Every denomination and network is unique. We all share the same Savior and Scripture, but our traditions can vary greatly. This is certainly true for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (or ELCA).
Neal Fischer understands those unique characteristics of the ELCA because he’s been working as the Director of Communications for the ELCA South Carolina Synod for the past five years. Prior to that, he held the same position at the ELCA Upstate New York Synod.
In South Carolina, there are more than 150 Evangelical Lutheran congregations. The ELCA refers to their church bodies as congregations, not churches—that’s just one of those small denominational differences.
One of Fischer’s colleagues at the South Carolina Synod is The Rev. Ozzie Herlong, the Director for Stewardship.
“My job is to more or less expand the ways of giving to congregations and to the synod,” said Herlong. “Our purpose is to expand ways of giving and find out the best vendors and what the best costs would be.”
“We come alongside of congregations by offering stewardship workshops, and by responding to their stewardship needs,” continued Herlong. “We conduct annual appeals, and help them conduct annual appeals. We can host workshops and talk to congregations about stewardship. We also plan wider regional events.”
Both Fischer and Herlong are primarily concerned with helping the congregations they partner with across South Carolina make the best use of resources available to them. That includes the ways their ministries collect donations.
Rather than expecting each of the different congregations to do their own research on giving options, the synod helps out. The larger denominational body uses their resources to provide administrative support to the local ministerial bodies.
“Ozzie has been really great at organizing and helping individual congregations,” said Fischer. “Those congregations that are successful have buy-in from their senior leadership and not just one person leading.”
Every congregation has different needs and expectations based on their size and giving. They can each make their own decisions for which giving system is right for them. But there are also some advantages that come with decisions made at the synod level.
One way the South Carolina Synod chose to help out was by offering a stewardship workshop at one of their annual assemblies. At the workshop, Tithe.ly gave a presentation on how the Tithe.ly software would work for the ELCA. Presenters demonstrated exactly how the Tithe.ly mobile app could be integrated into a church giving platform.
Fischer said that after the workshop, they had an immediate increase in giving. That was one of the reasons why Tithe.ly has become the preferred vendor for the South Carolina Synod. Not only is Tithe.ly what the synod recommends for their congregations to use, it’s also the donation platform of choice for the South Carolina Synod itself.
The power of versatility
As you would expect with a local denomination with over 150 individual congregations, the South Carolina Synod has used their giving services for a number of different purposes.
For example, the synod hosts a seasonal Gifts of Hope campaign every year where congregations can donate money to various local mission partners and companion organizations in Japan, Tanzania, and Colombia. There are over 30 different items individuals can donate to—all of which was coordinated through the Tithe.ly app.
For example, the Tithe.ly app allows congregations to::
- accept registration payments at events;
- appeal to raise money for a building fund;
- raise support for disaster relief;
- collect donations for missional support;
- and so much more.
“I've been able to customize the app each time for whatever event we're having,” said Fischer. “For that reason, it’s very user friendly.”
The versatility of Tithe.ly’s platform helps the synod because they don’t operate exactly like a local congregation. They’re helping to support these local bodies, but they also have giving and missional opportunities to support on their own.
As Fischer explains: “One of our new start ministries, called The Journey, has used [Tithe.ly to collect support. It's a missionary performing arts ministry, and they’ve used it for donations because they're not in a specific building. They're a ministry through the synod.”
A high level of customization is just another reason that the South Carolina Synod has come to trust Tithe.ly for their online giving needs.
Great customer support
Church leaders at individual, local congregations are busy. They’ve got a lot of responsibilities on their mind besides managing the administrative and technological portion of a giving platform. That’s another area where the synod can help.
Fischer and Herlong do their best to provide support and assistance to their congregations with Tithe.ly.One of the benefits they’ve experienced while using Tithe.ly is the great customer support.
“One of the reasons I personally am happy with Tithe.ly, is just the level of service and care we have received,” said Fischer. “When I've had a real situation that needed an answer, I've always been able to get the support I needed.”
As part of this customer support, the synod schedules quarterly Zoom meetings with a Tithe.ly representative and the synod’s congregations. That way, the congregational leaders can ask questions, learn new features, and offer suggestions.
“Some congregations forget to keep on top of giving,” said Herlong. “They just put the app out there and expect people to use it without any encouragement or any updates on how it's doing.”
With Tithe.ly’s help, the South Carolina Synod is able to help keep giving in the forefront of their leader’s minds. Tithe.ly is committed to working with Fischer and Herlong to ensure that each congregation gets what it needs to succeed.
Making the change
Prior to partnering with Tithe.ly, the South Carolina Synod used a mixture of several giving platforms. These platforms each had their own pros and cons, but one of the biggest drawbacks was having to manage multiple digital giving tools.
Switching to Tithe.ly as a preferred vendor allowed the synod to point their congregations in one direction. The mobile app also encouraged these congregations to use more online giving and cut down on offline administrative work.
“In addition to the cost, another reason to switch was the ease of use,” said Herlong. “There are some people who have a lot of financial savvy, but need assistance implementing the technology.”
Tithe.ly created a landing page where interested ELCA congregations could go and sign up for their own account. By signing up through this link, these congregations also had their transaction fees cut in half because of the ELCA discount. That’s one of the main advantages of partnering together as an entire denomination.
Christian denominations are different, but one of the common challenges they all face is the need to collect and monitor giving. Tithe.ly is flexible and customizable enough to fit into any denominational context.