Why are we still using envelopes?

A pair of hands hoving over the keyboard of a laptop
 on October 1, 2014

What’s in your wallet? It might be fun to see what’s in there right now. When I tried it, my wallet contained two twenty dollar bills, two loonies, eight quarters, eight dimes, three nickels, a debit card and two credit cards. There were also some “loyalty” cards, some of which hadn’t been used in years.

If you were to attend a church on a Sunday as a visitor, what would you be prepared to put on the collection plate from your wallet? What might you need to hold back as cash for that day or the next? Would you need to keep money in your wallet for lunch? Subway tickets? The kids’ pizza day at school?

I thought about this when our parish treasurer received a bill for $500 to reprint our pew envelopes. As the churchwarden, I had to sign the cheque. I calculated that it will take 25 donations of $20 just to recover the cost. We will then have to issue (on paper) a thank you card and a printed receipt. They will be put inside an envelope, with a $1 stamp on it. So let’s make that about 27 donations of $20, at least. That doesn’t include the time of our volunteer counters.

In other words, we are using a system designed for another century. So maybe it’s time to reframe the conversation: How do people pay for things now, including making on-site donations?

I’ll use myself as an example. All my banking is done online. I pay for utilities, groceries, residential fees and taxes, car payments and monthly contributions to the parish via direct debit from my current account – and make two transfers a month to pay my credit card balances in full. Nearly all other purchases are paid for with credit cards – some as monthly deductions, such as my contribution to Our Faith-Our Hope, and others when I buy online. (The points I earn on one card add up to a free flight a year; on the other, it brings me occasional cash deductions). I still have a small business account that receives the odd bit of income from an online order site. I have a line of credit to cover emergencies and a savings account to hold occasional surpluses. I make withdrawals of cash – usually to buy subway tokens – of $60, always in twenty dollar bills. Sometimes the cash sits in my wallet for most of the month. I visited another church recently and didn’t really want to donate $20, but it was all I had in bills and I wasn’t keen to drop a bunch of change. So I gave it.

I donate to my college and TVO via their websites. I contribute to another churchwarden’s charity walk online, too, and get the tax receipts right away. I read my bank statements on my laptop, tablet or phone.

I’m a senior. Am I typical of my own demographic? How about a younger demographic? My guess is that the laptop is the least used device for the 20 to 50-year-old crowd. I look at the passengers on the subway, and it’s all about smartphones.

So here is the challenge:  How are we going to encourage visitors to make one-time donations when they visit a church on a Sunday in a way that works for them, not us? The method has to maintain confidentiality, be secure, and allow us to obtain their basic information in order to issue a tax receipt and have enough information to thank the donor appropriately.

I think it’s time that churches begin this conversation. How about you?


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