5 Tips And Tools Every Community Pastor Should Know

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In a 2015 blog report by Google it was reported that internet searches via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) have now surpassed desktop access. This
may seem like a foregone conclusion in today’s culture, but this means everything to those of you attempting to reach your community.

As a community pastor, the majority of your focus lies outside the proverbial four walls and your method of connection means everything. Whether it’s equipping your home group leaders or encouraging your congregants to engage, having the right tools will either make or break your volunteer and constituent experience. Here are 5 ways that you can ensure you’re connected with your people:

1. Adoption is everything

You can have every powerful product in the market, but if user’s find the experience cumbersome, it should come as no surprise that they won’t use it.
The best experience is leaning on modern web-based portal solutions that recognize the user through authorized access, even linking to their social accounts. But if you consider the earlier stat on how people access, browser-based access isn’t enough and mobile responsive access will contribute to a much higher use (or adoption) rate when there’s no more pinch and swipe to get to where they need to go.

2. Give the power to the people

If the expectation of real time information of all your congregants is left to you or a select few staff or super volunteers, you run a significant risk of information
growing stale and an even lower likelihood of contribution by your congregants. Providing a portal that allows each individual to manage their own information,
including household, contribution statements, group involvement, and more, engages and empowers your congregants. And since it’s behind authorization
you can project confidence to your congregation. Win/Win.

3. Knowledge is power

It’s no secret. Events are challenging to pull off, but it’s almost impossible when you don’t know how many will be in attendance. A portal designed to deliver the
right event to the targeted individual ensures that you’ve got a true gauge of what events are connecting with your community. And when you’re equipped with an
intuitive platform, you eliminate the struggles of a cluttered calendar filled with past due events.

4. Foster generosity

Generosity comes in several forms. One definition could imply generosity of time. If that’s the case, providing your volunteer leaders (small group, home group,
etc.) with a platform to facilitate small group management eases the burden of management and instead, keeps the focus on ministry. If generosity is in the way of financial, provide a way for your congregants to give generously through online tools found in the very same portal. But donations aren’t enough, these same tools should provide a way for those congregants to see their contributions – including pledge status – without having to interrupt your front office folks.

5. Upload resources

Today’s technology can mean the sharing of information and files is very fragmented. With the ability to append notes and curriculum excerpts to a small group, you can ensure that your small group leaders are resourced with the necessary contents for their upcoming sessions in an easy to access location.

And speaking of resources, using small group finder included within your mobile responsive portal leaves no question of what small groups are still open to new attendees, who’s leading them, and where they are hosted in proximity to a community member’s location.

Community pastors struggle to find ways to form, communicate, and equip home groups. Find the platform, like the Elexio Deluxe Suite ChMS, to manage these critical points of engagement.

How does your church use mobile technology to reach your community?

How Guest Giving Tools Can Help Your Church

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Even if your church is utilizing technology to provide multiple options for people to give, you could still be missing out if you require everyone to create an account before making any contributions.

Guests and newcomers to your church

Most churches tell visitors not to feel obligated to give—that it’s the responsibility of the members to provide financially for the church. But what about those people that want to show their gratitude for the church’s hospitality or an influential Sunday morning? Maybe they’re simply passing through town or they’re not quite ready to commit to being a part of your church, but they’d like to keep up with their regular giving to a local church.

Don’t make people feel like they have to be insiders to contribute to your church. You shouldn’t alienate the people who feel led to support your ministry, but rather make that process quick and easy. They should be able to whip out their smartphones and make a donation without the hassle of creating an account with your church for a one-time transaction.

Church finance expert Rusty Lewis says that this could even apply to your church website. Online “guests” who are watching your sermons and connecting with your church online—even those who will never step foot inside your physical church location—might also want to quickly give to your ministry.

But it’s not just people who are new to your church that would appreciate the convenience of a simpler giving process.

Members of your church community

According to a 2013 survey by Barna, 79% of evangelicals made a charitable donation in the previous 12 months, and two-thirds of that group gave to their churches—meaning only about half of the evangelicals polled made even a single donation to a church that year.

Another study found that of current members, between 33-50 percent of them don’t make any contributions to the church they call home.

