Remember the classic movie Back to the Future? Makes one feel old calling it a “classic,” but it was released in 1985 … 35 years ago! Yikes! Thankfully, no matter how many times someone watches it, it’s still funny, poignant, and uplifting.

The synopsis for the movie reads … “Trapped in the past, Marty inadvertently prevents his future parents’ meeting—threatening his very existence—and is forced to reconcile the pair and somehow get back to the future.”

This sounds surprisingly like many churches out there. Regardless of the church’s size, denomination, or how innovative or progressive it may be, the financial department is often left lagging behind. You might imagine it reading like this for your church:

“Trapped in the past, finance teams are using error-prone, time-consuming, and costly tools for managing their back-office processes and are forced to manually reconcile with their bank each week while desperately searching for a better way in the future.”

Surely there’s a better way. A way to save both time and money, while still accelerating giving growth.

Good news, there is! And you don’t have to wait for the future — you can have it today, just like … Finance Director Laila Vanderpool of Life Church in Wesley Chapel, Florida, a 7-campus church (2 domestic, 5 international).

Laila inherited an overly complex finance back-office using 7 different software applications. Contribution management was fraught with redundancies and inconsistencies. She envisioned a future that was far more efficient and consistent. She immediately began implementing changes to create a fully integrated 3-platform system (including Vision2 Systems) that allowed her to:

  • Reduce intake processing from up to 7-10 hours each week down to 2-3 hours.
  • Save tens of thousands of dollars by eliminating an expensive third-party accounting team and repurposing the responsibilities of two part-time employees, despite tremendous growth.
  • Be freed up to move into a true CFO role where she could focus on strategy and stewardship, not simply contribution processing.

In our discussions with Laila, we identified a number of key learnings on how to future-proof your church’s financials.

7 Steps to Bring your Back Office into the Future

Choose a giving platform that speaks your accounting platform’s language

Systems that don’t speak the same (accounting) language bear a significant portion of the blame for the inefficiencies and inconsistencies that plague financial teams. The only thing your ChMS and most online giving tools can do with giving data is provide a spreadsheet full of extensive transactional data as output, which you then review, upload to your accounting system and post to your accounting system.

But Vision2 cleanly maps your giving data to your account system’s structure, so data flows accurately in without manual processes. Our unique subledger feature means that we handle all transactions in a deliberate, pure, auditable way, the same way your accounting system does it, so your GL entries seamlessly match what is entered into your accounting system.

“Though online giving systems don’t ‘converse’ directly with accounting systems, it is really great that Vision2 is able to give me files and output that look like what’s in my Quickbooks, so I’m able to easily confirm the validity of the information and integrity of the numbers. I never had that with our previous online giving,” Laila says.

Ensure there is an unalterable audit trail

The internal controls required to prevent fraud and error in processing funds for the church should be a baseline expectation in an online giving platform. But unfortunately, the simplistic way most systems manage transactions in the back office requires and allows workarounds for needed changes. These systems don’t adhere to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for financial reporting on all transactions, changes to donation designations, refunds, and issues like insufficient funds.

Vision2 does. With our audit trail, no transaction can ever be edited without leaving a record of it.

But fortunately, our automated process handles any needed changes seamlessly, so—beyond editing a designation at a giver’s request—no one should ever need to change a transaction. This protects your staff, your volunteers, your funds … and your time.

Automate both online and offline giving processes

20+ years into the online giving industry’s roadmap, finance teams are still required to do far too many manual processes, including multiple scans to get online and offline (cash and checks) transactions into each of your systems.

Vision2’s embedded scanner provides unparalleled check scanning speed and accuracy for all kinds of checks (money orders, traveler’s checks, personal and business checks) and cash envelopes.

One scan enters all your giving data into our system, where we quickly transfer your funds to your bank and send the information to your ChMS (reported at the campus level). We automate every point of the gift’s lifecycle, including NSFs, chargebacks and bank files, and reconcile your giving to the penny every day.

Look for Auto-Reconciliation; it’s real, and it’s amazing!

With most online giving systems, the typical reconciliation process includes these nightmares:

  • Trying to match batched deposit amounts to specific gifts
  • Manually breaking down gifts into their various designations or campuses
  • Sorting out gifts according to the various fee schedules they fall into

Vision2 makes reconciliation easy! Our short, simple GL files report validates ALL transaction details for you, including:

  • Automatically sweeping chargebacks, refunds and any other changes, and attributing them to the right transactions, then updating the GL.
  • Attaching unique deposit IDs to transactions so that tracking back transactions to deposits during an audit is a snap!

