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Alexandria e-giving business Faith Direct processes $1 billion for the church

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Currently, St. Jude Church is a mere metal skeleton of a building —  but when construction is completed, it promises to be a beautiful cruciform place of worship for the Fredericksburg Catholic community. The nearly 3,000 parishioners have spent more than a decade fundraising for a church of their own, and electronic donations through FaithDirect have played a major role.

Around 40 percent of the money St. Jude collects for their capital campaign comes from online donations, according to business manager Helen Huff. A few years ago, the church used a different company to process contributions, she said, but in 2012 they switched to Faith Direct, which, unlike the other company, took the burden of administration off the church’s small staff. “They're extraordinarily easy to work with,” said Huff of Faith Direct. “They really have helped us.”

The Alexandria-based company has helped hundreds of parishes around the United States achieve their dreams of a new building, gym or repaired air conditioning. As of this year, they’ve processed more than $1 billion for Catholic churches nationwide.

Fifty-two of the Arlington Diocese’s parishes and missions use Faith Direct, said Jeanne Combos, diocesan director of annual appeal programs. That’s around 14,000 households that give $23 million a year in offertory collections.

“It helps people think more sacrificially,” said Combos. “It’s  giving the first of your fruits, and not just what's left over.”

Brian Walsh, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, started Faith Direct in 2004 after mad searches for his checkbook and the offertory envelope made his family late to church one too many times. He attributes the company's success both to their business model and the growing popularity of electronic money transfer services.

Check usage has declined rapidly, said Walsh, so, people often make a split second Sunday morning decision of how much to give based on the cash they have on hand. Online giving lets parishioners thoughtfully choose how much they want to give weekly and toward second collections. The service also allows parishioners to contribute occasional one-time gifts or toward a capital campaign. With online giving, even when parishioners miss church due to illness or travel, their church receives funds.

For households that use Faith Direct, their giving typically goes up about 30 percent a year, said Walsh. That consistent cash flow is helpful for parishes, especially during the slow summer months and the occasional instances where inclement weather forces pastors to cancel Mass. “Father (John C.) Cregan used to always say that electronic giving essentially gives the parish an extra Mass collection every week,” he said. “We feel we’re helping to solve a critical problem.”

There are a dozen major e-giving companies specifically for Catholic churches, but while most other e-giving companies take a percentage of the overall receipts, Faith Direct charges a flat management fee for every household, said Walsh. “When I started the company, it was very important for me to identify a payment structure that was equitable for parishes,” he said. “So as parishes succeed they aren’t penalized (for that growth).”

Faith Direct additionally handles other aspects of the business, such as customer service and security —  ensuring personal banking information stays safe. Through a direct mail and social media campaign, they work with the parish to encourage parishioners to make the switch.

“Parishes realize over time that it’s very hard to manage (online giving) internally,” he said. “(Those that) adopt e-giving the right way, it’s a huge win for consistency, cash flow, elimination of back-end administrative work, elimination of wasted envelopes. We have set strategic goals for every parish we work with.”

Though it’s taken some time for online giving to catch on, Walsh and his employees feel confident about the future. “We're excited about the next couple of years and grateful to be in a diocese that's been so supportive,” he said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017