So if you already have a variety of giving options in place but members of your church community aren’t giving, simplifying that process could result in more active donors. Of course, not everyone will immediately start giving to your church, but convenience is a driving factor for many people.

How to make giving easy for first-time givers

Your church can allow people to make contributions through your giving platforms—like an online portal, mobile app, giving kiosk, or text to give—without creating an account through a guest giving option. They can still utilize these tools without limiting major functionality—like the ability to designate gifts to any of your funds.

If you’re not passing the plate, you’re not pressuring guests to give. But having simple options available allows them to quickly give if they truly want to.

According to a recent survey of churches implementing giving kiosks, 27 percent of the contributions they received came from first-time givers. Swiping a card is much faster and easier than setting up a login and entering personal information—meaning first-time givers will be more inclined to take advantage of this tool.

This doesn’t mean you can’t track that giving coming from your church community. With the minimal information you’ve collected, your database can do some of that matchup work behind the scenes if it’s integrated with your giving solutions.

After falling into the habit of giving, those new donors who are members of your church community will likely create an account and become regular donors.

So make it easy for those first-timers with a guest giving option. Don’t make people jump through hoops to contribute to your church.

Whiteboard: Online Giving—It’s Not Magic!

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In this whiteboard session, Rodney explains the behind-the-scenes process of online giving.

Video Transcription:

Hi and welcome to an Elexio Whiteboard. I was watching television the other day, and I saw a magician and he did a magic trick, and what he did was he took a card and he called somebody up out of the audience and he had that person write their signature on the card and then through a series of interactions he did a couple of tricks and somehow the card ended up in the guy’s back pocket. It was amazing. I mean I watched closely; there was no way this guy had any interaction. There was no way he could’ve slipped it in this guy’s back pocket. It was really cool.

You know, when people see magic tricks they tend to react in one of two ways, they either watch it and they think, “I know how he did it. I can figure that out.” And they spend time. The wheels are clicking in their head trying to figure out exactly how the magician did it. And other people are just entertained and love the end result. Clap and applaud and move on.

Well, today in our whiteboard we are talking about online donations, so your church members or attenders giving money to the church online. Some people treat that like a magic trick and you may think of it and just be glad with the end result, because the end result is your church does receive money. Other people, and I’m going to suggest this might be the way to approach it, which is to really think through what’s happening out there? It’s not magic. So today in our whiteboard we’re going to break through and look at what exactly is happening when somebody gives money to the church in an online fashion. We’ll look at three big questions. Who is involved? What are the costs? And finally do I have a choice? Or, am I handcuffed in and have to do it one particular way?

Well, first of all let’s take a look at who is involved. You’ll be surprised to know that there’s actually four different organizations involved with that money that goes from here to there. First off, it’s called a credit card association. That’s Visa, MasterCard, Discover, all the things you’re used to. It starts with a credit card organization. Up next is what is called an acquiring bank.

Now, you don’t deal with acquiring bank. They deal with the big credit card companies. Up next is an organization called an ISO, which stands for Independent Sales Organization. You don’t deal with the ISO either. You deal directly with a merchant account provider. Merchant account providers are the people that collect the fees for everybody else in the chain. So let’s talk about fees. We now know who is involved, four different big organizations. What are the costs? Well, you’re going to see yearly costs. Yearly costs are things like, you’ll see it on your bill and it might say “IRS Compliance Fee” or “PCI Compliance Fee”. That comes again on a yearly basis. You may also see monthly fees. These are much more straightforward. It’s almost like a membership fee to be connected to the merchant account. Then common to all merchant accounts are transaction fees. So again, as a quick review, you’re going to have a yearly or monthly or both, and you’re most certainly going to have transaction fees.

Transaction fees are either percent-based or flat and really most all merchant account providers do both. So, does everybody pay the same amount? We said we would talk about the cost, but really is everybody paying the same thing? Is it some kind of a law? Is there a mandate that says these are the accepted amounts that the government will allow that to be collected? And the answer is absolutely not.

All kinds of different fees. All kinds of different yearly fees, monthly fees, percent fees and flat fees. It varies widely. So, as we think back to our magic trick concept, this is why I’m suggesting don’t treat this like a magic trick. Take a look at your bill and maybe find out, “What fees are we paying?” And are the rates reasonable? Because the final question, and you may have already been inferring the answer which is, yes, absolutely there is a choice in how you take money online.

