This post was last updated on December 10th, 2020 at 03:47 pm.
Web based church management software for many years had people advocating against using it, including some in the church management industry. Some of this is because having software systems online was relatively new. Historically speaking, we need to remember the first iPhone only came out in June 2007 in the US, a mere 13 years ago. The Internet was first publicly available around 1991 and ran on dial-up telephone lines. Most households did not have real access to it until later and the coverage was initially limited to densely populated areas.
A few years before the iPhone was released, IconCMO was developed and released as the first web-based church management software in 2001 with many of our clients were still on dial-up. The good ol’ days. Before this time all church management software (ChMS) was windows based, or worse, DOS-based software installed on the local computers. Technology was changing very fast during this time and a few select companies saw the advantages of web-based church management software.
In this post, we will first go over web-based church software advantages and disadvantages. Then, we will go over features that should be in the church management software (ChMS).
Web Based Church Management Software Advantages
What makes web-based software better? There are many reasons the church software market is going towards a web-based architecture. Some of these advantages are listed below and we will briefly explain them in the following paragraphs.
- Easy installation
- Easy updating
- Accessible anywhere
- Lower development cost and many times quicker
- Easier data sharing and collaboration
- Centralized security and better
- Reduced hardware cost
- Platform independent
- Integration with other systems
Church management software installation is easier with web-based software. The only thing needed for web-based software is a web browser which every computer has and the Internet. For non-web-based software, the user must install it on all the computers and possibly an onsite server. This takes time, even when things go well.
With non-web-based software (ie desktop software), the user must update the software on the desktop every time a new version is available. Sometimes the user must wait for these updates until the developers have accumulated enough of them into one big release. Worse yet, the software has to be updated on each and every computer before work can resume. With web-based software, the update is rolled out once and affects all users. Typically these web-based software updates are not accumulated into one huge update. Instead, they are rolled out shortly after they are tested through a quality assurance (QA) process.
Web-based church software is accessible from anywhere that has an Internet connection. It allows staff, pastors, and volunteers to work away from their office. Before software migrated to the web, the users would drive to the church or office to do their work. This really affected the volunteers more than anyone because they typically have a full-time job already. They would go directly to the church to do more work after leaving their 8-5 job. Now they can go home and still work on the church’s database.
Quicker development and lower cost
There are quicker development cycles with web-based applications versus desktop applications. Many times web-based applications use programming languages that are easier to develop with, which in turn makes the development cycle quicker. This is one way that costs are lowered however, there are many other ways also.
Easy data sharing
When using a web-based software package, data sharing becomes much easier. People can work remotely but still see all the same data as the person working in the office. This facilitates collaboration between team players when they can see the same data as you, in a very easy way. No more emailing reports back and forth or using other creative methods.
Better centralized security
Security goes hand in hand with updates. If you are like most people that have computers, important updates often get pushed off to a later time. These updates often include security updates to keep the bad guys away. But if updates are put off for weeks if not months, security will falter. With web-based programs, the software developers update the application for you which includes security updates. You still have to update your own computer’s operating system and web browser programs, but that is much easier than updating multiple proprietary programs on your computer.
Reduced hardware cost
With web apps, the only thing you have to provide is an Internet connected computer. The church doesn’t have to buy servers for its on-site church management software. Reliable servers tend to be a big chunk of money. Most servers typically will run in the $2,000 — $5,000 range.
Another benefit to web-based packages is they can be used with iOS, PC, Linux, Unix, and so on. The software does not force the user to use certain types of computers. It also works on mobile devices.
Integration with other systems
Using web-based software allows greater flexibility for integrations. When software is installed on a PC, the software is considered local and cannot connect to other computers without a lot of frustration. This is not so with web-based applications as it makes integration easier when they are connected to the Internet.
Web Based Church Management Software Disadvantages
Now, with any software system, there are disadvantages. It’s interesting that the very things that make web apps advantageous, can also be its Achilles heel. Listed below are the common ones.
- Internet reliance
- Reduced speed
- Cost over time
While the Internet makes web apps powerful, they are stopped in their tracks when your Internet is down. Most of the time the software vendor has multiple safeguards for their Internet connection to the servers to maintain uptime. However, those safeguards do not extend to your personal Internet connection at your home, office, or church in your city.
Depending on the application the speed could be reduced. This could be compounded if your Internet connection is slow as well. It doesn’t always happen but needs to be noted.
