Among Catholic parishes served by Faith Direct, St. Nicholas in North Pole, Alaska has many distinctions. It’s the northernmost parish in the Faith Direct family and the coldest, with the average temperature in January plunging to a frigid -34 degrees. St. Nicholas is also the only Faith Direct parish just down the street from a 51-foot-tall, 900-pound statue of Santa Claus.
You’ll discover the Christmas spirit in North Pole quite literally at every turn, whether you take Mistletoe Drive to Donner then make a left onto Kris Kringle (which will take you to Blitzen Drive), or if you visit the parish on St. Nicholas Drive (via Santa Claus Lane, of course).
And this Christmas spirit is sought out by the rest of the world. “Children from all over send their letters to Santa at the North Pole,” says Rev. Robert Fath, pastor of St. Nicholas Parish. “People also send their Christmas cards here for a North Pole postmark, which keeps the Post Office ‘elves’ quite busy.”
Normal Life in North Pole
But when tourists have packed away their souvenirs and headed to the next destination – after Santa’s helpers have sorted through a day’s worth of cards and letters and closed up the Post Office for the night – North Pole is a small town like most any other, with a population of almost 2,000 and with the many blessings and abundant needs of any other community.
One of the ways St. Nicholas provides Christ-centered ministries is through the many families who support the parish via electronic giving. Almost 40% of contributing households use the parish’s eGiving program, which is administered by Faith Direct.
“We have many wonderful families and kind individuals who are always eager to serve,” says Rev. Fath, noting that annual events like the parish Bazaar and the summer “Pignic” are never short of volunteers. “But we also have people in dire need – people who are poor, jobless or homeless, or who are struggling with addictions and inner turmoil.”
For these people, St. Nicholas offers a variety of ministries – from helping provide Thanksgiving dinners to those in need to offering prayer and counseling for troubled families.
A Gift that Keeps Giving
The Faith Direct eGiving program has also helped St. Nicholas expand its church home with a new Pastoral Center, which was completed in 2012. “eGiving was a huge help with our building campaign, because it allowed parishioners to give to the project on a consistent basis without the risk of forgetting from one month to the next,” says Rev. Fath. “The Pastoral Center is now open, and with the help of eGiving and the consistency it provides, we are on a 5-year schedule to pay off the 15-year mortgage.”
The Reason for the Season
According to Rev. Fath, “For all the decorations and festivities, the true meaning of Christmas is sharing God’s love and helping others – so we at St. Nicholas do our best to make sure it’s Christmas year-round here in that sense as well.”
eGiving is essential to helping St. Nicholas sustain this spirit of kindness and compassion. “We’re thrilled with the consistency and efficiency we’ve discovered through eGiving,” says Rev. Fath. “Our program is helping us strengthen the ministries we offer to the North Pole community, during the Christmas season and throughout the year.”
eGiving is generally associated with the digital world — that “e” stands for electronic, after all. But did you know what an important role paper plays in the most successful eGiving programs?
At Faith Direct, members using paper forms make up 20% of our new enrollments. Yes, that means 1 out of 5 members who elect to support their churches through eGiving don’t actually go “online” to do so.
Paper enrollment materials are especially popular among older members who use eGiving — a large demographic for most any program.
Forty-one percent of Faith Direct enrollees are ages 60 to 74 — and another 17% are 75 or older. That’s almost 60% of eGiving users over the age of 60!
Many older individuals like the ease and efficiency of eGiving, but aren’t always comfortable putting their personal information into a website or computer. Some prefer paper enrollment forms so it is important to make this option available.
Here’s how your eGiving program should provide access to the paper forms members want:
- Include enrollment forms in any letters you send to members regarding your eGiving program.
- Place enrollment forms in your pews so members can fill them out after Mass.
- Keep enrollment forms in your church office so people can pick them up there.
- Give members the option of downloading enrollment forms from your website so they can print them, fill them out and turn them in. Some online users prefer this method!
Faith Direct strongly urges churches to consider the security requirements of receiving paper enrollment forms with secure financial information. Your eGiving program should exclude the church office from having to accept or store any paper enrollment forms.
When your members have access to the paper enrollment options they want, participation in your eGiving program will be higher — and your church will have more resources to do God’s work. Your church family and your community will be thankful!
How would you feel if your credit card number was left sitting out on a desk in an unlocked office, for anyone to see… or if your checking account information was stored in an unprotected computer file that anybody could access?
Such a risky scenario is NOT what you want for your church’s eGiving program.
And with stories about identity theft and security breaches making headlines each week, your members will want to be 100% sure that any information they include on any paperwork for your church’s eGiving program will be kept secure.
