Catholic donors have taken to the digital world to support their parishes and charities throughout the pandemic. Photo illustration by Lucy Barco

Rise in digital donations a pandemic ‘blessing’

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  • January 14, 2022

The pandemic has brought unprecedented reliance on the digital world to the forefront, and the Catholic Church has not been exempt.

We saw it from the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 when health restrictions closed churches and dioceses across the country (and beyond) quickly pivoted to online services.

One area where it has seen a marked increase for the Church and its agencies is in charitable giving. While digital reliance was on the upswing before COVID-19, Arthur Peters says there has been a significant increase in the number of parishioners who are giving their offertories by credit card, pre-authorized giving and online banking.

“People were giving electronically and COVID has just increased the number of people wanting to do that,” said Peters, director of development with the Archdiocese of Toronto and executive director of ShareLife, its charitable fundraising arm. “We’re offering different options and we’re always looking at the trends to see what other ways there are that our parishioners can support the Church.”

Toronto was one of the first dioceses in Canada to offer online giving options, starting about a decade ago. Over the past three years, parishioners have also been able to contribute via monthly preauthorized giving, just as they would pay bills.

But things have advanced quite a bit since the pandemic began. Since September 2020, the diocese has offered parishes the opportunity to purchase point of sale machines for in person giving, which roughly a dozen parishes have adopted to date.

“I hate to say that the pandemic is a blessing, but there are some good things that have come out of it,” said Stephan Lenahan, sales manager for the Catholic arm of Pushpay, which provides online giving and church management software. “For the Catholic Church, certainly the need and the willingness to explore more technology, and see it as a necessity, has been a blessing.”

Lenahan says the challenge has been that technology has not always been at the forefront of the average Catholic parish’s mission.

Formerly employed at a parish in Texas, Lenahan says in the Catholic Church technology has been secondary to the sacraments and other traditions. Fears that automation might cheapen or replace the sacredness of the Catholic Church experience has played a role in decision-making around digitization. Fast forward to the pandemic and he says it catapulted the average Catholic parish into no longer looking at technology as an option but more a necessity.

For the past year Pushpay has invested heavily in the Catholic market. On Jan. 20 it will launch ParishStaq — a platform already in use in 14,000 churches from other denominations across the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia — aimed at increasing donations and engagement in the Catholic Church. An entire church management system, ParishStaq, makes electronic donations faster and easier by consolidating and tracking all giving into one place. The app allows parishioners to connect with one another, sign up for programs, track sacraments and giving history.

Lenahan believes building ways to integrate the Catholic Church experience with technology will be essential as the Church evolves.

“The reality is if we don’t help churches to push forward then there won’t be a future of the Church,” he said. “Millennials are now approaching 40 and they only know the digital world and the generations after them are going to be the same. So we’ve really got to play a little bit of catch up in the Church.”

Peters says the archdiocese is continually looking at ways to best meet the needs of parishioners and has been in talks with various platforms in considering the best options moving forward.

While people want the opportunity to give by electronic means, Peters says the passing of a tangible envelope still serves a purpose in instilling the principles of giving to the next generation. That option is essential for the time being, he says, but finding new ways to teach the value of money and the need for charitable support will be something to consider in the future.

“The passing of the envelope at church is more than putting money into an envelope,” said Peters. “It’s a sign of giving, but it’s also teaching children about stewardship of the Church and giving to the Church. ... It’s something that hopefully they will take with them in the future that no matter what the methodology is.”

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