Churches Turning to Automated Donations

By Paul Leighton
The Salem News

July 28, 2008

BEVERLY When her family piled into the car on Sunday mornings for the drive to church, Carol Augulewicz knew the question was coming.

"Do you have the envelope?" her husband would ask.

The family no longer has to worry about forgetting the weekly donation. They're still faithful churchgoers, but now their gift to St. Mary Star of the Sea is made automatically, with the click of a mouse instead of the pass of a basket.

St. Mary is one of three local Catholic churches that have adopted ParishPay, an online system that allows parishioners to give to the church electronically, rather than dropping a donation into the collection basket every week. Once parishioners sign up, the money is automatically taken out of their bank accounts every month.

"If you're rushing off to Mass on a Sunday morning with kids in tow, the last thing you want to think about is, 'Do I have the envelope?'" Augulewicz said. "From a family standpoint, it makes things much easier on a busy Sunday morning."

About 40 people have signed up for ParishPay at St. Mary since the church signed on to the program last month, said the pastor, the Rev. David Barnes. St. John the Evangelist in Beverly and St. Paul in Hamilton have also adopted ParishPay.

Barnes said the automated payments have two advantages. They avoid the prospect of missed payments when people miss church. And they force parishioners to consider more deeply how much they should contribute.

"In the past a lot of times it was whatever was in their pocket, they gave," Barnes said. "Now you have to think about it. It makes for a more conscious giver."

Andrew Goldberger, the CEO of New York-based ParishPay, said parishioners increase their donations by an average of 75 percent when they automate their payments, because they begin comparing their church gift to their other online monthly payments.

"It allows them to recontextualize the church's importance in their life," he said. "They contrast it with the cable bill and the electric bill, and all of a sudden $40 a month doesn't seem like enough."

The automated payments are especially valuable these days, Goldberger said, because even the most faithful attend church services only 35 times per year on average.

Small, but growing trend

Goldberger said almost 2,000 churches have enrolled with ParishPay since the company started in 2001. Many of them are Catholic, although other denominations have also signed on, including Episcopal and Greek Orthodox churches. The company has a separate Web site,, for non-Catholic churches, since the word "parish" has a Catholic connotation, Goldberger said.

About 50 or 60 churches in the Archdiocese of Boston, about one-fifth of the total number, have adopted some type of electronic giving system, said archdiocese spokesman Scott Landry. The number spiked after the archdiocese held a seminar on automated donations last fall, he said.

"The archdiocese is encouraging parishes to think about whether an electronic offertory makes sense in their parish setting," Landry said.

Critics have said automated payments turn the personal and spiritual act of donating to your church into a cold financial transaction. But Landry said parishioners who contribute electronically are given cards to place in the collection basket in lieu of a donation envelope or cash. According to Goldberger, the card reads, "We lovingly contributed electronically this month."

The cards not only avoid the potential embarrassment of letting the basket slide by without putting anything in it, but also give people a chance to write a prayer intention on their card, Landry said.

"That actually enhances the spirituality of the offering," he said.

Barnes said the cards are especially good for children who like to put their family's donation into the basket.

The Boston Archdiocese's support of electronic payments is not necessarily linked to the drop in donations that resulted from the priest abuse scandal, Landry said.

"Every diocese in the country is doing something with electronic giving right now," he said. "The reason electronic giving is growing is that both the parishes and the parishioners see the conveniences. It's just a coincidence that it started to grow in Boston in the last few years."

Company fee

ParishPay charges churches $1 plus 1.5 percent of every donation. If a parishioner donates $100 per month, for example, $2.50 of that would go to ParishPay, Goldberger said.

For all the efficiency of electronic payments, most people still prefer to donate the old-fashioned way. Only about 10 percent of parishioners at churches that offer the system agree to sign up, according to Goldberger.

St. Mary parishioner Ferde Rombola said he understands the theory behind automatic payments, but he plans to stick to his old-fashioned envelope system.

"I don't like people going into our checking account and taking money out when we're not looking," he said. "It's not a comment on the church, it's just a general economic policy I have."


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