So, if you figure it out and you know that maybe your church is paying too much, are you going to change? Well, I’m going to guess that you may feel a little bit like some churches I’ve talked to which is they feel a little bit like their whole online donation thing, because it does have this good end result, they like the feeling of getting the contributions. But this whole thing is kind of like a house built of cards. And, the old metaphor if a house is built of cards the slightest bump is going to make it all fall apart. Because if you do decide you want to change and save some money, if you feel you can, you might be afraid of changing because that’s going to mean that this person has to log in to their computer or their smart phone and change their account up. So the fear is, well, they’re just not going to do that.

Well, I’m going to end our whiteboard with a couple of things. One’s going to be a story which is how I’ll truly end. But I want to suggest a challenge. I think people will follow through and make the change with you if you communicate to them, “Hey, body of the church, we figured out we can save the church some money. And we need you to help us.” They’re going to still want the benefits of the convenience of online donations, and I think they will absolutely follow you to a new merchant account provider if indeed that’s what you believe is best for your church. So it becomes a faith move for you. I said I’d end with a story. One church who didn’t see it as something built on a house of cards, because what they saw is that they could save some pretty serious amount of money. This church, when they did their analysis, they figured out that they could probably be saving anywhere from $500 to $700 per month in fees. Now, I don’t care what size church you are, that’s noticeable money. So, the challenge is, take a look, figure it out. It’s not a magic trick. It’s a simple business transaction and you could be costing your church more money than is necessary.

If you need some help, we here at Elexio can help you analyze it. There are other companies as well.

Hey, thanks for watching on Elexio Whiteboard.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

6 Things Your Church Should Do In 2015

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As another year winds down, people create lists of New Year’s resolutions that they probably won’t keep. But your church can make a few changes in 2015 that are practical and will leave a lasting impact:

1. Review the systems that you already have in place—like your ChMS. Are you using everything that’s available to you and getting what you pay for? Don’t let valuable tools go to waste!

2. Make sure you’re providing your church community with plenty of giving options. Not everyone carries a checkbook anymore.

  • Online giving makes it easy to set up recurring giving and print contribution statements.
  • Mobile giving allows people to give when and where it’s convenient for them.
  • Giving kiosks provide a convenient option for people at your church.

3. Integrate your ChMS and website to save time, simplify tasks for your staff, and help your church community stay connected.

4. Implement a flexible check-in system that can work offline and allows mobile check-in.

5. Update your web presence.

6. Consider a mobile app to increase engagement with your church community. People can register for events, give, and stay connected right from their smartphones with an app that is integrated with your church database.

What changes is your church making in 2015? 

Why You Should Integrate Your Church Database And Website

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If you’re utilizing the right ChMS for your church, you already know what a huge time—and headache—saver you’ve got on your hands. A database that allows you to manage everything from contributions to people to events already cuts your work load in half. But did you know that integrating your church database with your website could save you even more time? And did I mention that it’s simple and will help get your church community involved?

Scratch a few items off your to-do list and let your church community do the following online:

1. Give

Online giving not only makes it quick and easy for your people to make their weekly contributions from home any day of the week, but it can also lead to an increase in giving for your church. Donors can save their payment information—whether it’s a credit card, debit card, or bank account—and set up recurring giving. Allowing them to set up an account online will likely result in more consistent giving for your church. They can even view their giving history online and print their own statements—saving your staff a significant amount of time come tax season!

2. Update personal information

No matter the size of your church, managing the details of each person in your database can be tedious and time-consuming. Remembering to change an address or update a phone number could easily slip your mind while working with so many people. But when your website is integrated with the church database, your people can log into a portal and make those changes on their own in minutes. As an administrator, set controls to monitor who sees these details, and your people can access this information to engage with others in the church family.

3. Find and connect with a small group

One of the best ways to ensure that people don’t just come to your church but they stay is to help them get connected. You can make it easy for your people to find the right small groupwhen it’s convenient for them. They can search for groups based on a variety of criteria and see where those groups meet on a map. Group leaders can share links to online study materials or meeting location details. They can also enter group attendance here rather than keeping a printed record to be entered into the database manually later.

