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Synagogue Websites and Online Donations: Benefits and Considerations

Posted on December 31, 2013
by Hirsch Fishman

In today’s day and age, nearly everyone has paid for something online, whether it’s a book, clothing, an airline ticket, etc. I’m not referring just to the younger age cohorts either – even most of the so-called “baby boomers” in the older age cohorts do this as well.

So when it comes to one of the more important aspects of modern synagogue life – financially supporting the synagogue through donations – why should a synagogue’s congregants not be able to do that online as well?

The answer, of course, is that there is no reason that they shouldn’t.

For congregants who are used to making payments online in one form or another, being able to make a donation to their synagogue online is a no-brainer. I say this from personal experience too. I’m used to paying my bills online through my bank’s online checking, and regularly purchase things online. So when I’ve had to make a donation to the synagogue I’m a member of, which I’ve done twice in the last year, it was only natural that the very first place I turned to was their website.

Some of the decision-makers at a synagogue (and this may apply to other organizations that seek donations too, such as non-profits) may have concerns about the cost of implementing online donation functionality. It’s true – there are costs involved, primarily for the credit card processing, but perhaps also for other things such as someone to set it all up, or an SSL certificate. And if a synagogue is starting from zero online payment capabilities, then those costs may seem significant.

When people mention these concerns to me, I always tell them this: over the long term, the benefits will far outweigh the costs involved.

What exactly are some of those benefits?

Benefits to having online payment functionality on a synagogue’s website

  • Makes your congregants lives easier – Think about how much effort is involved in making a donation by check. You of course need checks from your bank, but you also need to to write out the check, mail it (requiring stamps and envelopes), wait for the synagogue to process it, etc. (And for someone in their 20s or 30s who pays everything online, getting them to pay by check is completely off their radar.) Paying by credit card is immediate, and with most people having access to a computer nowadays, it’s something that can be done in only a few minutes time.
  • Makes the synagogue office more efficient – What was once a multiple-step process on the part of a synagogue in order to process a check (sorting the mail, opening the envelope, determining the purpose of the check, entering it into an individual’s membership record, copying and/or scanning the check, sending an acknowledgement letter) becomes much shorter. The synagogue staff can be notified by email when an online donation is made, while congregants can receive confirmation and acknowledgement of their payment automatically by email. This can free up staff time to devote to other endeavors.
  • Brings in more donations – That’s right, I said it: your synagogue will receive more donations if you offer people the ability to pay online than if you don’t. People are just so used to making paying online nowadays, especially younger generations, that not offering it means a synagogue is passing up on money it could otherwise have.

These benefits all sound great, but there’s a kicker if you want to realize them: the synagogue needs to actively work at it in order for that to happen.

What do I mean by that?

You can introduce the payment functionality on your synagogue’s website, but if people don’t know about that it’s there, or if you keep on doing things the same old way by paper, then no one is going to actually make a donation online.

In short: a synagogue needs to condition its congregants to start paying and donating online. Promote it in event flyers. Mention it in the synagogue bulletin. Create a shortcut URL that takes people directly to the donate page, which the synagogue president can use in a speech. The more people know that paying through the website is how the synagogue is now accepting donations, the more it will get used, and the synagogue is more likely to experience the benefits mentioned above.

Of course, the question of whether or not to accept online donations is a very high-level question. For those who administer a synagogue’s website and focus more on the details, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind.

Other considerations for online payment functionality on a synagogue’s website

  • Processing/user fee – Many synagogues will pass the user fee on to their congregants by asking them to make an additional small contribution (say 3% of the total payment) to offset the cost of the credit card processing. I’m not in favor of this though; those fees are just the cost of doing business and something a synagogue should assume. Asking those making a donation to cover them isn’t something that should be done.
  • Payment gateway to use – There are lots of tools out there for accepting donations and payments through a website, but the main thing the synagogue needs to be concerned with is finding a tool to actually process the credit card payments. Simple tools such as Paypal are easily configured, but more advanced tools such as Authorize.net are the next step up and offer more advanced functionality. You may also consider Network for Good or Google Checkout as well.
  • Make it a prominent call-to-action – Some people may say that it’s a little pushy to overtly ask for donations on your homepage, but I disagree. It should be a prominent call-to-action on your website somewhere – just not the most important call-to-action. Obviously you want people to somehow get involved in the synagogue first, and that should always be the main call-to-action. But most congregants know that donating to the Jewish community is a vital part of what keeps their synagogue running, so there’s nothing wrong with it also being a main call-to-action on the website.
  • Branded vs. non-branded payment pages – If the donations page is part of your website, then it’s probably already branded with your colors and logo. If the page sits elsewhere on the same server, make sure that it’s also branded with your colors and logo so that it looks like an extension of the overall website. Or if it resides off-site somewhere, try to at least brand it with the synagogue’s logo so people know who they’re donating to.
  • On-site vs. off-site payment pages – Third-party services that require you to direct people to their websites are all well and good, and certainly function fine, but to me, directing anyone off of your website isn’t ideal. Especially considering that there are so many ways you can go about integrating the payment functionality right on your website.
  • Secure the page(s) with an SSL Certificate – SSL Certificates securely transmit credit card information to the payment processor, so if you are going to host the payment functionality directly on your website, make sure to purchase one through your domain name provider. These can be had relatively inexpensively – for example, GoDaddy regularly has sales on them – and are a must-have.

Other online payments you can also accept on the synagogue’s website

If you choose a payment gateway such as Paypal or Authorize.net, why stop with just donations? There are many other things that people can pay for on the synagogue’s website, such as membership dues, religious school tuition, event registrations, etc.

These are all things that congregants may want to pay for online, so if you’ve already made the decision to offer online donation capabilities on the synagogue’s website, it’s a natural extension of that decision. Like I earlier, the more that congregants get used to paying online, the greater the benefits that the synagogue will experience in the long run.

Contact us for more information

Synagogues definitely need to accept online donations and online payments on their websites, and we can set that up for you. Not only can we build a secure, online donation form for your synagogue, but we can also build a separate page that will allow congregants to pay some of the various fees that I just mentioned. We’ll do that using an Authorize.net account, which if your synagogue already has a relationship with a credit card provider, is something that they can easily set up for you.

We can also set up your synagogue with the ability for people to RSVP to events, such as Shabbat dinners, using one of the popular plugins that we regularly install.

If your synagogue is interested in hiring us to build your online donations and online payment pages, contact us to learn more.

About Hirsch Fishman

Hirsch has been working professionally with websites since 2001, working exclusively in, and focusing on, the Jewish community. Hirsch offers a wide range of website knowledge to his synagogue web design clients from his years of experience working in the Jewish community. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.