Evolving Technology: Processing Payments

9/11 was the catalyst for online contributions.

In the days following this tragedy, many organizations set up emergency funds to help those in need. This was the first time that not-for-profits used email as the primary distribution method to reach their constituencies and provided an online method of payment as well.

And the response was overwhelming. I believe that this was the first effective online fundraising campaign.

Of course organizations had to be set up in the back office to really make this work well. One organization sent out such an email to its distribution list of 20,000 names. People completing the donation form did not know that it was actually an email that was sent back to the organization for processing. Each form had to be processed individually. Just like if hundreds of people buying books and other gifts at the holidays at Barnes and Noble.

There were literally hundreds of gifts. The organization had only one machine that had to be shared by other departments involved in some form of commerce. The staff working on this emergency campaign were given two hours a day for gift processing. In that time maybe 100 gifts could be processed.

It literally took weeks to catch up.

How times have changed.

The other day, I opened a letter from the treasurer of my synagogue informing the congregation that the synagogue was changing over its billing system. Bills will now be sent online on a monthly basis for annual obligations, fees and other charges. You can pay by credit card, or you can also pay by an electronic fund transfer. For those people who are still old school, you can still receive a paper invoice in the mail and pay by check or cred card by mailing the payment into the synagogue.

A few years ago, I wrote about all of the steps that are involved in making a payment to the synagogue, from the synagogue’s perspective anyway. Think about it. Someone on staff or the board runs a report of congregants with outstanding obligations. Individual bills are printed. Each invoice is inserted into an envelope (some of you may have a machine that does this). Each envelope has to go through the postage meter and then brought to the post office.

I was going to say dropped in the mailbox, but many of those not located in front of the post office are heading to extinction.

Then there are the steps involved at the other end of this process, when the synagogue receives the checks or credit card payment. Envelopes are opened. If it is a check, the individual account is credited and the checks received that day need to be deposited at the bank. I know that similar to the commercials on TV, you no longer have to go to the bank to make deposits. If it is a credit card payment, the individual account has to be credited, and then one goes online or uses a machine provided by the credit card company – like my story above.

So it seems that once the data file is checked for the invoices for that month, everything seems pretty seamless. The post office might not be that happy with loosing the money from our synagogue, and others. But it certainly is a savings in staff time as well as money for stationary, envelopes, postage and staff time.

Remember, you don’t just want to send a bill, like the electric or telephone company (BTW, the bills I receive for these services now also come via email). It is an opportunity for communication and messaging, even if it is just to say thank you for your payment and on-going support.

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