4. Register and pay for events

When you announce an upcoming event on Sunday, you don’t want people to go home to check their calendars and then try to remember to sign up next Sunday for the retreat or conference. They’ll probably forget. You can make it easy for them to register online for an event as soon as they know their availability. They can even pay for those events that have a cost associated with them right away from any device.

Integrating your church database and website will allow your people to take care of these functions and more to lighten the load on the shoulders of your staff.

Sounds great, but how do I get my church to use it?

As with any new system, it may take some time for your church community to adjust. The younger generation will likely be quicker to adopt these changes, but below are some tips for getting your people on board:

  • PROMOTE

Advertise this new tool to your congregation in the bulletin or within a screen announcement and remind them to take advantage of it periodically.

  • SHARE

Share information and links to help your people get started through email and social media.

  • START FROM THE TOP

Are you the pastor? Well, practice what you preach. Log in and make a contribution or update your address. Show them that it’s really that easy.

  • TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOME GREAT RESOURCES

Already an Elexio client? We have plenty of resources to help you communicate these changes with your people.

How has your church benefited from integrating its ChMS and website?

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

How Technology Can Increase Church Giving

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It used to be as simple as passing the offering plate down the pew, and the church would exceed its budget twofold. But many factors—an uncertain economy, fluctuating attendance, and growing obsoleteness of checkbooks—have made giving a challenge for both members and the church.

Although contributions may take a dip, people still expect premium coffee in the foyer, and staff still need to be paid. This can lead to a difficult balance of covering costs without being perceived as a financially-driven church.

While you can pick and choose what expenses are important to your church and where you can cut corners, why not give your church the best chance to thrive financially so you can focus on ministry?

Here are a few ways to make it easy for your church community to give and practice good stewardship:

1. Giving Kiosks

Giving kiosks are increasing in popularity as people continue to trade in their cash and paper checks for plastic.

Many solutions allow users to designate contributions to a specific fund and pay with either a credit or debit card. They can log into their account to give, and when integrated with the church database, their giving record will be updated. Or someone who is visiting from out-of-town or does not want to be identified can quickly give anonymously.

Touch-screen kiosks are easy for anyone to use and can make connecting with the younger generation much simpler.

2. Mobile Giving

Always on the go and looking for the easiest way to accomplish every task, people are now paying for even their morning Starbucks through a mobile app. If they want such convenience for the sake of a macchiato, certainly they’d like the option to tithe from their smartphones.

A mobile app can allow your church community to give to the fund of their choosing as well as pay for an event upon registration. They can give whenever they remember from wherever they are—even from their seats during the offertory.

3. Online Giving

Many people now pay their bills online and would prefer to take care of their tithing the same way. Online giving allows donors to save their payment information—whether it’s a debit card, credit card, or bank account—and even set up recurring giving. Allowing people to set up an online account can mean more consistent giving for your church.

Online giving can also save a significant amount of time for your staff. When integrated with the church database, your people can view their giving history online and even print their own statements.

4. Recurring Giving & Bank Account Withdrawal

It’s easy for your people to remember to drop their offering in the plate as it passes, but what about when they’re sick at home or on vacation?

When they set up recurring giving, contributions will be consistent even if summer attendance isn’t. And while many people prefer to give with a credit card, you may want to encourage them to sign up for auto withdrawal from a bank account instead—it will allow your church to retain a higher percentage of those financial gifts.

For the most part, your church community does want to give, but it has to be easy and they need to remember. Help them give generously by suggesting these changes.

5. Financial Processing Services (FPS)

Another way your church may be able to keep more of the contributions it receives is by making a change to your merchant account. Your members may be giving ten percent, but how much of that is actually coming back to your church?

If you’re an Elexio client, switching to our Financial Processing Services (FPS) could save your church a significant amount on monthly processing fees. Cutting out the third party, Elexio can offer churches great rates and make reporting much faster and easier. It’s simple to sign up and make the switch, and your information is secure.

 

As technology advances, churches are adapting to maximize giving opportunities for their communities.

How is your church getting creative to foster consistent giving?

