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Giving Kiosks Provide New Ways to Share and Connect
By: Doug Braun

Blast from the Past:
How many 30-year olds still write checks on a regular basis? Unfortunately, very few. And, that, in a nutshell, summarizes the stewardship challenge facing religious and financial leaders. For many longtime congregation members, checks will always be the donation method of choice. However, a growing number of churchgoers don't even carry a checkbook. They prefer to conduct the majority of their financial transactions electronically. It is essential that churches prepare for these members who rarely, if ever, write checks.
--"How to Promote Electronic Giving," April 2010

Among the many traditions of communal worship practiced by generations of worshipers, few have been observed as consistently as the 'passing of the plate' to gather the tithes and offerings of grateful givers.

When considering all the ways the worship experience indeed the experience of 'going to church' has evolved to reflect the world in which we live, it's remarkable that this practice remains as ubiquitous as it is.

However, as the first 'Self-Service Generation' those who were first to adapt to getting cash from a machine rather than a bank teller prepare to retire, the willingness to give in new ways is apparent.

Technology is now being employed in a way that can make the experience of sharing one's gifts, tithes and talents much more fluid, flexible and fruitful and the application of such tools is enabling an expanded connection with members of a congregation, visiting worshippers and the general public who may be attending events and activities at our increasingly multi-purpose places of worship.

Giving kiosks are a new and versatile supplement to the traditional donation basket that offer the advantages of high-visibility, multi-utility and the appeal of interactive, self-service technology to invite donations not only on Sunday mornings, but at times that are convenient to members of a congregation or other worship participants.

And, because they can provide anytime availability, giving kiosks also provide opportunities to accept donations at special events, social activities and public performances.

To meet the needs of both users and the congregation that deploys them, giving kiosks will, ideally, offer a breadth of functionality that makes the user experience easy, enjoyable and enriching and provide levels of configurability and control to meet the needs of the congregation.  We'll discuss several of these capabilities and the ways they encourage not only greater giving, but increased engagement and participation with the life of the worship community.

As its primary purpose, a giving kiosk must make it simple and easy to give and accept donations in a variety of payment types.  When digital media solutions provider inLighten began developing its digital donation kiosk, it recognized the importance of ensuring that a single kiosk could securely collect donations of all types both physical and virtual. That meant incorporating cash and check acceptors as well as credit/debit card readers as part of its product.  It also meant making it possible for givers to use new online payment platforms such as PayPal, Intuit and Google Money an important asset for attracting younger, tech-oriented and highly mobile worshipers.

Dan Snyder, inLighten CEO, said, "With the continuing transition to a cashless society, the expansion of alternate donation methods and the proliferation of information resources, organizations have had numerous conversations with us about a unified solution that would enable them to integrate giving, event registration, website access and a variety of other information sharing capabilities into a single resource."

Applying the lessons learned from nearly 25 years of expertise in delivering self-service and interactive technology, inLighten also designed its giving kiosk with a large format, touchscreen display.  The purpose was two-fold. 

First, it provides a vivid, appealing visual presentation that can employ dynamic video and graphic presentations when the system is not being used.  These could be pictures of a youth retreat, video of special music performances or a presentation on the history of the church.  Second, prominent onscreen buttons invite users to quickly select a variety of donation options being offered by the congregation with a simple touch of the screen. 

This interactivity, coupled with Internet connectivity, can create a more immersive experience beyond the act of giving.

For example, congregations can make their website the default onscreen presentation providing access to worshippers and visitors at all times, offering the opportunity to learn about the mission and life of the church and explore opportunities for participation and service. A pop-up onscreen keyboard can make the kiosk a convenient means of registering for events, purchasing publications and other materials and contributing to special funds and missions.

Beyond its productivity in increasing giving by increasing convenience, giving kiosks can also foster greater connectedness within the church family and help to grow it.

To ensure that congregations can tailor giving kiosks to their specific needs, conform to existing programs and be compatible with internal systems, it's essential that giving kiosks provide flexible user controls for onscreen messaging and content presentations, as well as control of 'under the hood' configurables such as definition of giving options, specification of information required from users and activity reporting. Ideally, these items should be variable across multiple giving kiosks, if desired, as well as uniform for all kiosks, if preferred, without redundant configuration operations. 

The kiosk, for instance, allows church administrators to define the destination options of contributions such as building fund, world mission or general fund. Alternately, administrators can elect to provide an open entry field for givers to designate the use to which their contributions are to be put. Administrators can enter the online payment programs they participate with, designate a pathway to their transaction processor and define the reporting fields for contributions collected. All configuration fields and permissions can be easily imported from one kiosk to other kiosks to simplify kiosk management.

Essential to the success of any technology, of course, is the level of training and assistance provided during the installation process and the ongoing service that's available. Based upon interaction with congregations of all sizes, staffs and budgets, inLighten has found that its program of daily system monitoring and maintenance, always available technical and software helpdesk support and experienced, professional client services personnel ensure successful implementation, early proficiency by church staff and trouble-free operation. This formula ultimately translates to quick acceptance by the congregation, visitors and the public.

Giving kiosks are playing an important part in the ability of congregations to better connect with their members and visitors and to fund their missions. Greater convenience and access to information will make them a necessary part of the tools the modern church uses to remain vital in the life of both the worship community and the community at large.

Doug Braun is senior vice president of inLighten, a leading provider of digital media solutions including digital signage, interactive donation kiosks, on-hold and environment audio and web-based content management solutions, www.inlighten.net.

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Religious Product News