Passing the collection plate may become an image from the past.
When Mass attendance was suspended last month, Melbourne priests voiced concerns about how parishes would be able to meet operational costs over the long term without the weekly collection, often a parish’s most reliable source of funding.
Out of this has come an extraordinary opportunity for the wider Church to reshape the way it conducts offerings, and has lead Catholic Development Fund (CDF) to explore and develop cash-free alternatives to the collection plate.
In early March, CDF partnered with the Archdiocese of Melbourne, the Diocese of Sale, and the Diocese of Bunbury to build an online parish payment portal, CDFpay for Parishes.
A simple tool for parishioners to give online, the payment portal was launched in the days leading up to Easter with a social media campaign that has seen over a thousand people click through to the ‘find my parish’ page.
So far, it’s proven to be effective, and support for the platform has been widespread. As of writing, over 130 parishes around Melbourne have signed up and begun using the system.
‘We had one parish who were very early adopters, and they promoted it quite heavily within the parish,’ says Matthew Cassin, CEO of CDF. ‘Their contributions over the Easter weekend were higher than normal. That’s evidence that it will deliver a better outcome than traditional ways of doing things.’
For many, especially younger parishioners, taking the collection plate online is a natural evolution.
‘Ours is an increasingly cashless society, and that’s impacting Catholic organisations well beyond this pandemic. We have always anticipated that as cash comes out of society and the economy, parishes will need to have a solution.’
Twelve months ago, Matthew recalls, the staff at CDF discussed developing an online payment system that would make it easier for people to make contributions online.
‘There wasn’t that driving emphasis 12 months ago,’ he says. ‘The pandemic, with the suspension of public Masses, brought that on very quickly and very suddenly. In that first weekend after the suspension of Masses, contributions fell off a cliff, and parishes were really going to struggle to maintain their operations as they went forward. We had an emergent need to develop a solution to help parishes.’
CDF had already developed a simple way for schools and organisations to collect payments online in their CDFpay for Schools platform. They were able to develop a similar solution for parishes from scratch in a matter of weeks.
‘We finished building a few days before Easter, and then went live Holy Thursday. We had 80 parishes live on that day and taking donations that weekend. To get a solution built and launched in two to three weeks is extraordinarily fast for a project,’ Matthew says. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’
According to Matthew, digital systems will only continue to supplant traditional cash-based donations after the pandemic. ‘I think [CDFpay] will become a cornerstone of thanksgiving programs for parishes, not just in the Archdiocese of Melbourne but hopefully right across Australia.’
For many parishes, this signifies a permanent – and welcome – paradigm shift in the way people give that will outlast Covid-19.
‘I’d anticipate that the way we’ve had to adapt in using technology for this period is going to cause a long term benefit to the Church and a long term benefit to the parishes.’
For parishioners with no prior knowledge about online giving, Matthew explains the essentials in using CDFpay for Parishes: ‘Parishioners just need to google CDFpay for Parishes or follow the link provided by your parish. You search for your parish, and then click on the link to your parish’, you decide whether it’s one-off on ongoing giving, nominate whether the contribution if for the presbytery or for the parish and nominate where the money is going to come from. I’ve done it myself for Parish. It probably took less than two minutes.’
Fr Tony Doran*, parish priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ringwood has found the payment portal valuable.
‘We were able to put links on our Facebook page, on our YouTube channel, and on our parish website. So if people were watching any of our live-streamed or pre-recorded services, there was a link they could hit to make a donation.’
‘This is the way the modern world works,’ Fr Tony says. ‘You click a button online, you pay for something, or you make a donation. We’re trying to make something available for people who are digital natives.’
‘CDFpay is helping to proclaim the gospel because it’s keeping parishes functioning,’ Fr Tony adds.
‘Money is coming into parishes so parishes can keep live-streaming and putting Masses out there. In an era when we’re isolated, the challenge is to keep connected with people. We do need funds to do this.’
‘It’s an example of using modern tools to work for us; we can use these things to help us keep proclaiming the gospel.’ To visit CDFPay for Parishes, click here.
*Fr Tony Doran sits on the board at CDF.