFire, Giving Fuel, Kindrid SmartGiving, SimpleGive, eGiving, Qgiv, and ClickAndPledge.com

  • Text giving for churches

Congregations bring their mobile phones to church. Some church giving software allows people to donate via sending a text message: this often involves congregation members selecting the dollar amounts they would like to donate, and then texting that amount to a number associated with your church account. Other text giving software programs invite the congregant into a mobile app giving experience.  Either solution works, but make sure you ask the provider to share data with you about average gift size and the percentage of repeat gifts coming as a result of texting.

Text giving tools for churches include: eChurch, Kindrid SmartGiving, easyTithe, Tithe.ly, Lifeway eGiving, E-zekiel Giving, BlueFire, Giving Fuel, SimpleGive, eGiving, Qgiv

  • Digital giving kiosks for churches

Digital giving kiosks can turn a tablet into a standalone giving station at your church. If you’re not collecting offerings during the service (or if you want to more giving touchpoints at your church), you may be looking for a giving kiosk. Digital kiosks can either give churchgoers a place to swipe a card to make a donation or a screen to type information into. When researching kiosks, make sure to calculate the required upfront hardware costs into your budget planning.

Digital giving kiosks for churches include: eChurch, easyTithe, Lifeway eGiving, E-zekiel Giving, BlueFire, SimpleGive, eGiving, SecureGive, ClickAndPledge.com

  • Mobile giving apps for churches

This feature is also popular with churches simply because it is the most familiar option for attendees. Similar to the text-to-give approach above, mobile giving apps turn mobile devices in your church congregation into giving avenues. However, instead of sending a text, congregation members install an app on their phones or tablets and give through the app.

Mobile giving apps for churches generally allow more flexibility when it comes to branding, messaging options (including push notifications!), etc. Sometimes mobile giving is a function of a greater church app.

Mobile giving apps give churches a host of advantages:

Branding. Your congregation members wants to give to their church body, and using an app with your church’s name on it is a lot more meaningful than texting a dollar amount to a certain number. With a mobile app, you get to use your church’s colors, logo, language, photography, etc.

Church integration. Having a church app that handles mobile giving allows you to integrate more of your church content into the giving story. This means your churchgoers aren’t just using the app to give you money. Instead, the app becomes a way for them to connect with the church, and giving is a natural part of that relationship.

Push notifications. Every other digital giving capability method we’ve discussed thus far is one-way: from your congregation to you. A mobile giving app gives you a huge advantage: you can send messages to your congregation’s devices to let them know about special giving campaigns—or to just remind them that they can give via mobile during the offering session.

Mobile giving apps for churches include: eChurch, easyTithe, Tithe.ly, Givelify, Giving Fuel, SimpleGive, eGiving, Qgiv

Ideally, you want all of these giving capabilities

We’ve covered a great deal of giving capabilities for you to keep in mind. Now we need to tie them all together.

The worst thing to do after reading this post would be to go choose a one-off software for each of these functions. That would be super expensive, and a huge headache for your team! Ideally, you’ll choose the capabilities that are right for your church, and then find a one-stop shop that covers all of them.

And in case you’re wondering, here’s a list of giving tools that provide all these capabilities: eChurch, easyTithe, SimpleGive

If you’ve already been doing research on this, you probably noticed that one very important capability is missing from this list: integration with your church management software. We’re about to get to this. Turns out, this is so important, it makes up a large portion of the next category: compatibility.

2-Compatibility: Church Online Giving Software and Your Church

Compatibility can cover a variety of needs when it comes to church giving software, but we want to focus on two key areas: church giving culture and church management software integration.

Church management software and online church giving software

There’s a good chance that, if you’re considering a digital giving app, you’re already using a church management software (ChMS) at your church. You’ve fought the adoption battle: you’re trying to get everyone into your database, using the messaging systems, voicing needs, etc. So, once you think a software is a good fit with your church’s beliefs and culture, the next thing to check is whether or not the giving platform integrates with what you already have (see myth #3 in this article about church giving technology).

You want to choose a donation software that plays nice with other software your church is already using.

This is usually easy to find via Google. Just type in the name of the giving app you’re considering (in quotes) and the name of your church management software (also in quotes).

Keep in mind that there are several ways two softwares can “integrate.” When it comes to church databases, you can technically export spreadsheets from one tool and upload them to another—so on that level, you can integrate almost any two tools. But that’s a lot of work (and way too much room for human error). When we look at integrations, it’s best to look for solutions that use an API to migrate and sync their data.

Of course, there’s one very specific way you need your solutions to talk to one another from day one: migrating recurring donations from one platform to another. When you start using a new online giving software, you want to make sure that you don’t lose any of your recurring donations that are set up in your old system. Instead, you need to make sure that your new software can either migrate those giving plans over automatically, or that your new tool provider has a way to help you migrate them manually.

  • If it does integrate with your ChMS…

Terrific! It’s a match.

  • If it doesn’t integrate with your ChMS…

Well, now you have a few options:

You could start over and look for a new online giving app for churches that’s compatible with your church management software.