Cost over time
Cost over time is debatable as there are many factors. The typical thought is that web-based applications are paid for as long as you use them so the cost adds up over say a decade of use. Installed software you buy once, install it, and you are done paying for it. However, with installed software you don’t have support for years to come unless you pay for it separately, thus that adds up over the years too. For web-based applications, you are paying for the software, and most of the time the support is included.
Church Management Software Features
Now that we have gone over the advantages and disadvantages of web-based church management software, let’s discuss some features that church software should have. Features should always be measured against the church’s present and future needs.
While it is great to have software that has every bell and whistle, the question is — are they all needed? More than likely 99% of the organizations do not need all these bells and whistles. And this is why it is so important to understand your church’s vision and ensure it matches the feature set within the church software.
We will break down multiple modules. Some of these modules include membership, groups, donations, accounting, and payroll. We will go over each of these and describe them in more detail and what to look for.
Church membership is where it all starts for churches. After all, churches are meant for people to get closer to their faith. So the church’s membership is the nucleus of the organization. The membership module connects the church members to groups, donations, and allows the church to communicate with those members.
What are some things membership should have? The membership module is vast when looking at the data that’s included. When you think of data possible on just a profile for one individual, it includes hundreds of fields. Things like names, contact information, birthdays, genders, relationships, marriages, baptisms or other life goals, work information, allergies, guardians, profile picture, and so on.
Why are these fields important to the church?
Churches have to get the word out about their mission and other activities they are involved in. Maybe the church wants to invite the church members to the annual financial meeting. Or maybe they are hosting a marriage guest speaker that they want to communicate to their church members.
Let’s review a couple of questions when hosting these events. Would it make much sense to send an email to non-married people or underage kids about a marriage seminar? Probably not. In the same way, if the church was holding a vocational bible school over the summer, you would probably not send an email to the elderly married couples. The church membership fields assist in this, as they allow the church to separate these various groups based on these fields. Let’s explain this further.
Let’s use an example where we want to send out a mass email to married couples for a marriage seminar. What the church management software can do is create a group based on the ‘marriage’ database field. Once the group is created, they can send a mass email to them giving all the details for the marriage seminar so they can attend. After all, they don’t want to send a mass email to the youth group for a marriage seminar.
What IconCMO gives you that others don’t
In the church membership module, IconCMO can handle all the examples above plus more. You can send mass emails based on any of the membership fields that you want. You simply create a group based on the desired field(s) and then send the mass email.
Groups are used in numerous ways within the church management software. The group module allows the church to break the larger congregation into smaller groups of people that have similar traits or people that sign up for things like adult bible studies. Some examples of these sub-groupings are all married people, all kids in grade four or five, all people ages 70 or older, and so on. The Group module basically allows for a break down of your membership.
Once these groups are created, the group can then be used in a number of ways. For example, you could send out mass emails to them with important information. Another benefit that’s possible is sending a text message to your congregation about a canceled event.
Church software could also help you take group attendance. For example, when you hold your adult bible study, you can check off people as they attend to give you an idea of who’s engaged.
What IconCMO gives you that others don’t
If you use IconCMO, the Group module allows custom reporting by giving you the ability to change the data columns on the Group screen to see various cross-sections of data within your group. And of course, these data sets can be exported to Excel or PDF with those selected columns. It’s a one-click process.
Additionally, the user can filter the groups down, even more, using the filtering options. An example of this would be, you have all the married people in a group. You don’t want to change the group by adding or removing people but you need to know which ones have mobile numbers, in the database, within this group. You also don’t want to make a whole new group for those that are married and have mobile phone numbers. Instead, you want to build off of what you already have. The filtering mechanism helps with using a previously created group when the user needs just a little bit more information about the group.
Donations collected on a Sunday or through an online web portal follow the basic path of crediting the donor, applying to a pledge if needed, and then depositing it into the church’s checkbook. The method of how this happens will differ, in that online donations typically get imported automatically with very little data entry by the user. Whereas the Sunday service donations are entered each Monday by the financial secretary or volunteers by batch and posted in the software. Let’s see how this works in church management software for online donations.
To accept online donations the church needs a payment processor. A payment processor’s goal is to move money between an individual to the church. Or from one organization to another. They do not track members, pledges, donations, or the church’s accounting. Payment processors only move money between institutions.
There are many payment processors out there and most charge an average of three percent for their secure money transfer services. We would recommend not going with a payment processor that promises low rates because more than likely their support or service is poor. Churches need good, reliable tech support when it involves card payments, fees, declined cards, and so on. Ideally, technical support for payment processors should be by phone which a lot of larger companies– like Paypal– don’t offer.
