How You Give Online Matters

More than ever before, Northwest Adventists are skipping the paper tithe envelope and contributing through their church's online AdventistGiving portal. But those who use their credit cards in such a transaction may not be aware of the costs involved. Ruth Harms, a Richland (Wash.) Church member, recently wrote:

"When the owner of a local convenience store told us he paid $93,000 last year in credit and debit card merchant fees, I wondered again why the NAD [North American Division], union and/or conference treasury departments are not spreading the word that churches can choose to opt out of the credit/debit card online giving and offer only electronic funds transfers (EFT). EFT costs only pennies per transaction instead of a percent of the total gift, which is how credit/debit cards work. The difference in costs to the church is significant. Conference and union officers have told me that their budgets have to be adjusted to allow for the very large outlay of funds the church must pay because people are giving tithes and offerings on credit and debit cards."

Ruth makes a good point. Here are the facts as we understand them.

Any fees incurred by gifts sent through the online AdventistGiving service are shared by your local conference (70 percent), North Pacific Union Conference (10 percent), NAD (10 percent) and General Conference (10 percent). Your local church is not impacted by these expenses.

Any gift given through a credit or debit card incurs, on average, an additional fee equal to 1.8 percent of the donation.

Gifts contributed through an EFT or other automated clearinghouse transfer cost, on average, 16 cents per transaction.

For example, a member who shares an online gift of $1,000 through his or her credit or debit card also passes on additional fees of nearly $20 to the church organization. By contrast, that same $1,000 through an EFT payment adds only 16 cents. As the amount goes up, the difference becomes more dramatic. A $10,000 credit or debit card gift would add almost $200 in fees — an EFT, still only 16 cents. The EFT is the same no matter what the amount, whereas a credit/debit card payment adds fees proportional to the gift.

While online giving is overall a tremendous blessing to the mission of our church, the impact of credit and debit card transactions should not be ignored. Local and union conferences throughout North America (as well as the division and world church corporate offices) together absorbed more than $600,000 in transaction fees during 2011 — the vast majority of that due to credit and debit card use.

The North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) and its six local conferences had to factor nearly $80,000 of combined fees into their 2011 budgets. In the report from first quarter 2012, NPUC members led all others throughout the United States in an average online gift of $572. But out of 5,336 NPUC-member online transactions during the quarter, 2,071 were credit or debit card payments, representing potential additional fees of more than $21,000 if multiplied by the average online gift. In contrast, the remaining 3,265 EFT transactions resulted in little more than $500 in fees. EFT transactions average about 60 percent of the total online gifts in the NPUC. As more Northwest churches and members choose EFT-only giving, overall transaction fees will significantly decline.

Ruth's church has opted to offer EFT as the only option for online giving. EFT enables more, much more, to be saved for our God-given mission. We are encouraging members and churches who wish to put their full support toward the Adventist mission to make EFT a priority.

October 01, 2012 / Intersections