If you think you’ve found “the one” in terms of giving software, you could consider running this platform alongside your ChMS. It’s more difficult for the congregation to adopt, but the benefits may make it worth the effort.
There are a lot of church management systems out there, so just to save you the effort, we’ve put together a list of church online giving software that integrate with a good deal of popular ChMS platforms.

Church giving platforms with ChMS integrations: eChurch (supports Fellowship One, Arena, ACS, Shelby, Church Community Builder, Elvanto, and more—plus, eChurch can migrate recurring donations very simply), EasyTithe, Tithe.ly, Lifeway eGiving, Kindrid, SimpleGive, eGiving

Church giving culture and church giving software

This is probably the trickiest area for church leaders when it comes to choosing a software: What are the theological and ecclesiological implications of choosing a giving software for the church? (Or in layman’s terms, “What does your digital giving platform say about your beliefs about God and your beliefs about how the church should work?”)

To some church leaders, this is no biggie. You would be happy to use the app that works best, even if it were a secular option. You just want the most effective digital platform—and you don’t necessarily need to see eye-to-eye with the software provider on every issue.

But to some of you, this kind of alignment is the most important question to ask when choosing an app. For example, I recently had breakfast with an elder of an Acts 29 church. He and the church staff are considering technology to support online tithes and offerings. When I asked him what features he’s looking for, he said, “That’s not the issue yet! Before I look at any features, I need to know which options are even consistent with how our church talks about giving in the first place!”

So, when you’re considering an online giving so for your church, ask the following questions:

  • Is this app consistent with how our church thinks and talks about giving?
  • If it’s inconsistent, can I frame this in a way that is not confusing or jarring for my church?
  • What does this software say about how we as a church think of God and the body of Christ?
  • A note here: Compatibility with your church is important, but a very compatible tool that doesn’t do what you need is still the wrong tool. (This is why we covered capability first!)

3-Convenience: Online Giving Software and Churchgoers

Thus far, we’ve covered criteria addressing the needs your church staff have from an online giving software. Now we need to think about another key area: how giving tools are used by church congregations.

This is important because even if a tool has all the functional bells and whistles, it doesn’t do you any good if your people aren’t using it. So, when you’re choosing an app for collecting offerings from your church, you want to take some time to check out what it’s like to use from the congregation’s viewpoint.

Here are a few usage factors to keep in mind when you’re checking out online giving options for your church:

Mobile Giving Interface

When people are moved to give on Sunday mornings, you want clear pathways for them to take when donating. This is why a mobile-friendly software is so important. Whether it’s text giving, app giving, logging into a website via phone, or all of these, the last thing you want is for a cheerful giver to be so frustrated by a clunky mobile experience that they give up before completing the donation!

Speed of Transaction

This is key: if a mobile transaction takes longer than 30 seconds, 85% of people will abandon the process. Or in other words, when people are moved to give, they don’t want to spend a great deal of time doing so. You need a solution that handles the giving transaction quickly, and doesn’t involve too many steps.

The transaction speed is helpful for both regular offering sessions and special giving campaigns (such as love offerings for visiting missionaries, pastors, and musicians). When it’s time for people to give, make it as easy as possible for them to be able to do so.

It’s important to note here that this isn’t about removing the opportunity for people to think and pray about how much they should give (or if they should give at all). It’s about making the process simple for those who have already chosen to give.

Ease of Setup

Last but not least, you need to look at what kind of effort it will take to get everyone on board with your giving platform. How easily can the church adopt it?

This is a two-fold issue to consider:

Staff adoption:

How long will it take to set your church up with the giving tool? How many other tools will you be integrating with it? Who needs login and permissions? How long will it take to get the hang of using it?

Congregation adoption:

How long will it take for your congregation to consistently use the tool? How will you announce the new tool to them? What sort of messaging materials will you need? (No matter which online church giving software you choose, you will probably need at least a presentation slide, an email to the church body, and a page on your church website to help people get set up on your new giving tool.)

You want to choose a donation software that has the capabilities you need, the compatibility you need, and the convenience that it takes to get people to use it.

Recurring Giving Settings

Many churches find that their congregations don’t necessarily avoid giving—they simply don’t remember to write a check, make an online payment, or withdraw cash on Sunday mornings.

This is one reason recurring donation software is growing in popularity with churches. Congregations can choose how much they would like to give, how often they would like to give, and the software takes care of the rest. It’s a set-it-and-forget it approach that only requires people to jump through the giving hoops once instead of every single time they want to give.

Choosing an online giving software for your church

You’ve seen the criteria that you need to keep in mind—and you probably have a lot of research to do. As you’ve already seen, eChurch focuses on getting several of these areas right for churches, and they are the only online donation software for churches to offer a money-back guarantee if your church’s giving doesn’t increase.

We would love to give you a hand with your research! Click here to get in touch: eChurch will chat with you about your church’s specific needs, give you a demo of the eChurch tool, and explore what a good online giving tool looks like for your church.

[This article was originally written on the eChurch Blog by Jeffrey Kranz. eChurch is the premier resource for church growth and provider of Pushpay to the church community.]