Side Note: There are ways to lessen the processing fees by having your church members become reoccurring donors using ACH transfer instead of using a debit card. An ACH transfer is a bank to bank transfer between two checking accounts that is much cheaper — typically a flat fee.
What does the payment processor have to do with church management software? The payment processor collects the payments and behind the scenes, they create a data file for church management software to import. This data file import saves the church from entering all these donations into their system manually. How does the church account for the processing fees in the data import?
Processing fees — accounting for them
Accounting for processing fees correctly is tricky. Why? Because the donor must be given full credit for the entire donation which includes the processing fee. However, the church doesn’t receive the entire donation. A portion of the donation is removed by the payment processor before the remaining amount goes into the church’s checkbook. So for example, the donor donates $100.00 but there is a $3.00 processing fee. The donor must receive credit for the full $100.00. But only $97.00 goes into the church’s checkbook.
What IconCMO does for online donations that others don’t
IconCMO brings the processing fees in with the data file. Why does this help? It includes the fees so it can be documented in the church’s accounting. Additionally, it brings in the full donation of $100.00 so that the donor gets full credit, as required by law. In other words, there are two entries in the data file, one for the member’s statements and the other for the accounting. Each one has a different purpose.
The way the accounting entry is processed is a debit to the checkbook for $97.00 as in our previous example, and a debit to the bank fees expense account for $3.00. Then a credit to the revenue account for the full $100.00 as the offsetting entry. As we all know in a double entry accounting system we need the credit(s) and debit(s) balanced for each transaction. Here’s a table that makes it a little more clear.
|Bank Fee Expense||$3.00|
IconCMO then processes the entry for the donor and applies it to the donor by name or donor number. This entry would be for the full amount of the donation — the $100.00. By applying the donation to the donor, it also applies the full donation to the fund and its pledges. IconCMO does all this for the user with very little user intervention.
Accounting is a crucial consideration for church management software. When accounting software is an afterthought or worse, the church relies on some popular package like QuickBooks, the church may end up paying a price later. Let’s discuss why QuickBooks doesn’t work in a church.
QuickBooks fails for churches
QuickBooks fails in churches because churches are required to use a different accounting methodology called fund accounting. Programs like QuickBooks were not set up from the start to handle the intricacies of fund accounting. What does this mean?
Fund accounting, in its simplest terms, separates money between various categories (funds) AND keeps the money balanced within each category (fund). The second part of that statement is the most important. QuickBooks and other for-profit systems fail to do both of these within their fund reporting.
For more information on why QuickBooks and other for-profit accounting systems do not work in churches, check out one of our latest posts. Remember, when these solutions offer workarounds to account for the church’s resources, it means their accounting software simply can’t handle your organization’s financial needs. Workarounds are never a good idea when it comes to monetary resources.
Having a payroll system incorporated into your accounting system makes the process more smooth. By using software that is an all-in-one system, it keeps data entry to the bare minimum by not going between multiple systems. It also keeps the users from having to learn multiple software interfaces when one software takes care of both payroll and accounting.
Probably the number one thing to look at when it comes to payroll is the feature of payroll tax tables. Tax rates change all the time throughout the country at all levels local and state, and federal. It’s important to know that when these tax rate changes happen, the tax tables are updated quickly in the software. These updates are crucial to have correct and ready for your next pay period.
What IconCMO does for accounting and payroll
IconCMO incorporates accounting and payroll into one software package along with the donation and membership systems. This allows better fluidity between modules within one system when the church has to handle everything from membership to paying its staff.
IconCMO is also based on fund accounting unlike QuickBooks and many other for-profit accounting systems. The fund accounting methodology follows the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) guidelines as IRS and other government entities demand of non-profits. This is especially true for churches because of their tax exemption status. Keep in mind that if the church fails to follow fund accounting principles, they risk their tax-exempt status.
Church Management Software Summary
As you can see, IconCMO can handle all these requirements like members, donations, accounting, and payroll. We also discussed how web-based software in general has many advantages and very few disadvantages. IconCMO has all these advantages because it is a pure web-based church management software.
We also discussed why the accounting system and the ability to obey fund accounting principles is important so the church can keep its tax exemption status. The church’s accounting software must follow the governmental policies and laws enforced by the IRS and other government entities. Lastly, we discussed how QuickBooks can’t do fund accounting, which is required for churches. If a church management software company advises you to use QuickBooks because their solution doesn’t have an accounting module, then run for the hills. They are jeopardizing your organization’s tax-exempt status to make a software sale and they should lose all creditability in the church software industry.