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

8 Ways To Simplify Church Management

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Church management has evolved significantly over the past several years.  Changing demographics, use of technology, multi-site campuses, and social media all play a role in shaping the way churches connect and interact with their members and visitors.  Staff is challenged to stay focused on the mission of the church while constantly adapting to change and managing with fewer resources.

How can church staff stay engaged with members and visitors and work more efficiently?  Here’s a look at ways churches can simplify church management:

  1. Maintain a USEFUL database
    One of the best ways to simplify church management is to start with your database.  Your church database is only as good as the information you put into it.  Take the time to assess the information stored, identify areas for improvement (cleanup!), and establish clear guidelines for how information is collected, entered, and used.  All too often databases are poorly maintained and become a roadblock to ongoing communication.  If you have recently merged databases, take the time to purge duplicate records.  If you are converting from one database to another, take the time to clean up the database both before and after the conversion.  Ask your software provider if they offer support in migrating your old database to the new system.Next, identify the information you are going to collect and manage going forward.  Think about how you are going to use the information to grow fellowship, serve unique ministries, and identify opportunities to grow.  Do you know which small groups your members participate in?  What about their passions and spiritual gifts and how they relate to volunteer opportunities? Are there any special event requests from a member that need to be managed (e.g., wedding)?  How about tracking of contributions to thank faithful givers?
  2. Give Individuals the opportunity to update their own records
    Save time.  Decentralize your people record management by empowering individuals with secure web-based access via an online portal to your website or mobile apps.  These tools provide a way for attendees to access/update personal information. Church attendees can also update information with a Self-Service Kiosk.  Remind them while they are at church and give them the opportunity to update their information while they are thinking about it.
  3. Use Your Database to Target Communications
    Church databases should be more than a place to store information. Use data in combination with mass communication tools to assist with your discipleship process.  Send targeted email and text messages, post engaging content to your social networks, and send US mail only to those that prefer this communication method.  Targeted communication is far more efficient and cost effective than sending out information that is not matched to interests, duplicated to multiple household members, or not sent via a recipient’s preferred communication channel (e.g., email or social networks).
  4. Set up Automation
    Are you regularly communicating with members and visitors?  Identify opportunities to connect and engage with your audience and create email templates matched to these opportunities.  For example, create templates that thank first-time visitors, follow-up with people before and after an event, wish members a happy birthday or anniversary, remind people of small group opportunities, and thank them for their contributions.
  5. Engage Volunteers Wisely
    First, a word of caution.  Volunteers play a vital role in ministry.  They help with discipleship and extend limited church resources.   Volunteers deserve our ongoing appreciation.  They also need to be matched to the right opportunity and engaged at the right time or they will suffer burnout and withdraw from volunteering altogether.Church staff needs to work together to plan opportunities for volunteers that are tied to its mission and then coordinate calendars to understand church-wide volunteer needs for the year.  All too often the same small group of people is asked to volunteer for every need the church has.  Plan out volunteer needs across all ministries and then use personal relationships and your church database to identify opportunities specifically tied to interests and spiritual gifts.  People are more likely to volunteer for things they feel passionate about or feel confident they can add value to.  Set up .your automated email system to make sure volunteers are thanked regularly for their service.
  6. Save Time with Online Giving
    Reduce administrative costs with online giving.  Use web-based tools to efficiently collect contributions and extract data to make decisions based on trends. With online giving and access tools, the church office no longer has to send statements and giving becomes as easy as using the church mobile app or self-service kiosk.
  7. Use an Event Management Tool
    Simplify event management with a system that helps you plan resources and handles registration, payment, and promotion.   An effective event management tool should integrate with your church database to streamline marketing of the event and identify and request volunteers.  It should also allow you to save registration information for follow-up & future event participation.
  8. Simplify Check-In
    A secure church check-in system simplifies children’s ministry and event attendance. It can help manage registration and ticketing, print name tags and security receipts for parents dropping their kids off at the nursery or kids’ ministry, and maintain a room registry that is easily retrieved for room checks.  It can also be used to retain data for future events.   Simplify church management while keeping attendees happy with shorter lines and quicker, more secure processes.

Looking for ways to simplify church management?  Contact us.

