Faith Communities and Fintech Innovation

What is the impact of financial technology on what some might suggest is the most important “vertical” of all? With churches and other religious institutions joining other organizations in their embrace of technology, we wanted to take a look at how trends toward digitization – especially given the onset of the global health crisis – are impacting the way that faith institutions support and engage with their communities and congregations.

To learn more, we connected with Aaron Senneff, Chief Technology Officer with Pushpay. Founded in 2011 and headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Pushpay offers engagement and mobile commerce solutions, including payment solutions, to faith, non-profit, and educational organizations.

Finovate: With more than 10,500 customers and a total processing volume of $5 billion, Pushpay operates in a fascinating space within fintech: providing donor management and engagement solutions for faith communities. Can you tell us a little about the idea behind launching the company and the problem Pushpay solves for its customers?

Aaron Senneff: Pushpay was formed on the idea that church giving should be easier. When the company was founded, e-commerce through mobile devices and app was accelerating. You could order and pay for your coffee through the phone.

At the same time, churches were accepting donations via cash, check, and passing offering plates as they had done for years. Our founders saw an opportunity to use technology to help make giving easier for church members and make it much easier for church staff to track, manage, and encourage generosity through digital tools.

Today, Pushpay’s digital systems have built on the early success of digital giving, and expanded into donor development, custom mobile applications for churches and church management systems – a full complement of tools that aid churches. As our original founder was known to say, “Everything we do is driven by our purpose to bring people together by strengthening community, connection, and belonging.”

Finovate: How widely are services such as Pushpay used by churches and other religious institutions in the U.S.? Is this a rapidly growing opportunity for you?

Senneff: Many large, progressive churches use technology to their advantage today. It’s not uncommon for a church to use a wide variety of digital tools now, from streaming technology, to email marketing or CRM tools, to sophisticated custom websites. Many of those churches have added digital giving to their arsenal of tools, especially in the last five years. Particularly, large U.S. protestant churches – the so-called “mega-churches” – have significantly embraced the concept of digital giving.

The adoption of digital giving follows the adoption curve you might expect from other technologies. There are early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards – churches span across all of these categories. While we’ve seen a lot of adoption in churches to date, we still see a number of churches and faith-based organizations using antiquated tools and processes to manage their giving. In addition, among our current customer base, the suite of tools is ever maturing, growing, and becoming more capable. There’s a great deal of opportunity to utilize those new capabilities, even for churches who adopted digital giving tools early.

Finovate: Who are Pushpay’s primary customers? Is this something that churches of varying congregation sizes can use – or is it mostly for larger institutions? Is there much geographic variation in terms of who uses Pushpay’s solutions?

Senneff: Pushpay serves churches of all types in the U.S. We have customers that rage from 20,000 in weekly attendance to less than 100, and every type of church in between. We have found that larger, progressive churches – the kinds of churches that might operate multiple campuses, have staff dedicated to digital technology, that have processes, systems and structures in place that support their complex and growing organizations – are often the first to adopt new technology and digital tools like Pushpay. However, we see very active interest in our tools across the spectrum of churches.

We’ve also seen an acceleration of adoption across the market as a result of COVID, as churches across the U.S. closed their doors, but still needed a way to engage their membership. The digital tools we provide can give churches a means to continue to communicate and engage with their membership, even while physical participation is on pause.

Finovate: You recently launched ChurchStaq, an end-to-end engagement solutions platform that includes a church management system. I think our readers would be especially interested to hear about the giving and donor management functionalities of the platform. Can you talk a little about this?

Senneff: ChurchStaq is a full suite of tools that enables churches to engage with their people on all levels. It includes a Church Management System – a back office system not unlike a CRM but customized for church staff – a customized mobile app that a church can deploy to their community, and a digital giving platform. These three core capabilities are combined into one product offer that work together to help churches know, grow and keep their people.

The strength of this platform isn’t the standalone donor management system or app or ChMS, but the combination of them all. A really good example of this is our suite of donor development tools. In addition to facilitating online giving, donor management system has some sophisticated reporting that allows church staff to easily identify changes in giving patterns among their community. A church might, for example, have a family that is experiencing financial distress as a result of a job loss and that is surfacing in their giving stopping or becoming more erratic.

The donor management system can easily identify those people who may be in need of care. From that point, the ChMS system can take those individuals and put them in automated workflows for the church that kick off a process of care that is designed by the church. Whether it’s assigning a staff member to call them and check in, sending them an encouraging email, or texting them with some resources, etc. They can also use the church app to push out content or push notifications to specific groups of people. The tools really work powerfully together to help churches big and small care for their people individually.

Finovate: How has COVID-19 impacted your customers? Have you seen the same eagerness to embrace new technologies as we’ve seen in among other institutions and organizations? Has Pushpay played a role in helping its customers manage the crisis?

Senneff: COVID has had a mammoth impact on U.S. churches. Many churches across the nation have been closed to physical attendance since early March. Even as they begin to re-open, we see hybrid models that combine in person and online attendance, and many church-goers and families continue to participate on-line. Digital tools like Pushpay’s have been vital for some churches. It’s allowed those who may have historically relied on physical engagements to connect with people – like written Connection Cards, booths in the lobby, new attendees meeting or classes – to replace those physical engagements with digital ones, such as invitations to give, to join groups, to interact with staff or see the churches calendar of events from a mobile app.

Many churches who were already investing in online tools actually saw attendance via viewership rise during COVID over their historic physical attendance, and the digital tools that Pushpay provides can help churches better engage with those individuals.

Finovate: What can we expect from Pushpay over the balance of 2020 and into next year?

Senneff: We continue to invest significantly in our entire product family: our digital giving platform, our church management systems, and our custom mobile apps. We’ll continue to move each of these products’ features and capabilities forward individually, but we have a significant emphasis this year and beyond on providing a seamless, full-suite solution where churches can gain a sharp 360-degree view of their people, which they can rely on to help know, grow, and keep their people.