It is hard to believe that my daughter Dani begins college at American University in just 4 months. I am reminded of when I was preparing to go to George Washington University, when I opened my first checking account. I thought it was so cool to have my name and address on a check. Little did I think about the responsibilities of paying for goods and services that went along with that.
ATMs hadn’t been invented yet and not many of my friends had credit cards. Back then, you could go to the Student Center and cash a check for up to $100. Except during exams when for some reason the limit was $50.
College students today don’t use checks. Debit Cards are accepted all over, and with a student bank account, they can go to almost any ATM for the occasion when they need cash. They purchase lots of stuff on line – clothes, books, and music – and make such purchases at home on their computers or literally anywhere with their IPhones or Androids.
This is how Generation Y (born between 1981 and 1992) and Generation Z (born after 1993) conduct the business of their lives.
How synagogues present to these age cohorts through their websites and billing practices is important. Young people in their 20s and 30s will first check out a synagogue through its website. If there doesn’t seem to be something for them in the programming described on the website or pictures of other people who look like them and are of a similar age, you won’t see them attending services except on the High Holy Days with their parents (A future blog post will be about websites).
Young people will also want to conduct the business of being a member of a synagogue the same way they conduct all their other transactions. Your synagogue’s website should invite on-line payments for dues, contributions, religious school tuition and event fees. When paying by check is the only method of payment allowed, it is not making their lives easier.
Each year, the percentage of people in North America purchasing books, clothing, music, and so much more online continues to increase. Whether it is for the purposes of airline miles or just convenience, many “Baby Boomers” would also take advantage of this payment option.
Allowing on-line payments should increase office efficiency. What was a 4-5-step process for each check (Opening the envelope, determining the purpose of the check, entering the check in an individual’s membership software record, copying or scanning the check, depositing the check, sending an acknowledgement letter if it is a contribution) becomes a much shorter 2-step process (reviewing all on-line contributions en masse and uploading them to the membership software records).
Several synagogue leaders have expressed to me the concern regarding the costs involved for credit card processing. Over the years, check processing charges for synagogues have been greatly reduced and are not often of much significance.
A number of not-for-profit organizations and synagogues have added a statement to their payment page/form that reads something like this:
“Please consider making an additional contribution of 3% of your payment. This will help Temple ABC cover the bank charges incurred by allowing online credit card payments.”
Charging a processing or user fee may be illegal in some states and violates the agreement with credit card companies (American Express, MasterCard, Visa). But you can give a discount to congregants who pay by check.
Synagogues have used a number of credit card/online options. You should begin researching this by reaching out to your membership software provider and your bank. Several synagogues and not-for-profit organizations are using PayPal, Network For Good, or Google Checkout.
I really like Razoo. It is being used by a number of synagogues, especially ones affiliated with the Conservative Movement as the company has a relationship with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. You can also see Razoo in action on the website of Shir Tikvah, a Reform synagogue in Minneapolis.