One of the more unique challenges of my career happened a few years ago when I worked for John Deere. I was in charge of user testing a new piece of tillage equipment that could fold up and be driven down a road. My team and I created a virtual reality experience to help customers see how it folded up in front of them and look underneath and watch the pieces of steel dive into the dirt and till the field without having to cut and weld a single piece of steel or hook up a hydraulic system. This was back in the day when VR had just come out and our company leadership wasn’t entirely on board with the value of this new technology. So the challenge for me was introducing a virtual experience for a customer who was used to working on a farm and in the dirt with real steel and farming equipment. After getting the chance to “see it in action”, the customer walked away ready to buy and we all realized the value new technology brought to our customers, and our potential to be more effective in our work by being open to new technology.
In my current role at Pushpay, I see immense ministry potential for dioceses to leverage new technology as well.
One of the challenges for a diocese is the ability to have a holistic view of all the parishes within its territory. Combining profiles and data from hundreds of parishes and thousands of parishioners from many different church management software providers requires a unique approach to integrated technology solutions—especially when it comes to fundraising for critical ministries. But some of those approaches to technology can limit a diocese’s potential to meet two of their primary objectives—building steadfast stewards of God’s creations and a community of dedicated missionary disciples.
In my conversations with diocesan leaders in the past year, I’ve discovered that the danger of believing industry myths can hold them back from fulfilling their mission. Similar to my experience at John Deere, the problem wasn’t so much leadership as it was not understanding the potential ministry opportunities that a change in technology could bring to the life of a diocese and its parishes.
The landscape has evolved in recent years and the market is filled with options to integrate a variety of applications—from giving to reporting and insights. Using my conversations and discovery research, I’ve compiled three myths that diocesan leaders tend to believe about the integrated technology options that are out there. My hope is that it will give leaders the information they need to make the best decision for their diocese.
MYTH 1: All-in-one solutions (single databases) don’t exist and are too intense for parishes to use.
All-in-one solutions exist today. The technology has advanced to make many of the core church tools (giving, donor management, church management, mobile apps) easy to use for any user—from the parishioner to the pastor.
One of the many benefits of an all-in-one platform is being able to simplify and streamline several software processes for a diocese—from procurement to management. Managing a relationship with a single vendor and one contract is much simpler than having to juggle multiple contracts with multiple vendors. Furthermore, if a diocese or one of its parishes has an issue, they would simply contact one company for support.
One situation that a lot of parishes and dioceses find themselves in today is having one solution for giving, another for ministry management, a separate vendor for communication, and so on. In many cases, these solutions target a single job that needs to be done, and they usually do that job really well. However, what it leaves the Church with is a lot of labor and heavy intense effort on manual duplicate management, because the staff needs to ensure that the email address and the communication matches the email management, newsletter system, and the mailing address for the offertory envelopes.
At Pushpay, our integrated technology provides a diocese with a single source of truth, which we call a multi-site instance. It essentially puts an entire diocese and all the parishes into one database and gives staff the ability to view information on a person about their profile, their involvement, and their giving history. For example, at the end of the year, a parishioner can access their giving history in one place and instantly download their giving statement for all the different places they donate to as an individual. A person can be involved in multiple parishes and see a holistic view of their involvement, know who they are as a person, track their sacrament journey, have a targeted conversation about their faith journey, their family, their involvement and help parishes and dioceses minister to them in a holistic way. That’s hard to do if all the data is not in one place.
MYTH 2: You don’t need engagement metrics to increase campaign giving.
A person is more than just their giving. A person volunteers in the food pantry, participates in Mass, attends faith formation classes, and engages with the community. So when a diocese is focused on the donor development side and leaves out the other information about a person, you really miss out on opportunities to truly engage with them, because better targeted ministry leads to greater generosity.
One of the options currently available in the marketplace is connecting data from your giving solution through third-party integration software that allows the user to integrate a variety of web applications and automate workflows. While automating repetitive tasks like donor communication adds efficiency to a diocese, the approach lacks the overall view of a person.
Being able to see a person’s sacramental journey, family situation, involvement in groups and ministries, along with their giving, helps leaders to understand how they can better minister to them. You want to get to know the whole person so that you can form a relationship with them, and you can’t have a great conversation with someone or take them on a faith journey without that understanding.
Beyond giving, the bigger picture for the Church is that the number of Christians is predicted to decline. Pew Research Center estimates that in 2020, about 64% of Americans were Christian. The religiously unaffiliated, or religious “nones,” made up 30% of the U.S. population. Depending on a variety of factors, the Center predicts that by 2070, the percentage of Christians will dwindle to between 54% and 35% of the U.S. population, while the “nones” would rise to between 34% and 52%.
Churches have to start doing something different, and it starts with having the data to understand where people are in their faith journey, creating individual formation opportunities that match up with that data, and nurturing relationships that lead to faith formation, the sacraments, and conversion.
MYTH 3: Duplicate management via technology and APIs provide enough confidence in donor data to automate workflows for targeted campaign communication.
One of the common diocesan approaches to technology is implementing the same solutions across a diocese and mandating parishes to use the same software. In some cases it’s an all-in-one suite or a church management software and giving solutions combined together. The software provider would have the technology to manage duplicate profiles and data across all the parishes within a diocese, aggregate the data together, and be able to provide the information they need for ministry or fundraising. However, there are many Catholics who belong, give, and volunteer in more than one parish. So with this approach to technology, a person exists in separate databases three times, which makes automating workflows like communication for annual appeals a challenge. If your goal is to merge their data and keep their involvement in all four parishes, engagement becomes difficult because you still lack the complete picture of a person.
One of the many benefits of Pushpay’s multi-site capability is being able to support parishes, especially smaller parishes with less resources. Our software offers an API and integrates with vendors and suppliers like QuickBooks Online. We’re proud of our ability to integrate with anyone and make the life of the parish easier.
Because parishes and dioceses collect a lot of personal information, ensuring the security of your data is our priority. With our software, a master administrator is assigned and is able to control the permissions that protect your system from unauthorized access. We also take five comprehensive security steps to ensure we safeguard the trust you’ve built with your people, including being fully PCI-DSS Compliant, utilizing machine learning algorithms for fraud detection, and conducting independent annual audits.
The relationship between a diocese and its parishes is sometimes complicated. There are a growing number of integrated tech solutions on the market for Catholic organizations and it can be a dizzying experience researching solutions for your diocese. But investing your time and energy finding the right solution that minimizes staff burnout and maximizes ministry potential will be worthwhile. I’m proud of the fact that I work every day at a company dedicated to a strategy that aligns with using technology to support the evangelism mission of the Catholic Church—creating a software that allows you to see the full view of your parish, so that you can till the soil better and cultivate the next generation of Catholics. To learn more about our product for Catholic parishes and dioceses, schedule a free consultation with our team.