“It’s beautiful,” says Laila. “We used to have to do this manually. Vision2’s report is very comprehensive. We have 36 funds so we could have a file that has giving designations for up to 36 lines, though it typically averages 12-20 lines, rather than, say, 4000+ lines in our previous online giving system. Posting designations is not a problem. This report alleviates so many pain points. I could easily delegate reconciliation to my team. It cuts the process of reconciliation by at least 50%.”

Confirm that the Church Management integration is bi-directional and in real-time

Systems that don’t integrate with each other really slow your finance team down. Keeping everything updated becomes the job, rather than focusing on givers and the church’s financial health. 

With Vision2, the back office of the future is never out of date, thanks to real-time bi-directional data synchronization with your church management system.

Constant communication back and forth within your systems means member profiles and giving history are always fully synced between your giving system and your church management system (Fellowship One, MinistryPlatform, PlanningCenter, Rock), giving you a complete view of each donor, no matter which system you’re in.

Provide members with self-service access to all their giving details

Givers are accustomed to and prefer managing their online profiles with the organizations they do business with. If the giver’s portal is inconvenient, incomplete or frustrating to navigate, you’re not leaving a good impression. And staff is then burdened with managing it for them.

With Vision2, your givers can access their account profile right on your church website, where they can manage their:

  • Contact information
  • Payment methods
  • Giving history
  • Recurring gift schedules
  • Pledges and goals
  • Mission trip participation

Givers can view or print their IRS-compliant giving statements. Or you can now easily send givers their donor statements by email and text, and track who has downloaded them. The benefit to your staff is significant when you factor in the time and expense of printing and mailing tax statements.

“It’s so convenient that someone can login to their profile and manage so many aspects of their giving.” Laila says. “Such access creates a win for everyone, time saved for the back office and 24-hour availability for the congregation.”

“We save so much time and money by not printing out giving statements,” she continues. “I always say printing, mailing, managing incorrect addresses and the time it takes to do all of this is wasted time and money. It’s not how we should be spending the Lord’s money. 95% of our individual’s statements are now accessed via Vision2’s self-service portal.”

Find a Partner who offers Managed Services

Most platforms’ customer service feature exists solely to troubleshoot problems. But it’s not uncommon these days to need help with a software application and find that no one is available or knowledgeable to call for support.

Vision2 reimagined this role and developed a unique Managed Services team that is available and knowledgeable … but so much more. Our team works constantly in the background to ensure your gift processing and contribution management are running smoothly, even before you see a need to contact them. We monitor every gift from start to finish.

As extensions of your finance team, our Managed Services team’s expertise goes beyond just the technology; they will do as much of the heavy lifting as you need. We aim to be your Partner, not just a support call.

“Vision2’s Managed Services team are rock stars,” Laila says. “I instant-message them all the time at various hours throughout the day. They’re so quick to jump on stuff and solve it for me, or provide me with documentation as a reference. In the beginning, we spoke daily, but now it’s maybe just twice a month. It’s easy to convey what they show me to our team and, when necessary in the early days, they’ve connected me with a professional accountant in their network.”

Bonus: Demand enterprise-level reporting analytics

Most online giving solutions focus solely on the giver’s experience and only provide the church back office with simple reports showing how much was given and when. Given how important reporting is to the church’s leadership, churches should consider analytics as one of the top evaluation criteria of any giving software.

Vision2 understood that churches should have the same enterprise-level reporting that major nonprofits have for giving trends and donor segmentation. Vision2 Analytics offers real-time, intuitive, simple-to-use reporting and analytics functionality. It’s the closest thing to a time machine there is for managing donors and financials. You can see the past, take action in the present, and plan for the future.

Vision2 provides data your way, with customized insight into your gift and giver trends:

  • Want the simplest, most actionable reports possible? You can get just the information you’re tracking delivered to you via your favorite devices–when you want them–and easily shared with others in the format of your choice.
  • Like to dig into raw data? We’ll give you access to the data warehouse and the hundreds of possible insights available on your data and donors.

Whether you identify with these perspectives or fall somewhere in between, you’ll be able to segment your givers according to where they are on their personal giving journey (i.e. first time giver, long-time tither, major donor) in order to customize your thank you and other messaging to ensure they feel appreciated, known, and encouraged to grow their generosity.

Vision2 Analytics makes it easy to customize your dashboards so you can take the guesswork out of your church’s fiscal management and put your finger on the pulse of giving trends.

Vision2 helps future-proof your financials

With these and other essential features found in Vision2, you won’t need a time machine to eliminate the hassles, inefficient manual processes, and accounting risks the back offices of churches of every size face today, despite massive technological innovation.

With enterprise-level analytics delivered your way, everything you need in one platform, and no giving limits of any kind, Vision2’s comprehensive contribution management software can take your back office to the future so you can focus on ministry and growing generosity.