Here are five questions to ask yourself about how your church is ensuring the security of your eGiving program:
1. Is your church PCI DSS compliant? PCI DSS stands for the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard – a comprehensive set of requirements, accepted by all major payment brands, designed to protect payment account data security. If your church is processing credit card transactions, you are required to be PCI compliant. (You can learn more at https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/.)
2. Are you strictly limiting who can handle sensitive data? Credit card or bank account numbers shouldn’t be handled by anyone who is not directly involved with administering your eGiving program. Administrators of your program should be subjected to a background check and complete comprehensive security training before they access any data.
3. Are you restricting physical access to your members’ personal information? Any data you receive must be kept on a secure server in password-protected files accessible only to authorized users. Any paper forms with your members’ account information must be kept under lock-and-key in a secure area – and papers should be destroyed as soon as payment information has been entered by your eGiving staff.
4. Are you prepared for a worst-case scenario? If a security incident arises with your eGiving program – if data is accessed by an unauthorized user, for example, or if your network is compromised – you need to have a rapid response plan in place so you can immediately alert your members to the problem.
5. Does your church practice the basics of safe computing? There are many steps you can take to increase your program’s security. Your antivirus program must be up-to-date, and you should install all software security updates. There should be one computer in your office dedicated to accessing banking and other financial websites. Everyone who accesses financial information should have a unique username and password – and all passwords should be strong, with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.
If you answered NO to any of these questions, your best strategy could be to outsource your eGiving program to a reputable provider. Security requirements for handling sensitive data are complex – it’s often too great a task for any individual church to manage.
Thinking about starting an eGiving program but not sure if your church will respond? Rev. Walter Lewis, the pastor at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Powhatan County, Virginia, had the same concern.
Faith Direct spoke with him recently about why he was hesitant to launch an eGiving program, and why he’s glad his church decided to give it a try:
One Pastor’s Experience with eGiving
How much had you heard about eGiving before starting a program?
I had heard quite a bit about eGiving – however, I think it is fair to say I had a fairly limited understanding of what eGiving really meant. For me, I had already encouraged members to participate in eGiving, through their banks. I was reluctant to start a program because these attempts to encourage members did not yield good results.
Why did you choose an eGiving provider, rather than attempt to manage your program in-house as some churches do?
We did not have the capacity, nor do I think most churches have, to effectively promote and administer something like this. Security was one of our major concerns. Our Finance Council, in their wisdom and during our discernment, correctly recognized that our church should not be handling sensitive financial information. Why would my or any other church want to assume that liability?
Is there one component that you believe is especially critical to the success of a new eGiving program?
It is clear to me how critically important a promotional plan is to early success. While as Pastor I was willing to show my support by signing up myself, our church also used promotional mailing, email, Mass announcements and talking points to get the word out. This is why we have done so well – members responded because they were informed.
What would you say is the best measure of an eGiving program’s performance?
Enrollment! I am surprised more churches don’t recognize that successful eGiving is defined based on the number of members who use it.
Has eGiving had any impact on your regular offertory?
There is no question eGiving has made a positive impact on our weekly offertory. The automatic recurring nature of it results in an offertory increase while giving members a more convenient way of donating. Because of the high number of families that have enrolled at my church, this program provides consistent offertory even if members are out of town.
What does the future of eGiving look like for SJN? For the Church?
While I just started a real eGiving program 6 months ago, I see a point very soon that this new way of giving becomes the norm. We are a small rural church outside of Richmond yet in just 6 months nearly 50 percent of our donating households have signed up. If it can work here, it can work everywhere.
Has your church seen a decline in offertory since summer started? Most churches do. When members miss Sunday Mass because they are “on the road” for vacations, family reunions and other summer activities, they’re not able to put a check in the offertory basket – leaving your Sunday collection looking like this:
eGiving can help your church overcome the “Summertime Blues”
eGiving lets members plan their gifts in advance, so the church can count on their support even if they’re out of town for a weekend. That means a more consistent offertory that will help your church better plan for your ministries.
Here’s what you need to do right now to avoid another summer slump…
- The first step is to select an eGiving program for your church, if you haven’t already. If your church has delayed implementing a program, let any decline in offertory you’ve seen this summer inspire you to get started.
- Next, whether you have an eGiving program or are just starting it, you must have a coordinated marketing plan that encourages church families to sign up. Explain how it simplifies giving, and lets them be part of helping your church ministries even when they’re out of town on a Sunday. The more families sign up, the fewer downturns your monthly offertory will suffer when people are away for holidays and summer vacations.
Remember: During Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year many people might be out of town visiting family – so RIGHT NOW is the time to launch and promote your eGiving program to avoid another drop in offertory.