Facebook recently launched Faith for Facebook, a resource portal for religious leaders. The portal provides documentation, case studies, and how-to resources on Groups and Facebook Live, likely the most utilized resources among faith communities. Beneath the content on communities and video is a section on charitable giving: Fundraising on Facebook.
According to Facebook's documentation, Facebook covers "all fees for donations made on Facebook to charitable organizations." Churches that qualify as 501(c)(3) organizations could thus use Facebook Payments for fee-free fundraising. The sign-up process is brief: provide a recent bank statement, relevant contact information, and submit some paperwork.
Once enrolled in Facebook Payments, churches can add a Giving button their Facebook Page (which, of course, is different from its Facebook Group). When an individual donates on the Page, funds arrive in the church's bank account within a matter of weeks. According to the company, "If your organization is enrolled with Facebook Payments, then it will be paid out every two weeks. The funds will be paid to your organization as an ACH, or as a direct deposit to your organization's bank account."
Other than the free cost, the benefit to using Facebook for tithes and offerings is accessibility. The wide adoption of Facebook in a congregation makes it easier to collect tithes and offerings than on platforms like a church management system or standalone giving app. With seven out of ten Americans using Facebook, and five out of ten Americans visiting Facebook every day, it's likely that most members of a congregation already have a Facebook profile. Even older members of the congregation are likely to use the social media site. Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are the fastest-growing adopters of the social media platform.
But as with all technology in a ministry context, there are questions that church leaders ought to address before directing congregants to donate through Facebook:
Ethics - should you use social media for tithes and offerings?
Exclusivity - should Facebook be the only platform for tithes and offerings?
Liturgical integration - how might we remember that tithes and offerings are more than a transaction on a social media site?
As with all ministry technologies, church leaders ought to reflect on the ethical implications of using Facebook for donations. While processing fees are covered, a donation through Facebook gives the social media giant access to even more user data, in the form of credit card numbers and billing addresses. While this data is undoubtedly secure and protected from hackers, one wonders how Facebook could integrate this data into their ever-growing portfolio of user information. Still, without concrete examples of improper usage of user financial information, any expectation of corporate malfeasance is an assumption. The fact is, online tithes and offerings require church members to share their financial information with some organization, whether it be a bank, an app developer, or a social media company. It may be a net positive to route these donations through Facebook, which has far more cybersecurity resources than smaller app developers. We may not know what Facebook does with all of this data, but we can be confident that it is safe from hackers and breaches.
From a practical standpoint, we should also consider whether Facebook should be the only platform or one of many donation platforms. The more donation platforms a church utilizes, the more complexity it introduces for its treasurer and administrative staff. There is some value in using Facebook exclusively, particularly since it doesn't charge a donation fee. Yet, three out of ten Americans don't use Facebook, and it seems almost callous to suggest that someone needs to create a social media profile to tithe to the church. The best answer to the question of exclusivity, then, might be to use two platforms for donations: one that integrates with the church's website (such as Tithe.ly or Breeze CMS), and one that connects to a Facebook Page.
Ultimately, church leaders would do well to remember that tithes and offerings are always an act of Christian worship: giving back to God what God has first given to us. This is difficult to remember in the world of fast-paced online transactions. With the rise Venmo and PayPal, the exchange of funds through cyberspace has become truly effortless, even impersonal. While it's beneficial for churches to receive offerings through a click-to-donate button, it's essential to maintain a connection between stewardship and worship. Donating online to church is an act of worship. For this reason, churches should not abandon the offering during online or live-streamed services. Church leaders might even consider having a virtual blessing for click-to-donate buttons, on Facebook or on a website, marking that these technologies are in fact an expression of the community's worshipping life together.
Facebook for Faith's giving tool is a valuable resource for church leaders. The lack of transaction fees provide a compelling advantage when compared with other church offering technologies. While it might not be the only way to collect tithes and offerings, it might be the most useful way - particularly when it is connected with worship.
@ryanpanzer is the author of "Grace and Gigabytes."