5 Ways Churches Can Increase Online Giving With Contribution Reports

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Tax season is here.  By now most churches have sent contribution statements, either by email or U.S. mail, or have made the statements available online to registered users of their online giving system.  Unfortunately, these statements are simply viewed too often as an accounting tool and not as an opportunity to encourage faithful and consistent giving by connecting with church members.

How can churches use contribution statements to increase online giving?  First, let’s take a look at the advantages of online giving, both for members and for churches.

ONLINE GIVING

For church attendees, online giving is:

  • Convenient.  For regular giving (tithing), the giver can simply register through the church’s online giving system and designate the amount to be given and the fund to receive the donation (e.g., 40% to missions, 30% to meet special needs in the community, and 30% to operations).  Adjustments can be made should the contributor’s ability to give changes or a special need for giving is identified (special one-time contribution).
  • Easy to track.  An online giving system makes it simple for contributors to download their own statement for tax purposes as often as they need to. (some of us are good at misplacing things!)
  • Potentially rewarding.  While not all churches are comfortable with accepting credit cards – churches encourage financial responsibility – the reality is donors often enjoy the perks credit cards offer such as money back and travel miles. Also, with all the recent attention on security breaches, many users feel credit cards are a safer alternative to linking bank accounts or sending out checks with account information on them.

For churches, online giving is:

  • Cost Effective.  Online giving reduces church administrative costs.
  • More consistent, more reliable.  Variations due to seasonal fluctuations in church attendance are typically reduced with online giving.
  • A way to engage with Millennials.  Recent Barna research shows that “Millennials are giving, yet technology is significantly changing how they give. In fact, Millennial generosity, for the most part, has gone paperless.”  Online giving is also the most reliable; online giversare the least likely to stop giving.  It is important that your website include an online giving system compatible with mobile devices.

THE ROLE OF CONTRIBUTION STATEMENTS IN ONLINE GIVING

Contributions are more than an accounting tool.  They are a way to touch base with your community and engage with them in a meaningful way.  If the only staff people discussing contribution statements are your accounting department, then it is time to rethink that strategy.  Your director of communications and lead pastors need to be part of the discussion. Why?  The director of communications is in charge of marketing and public relations.  Every single piece of communication to your congregation is an opportunity to connect and engage with your audience.  Your lead pastors should be involved because they have a more personal connection with their individual ministries; they are more likely to understand the unique dynamics of each group they minister to.

5 Ways to Increase Giving With Contribution Reporting
  1. Identify Key Groups.  Church software that features a robust database integrated with an online giving system enables you to set up groups by ministry or unique demographics that you define.  Do you know who your regular online contributors are?  How often are you sending them a contribution statement?  Are you keeping them informed of your church’s financial health and identifying needs and missions?
  2. Identify special giving opportunities.  Do you know if a particular fund is especially important to an individual?  Perhaps someone feels passionate about giving to the deacon’s fund to help serve people in the community who are in need.  Create an email distribution list matched to contribution funds.  Send a quarterly statement to each group letting them know the financial status of the fund and the impact the fund has made.
  3. Identify contributors who do not wish to use online giving.  Some donors do not feel comfortable using an online system.  Use demographic information contained in your church database, combined with your staff’s personal knowledge, to identify those individuals and develop a printed communications strategy for these donors.  Send printed quarterly statements to this group only, addressing the same items listed in steps 1 and 2.  However, make an effort to understand WHY someone does not wish to use the online system.  Is it because of their age and lack of comfort with technology?  Perhaps they want to use the online system but just need someone to walk them through it.  Maybe they never considered it; they are just giving the way they have always given.  Don’t automatically rule out this group of donors without a little bit of investigation.
  4. Identify contributors who may be convinced to “go green.”  Again, use demographic information contained in your church database, combined with your staff’s personal knowledge, to identify ways to reduce administrative, printing and mailing costs.  People respect organizations that spend money wisely, reduce unnecessary costs, and are environmentally conscious.  Your church constituency is no exception.  Remind people that you offer a paperless way to give and to receive contribution reports for filing taxes.
  5. Thank!  Every contribution report to every donor should include a statement of thanks.  Thank them for their generosity and show them you appreciate them.

Interested in learning more about church software?  Contact us.

Image Credits: AWeber