Read the Intro before proceeding.

Concentrating on the basics throughout the entire selection process removes the mistake of choosing an overly complicated system. A typical weakness, of a feature rich system, is it’s complicated and difficult to use. This is what I call “fluff”. Typically, the complicated systems should only be in one place – the large churches (ie. mega churches). Two reasons as they have their own IT support staff and less turnover. Churches that are not in this realm, often times, rely on volunteers that help out the church. Staff or volunteers do not want to spend hours learning the couple of tasks on a complicated system. When turnover happens it means a new set of people need to learn the complicated system in a short amount of time.  Keep in mind, volunteers, have jobs outside the church which take up a lot of their time. Choosing a complicated software will disengage them from helping the church.

What are some examples of the Fundamentals?

  1. Can it print tax receipts to donors?
  2. Can you send statements via email and snail mail?
  3. Can you see a breakdown of the funds and how much was given and pledged by each person to a fund?
  4. Can you make changes to the batches when necessary because of an incorrect entry input?
  5. Are you able to import online donations – without re-keying them?
  6. Does the system provide a summary or link to a fund accounting system – preferably its own accounting system?

The above items aren’t comprehensive; however, it will get the ball rolling to answer the question – ‘what should our system have?’. Majority of the churches can use the above features and be content. Additionally, by not having all the extra fluff, it keeps cost down for the churches. Keep in mind the more features added to a system, there is more support (ie. Support Technicians and Programmers). The support needed for system operation, enhancements, and training the church’s staff and volunteers; all increase the donations software cost. Churches should concentrate on organizing the important information and let go of anything unimportant.

An acceptable practice as your ministry grows larger, adds more internal staff or volunteers, is to complete a software audit for the current software. The frequency of this audit is subject to how fast you are growing. When evaluating any software, the one question to ask is, what’s the purpose for collecting this data? Collected data should serve a purpose. For example, what’s our financial health, people demographics, or used for communicating. When it serves no purpose, then collecting it equates to clutter. The typical scenario is, the larger the church the more data they collect. It could be they have more trained staff members learning the software and they can exploit all the features. Or, there is less employee turn over that use the software. On the flip side, smaller congregations, don’t have dedicated IT or system administrators that teach others the software capabilities. Therefore, they rely on volunteers and a few staff to manage the church each week and they will learn the software on their own, without formal software training. These churches use a smaller set of features. Majority of the churches in the US fall into this smaller church criteria.

What makes a donation software the right fit? The software must fit the church’s unique needs and match its users capabilities to the features. Additionally, the software can’t max out the church’s resources like money and time. Don’t buy into all the hype of this feature does this or that, without investigating if you even need it in your church first.