How to accept card and contactless donations and payments in church

Card reader

Stop grumbling that visitors to church aren’t generous any more. Give them better ways to donate! Here’s how:

  1. Get In-Church WiFi (if your phone doesn’t get a mobile data signal)
  2. Get a contactless payment device and connect to your phone or tablet via an app
  3. Collect donations

Full instructions follow below!

Step one: Get In-Church WiFi (if your phone doesn’t get a mobile data signal)

If you have good mobile data coverage inside your church building, then you don’t need WiFi. And some churches already have a phone or broadband line and have (or can get very cheaply) an internet connection and WiFi. If that’s you, hooray! You can skip this step.

If not, here’s how to Internet enable most church buildings without major investment.

First, check your mobile network coverage here. You don’t need a brilliant connection. You certainly don’t need 4G coverage. But if there’s no coverage, my cunning plan won’t work for you. Sorry.

Next, you need a mobile device that will connect to the mobile network and create the WiFi network. You can get started quickly with a product that PC World sells: for £45 you get a small device that can be placed pretty much anywhere there’s some mobile signal, and that gives a WiFi connection. You also get an allowance of 3GB of data which is valid for up to three months (that’s a lot for this purpose, just don’t expect to start watching Youtube videos). When that time’s up, you can either top up the card (the standard plan is a penny per megabyte, which is pricey for some purposes, but card processing isn’t very data hungry), or you can buy a new mobile data SIM preloaded with another 3GB for 3 months for £16, or far better value is 24GB for 24 months for £60 (which works out at £2.50 per month).

The device has a battery and a charging port. So you could leave it charging and locked away between services, and make it part of the routine for a service or event to put it in the best place. If you have convenient electrical sockets, you can pop it somewhere out of sight but plugged in so it’s always available. (If you’re concerned about how it’s used, you can configure it to connect just to specific devices, and not give out the WiFi password.)

Or you could save money by using an old smartphone instead, as long as it supports “hotspot” functionality, and is unlocked or locked to the Three network. Just be aware that phones are usually heavier and less battery-efficient than the special devices.

Why am I focussing on Three? Mainly because of the pre-pay deal, which gives total peace-of-mind, and that (for this purpose) is far better value than any contract deal I’ve come across. So kudos to Three.

Now you have WiFi in your church (hallelujah!), you’re ready to…

Step 2: Get a contactless payment device

There are a few out there, and I’m recommending SumUp. What you’ll get (for £15 via that link) is an attractive little square box with a keypad and a small display (it looks like a fat calculator). The only other fee is 1.69% deducted from each payment.

The box is rechargeable, but it’s not standalone. It needs to connect to the SumUp app, running on a smartphone or tablet, via a bluetooth connection. And payment cards can be read via chip-and-pin or with a contactless payment (if someone has enabled contactless payment by tapping their phone, that should work too). The ordering process includes providing details of your organisation and bank account, and the whole process is simple.

Now, you’ve probably seen contactless donation terminals at landmark buildings, cathedrals and the like, and they are pretty much tap and go, with a default donation that can be edited. At the moment, I’m not aware of a provider who offers that level of simplicity without additional expenditure. So for each donation, the person operating the system will have to set up the amount etc, though this can be made simple by setting up specific amounts as “products.”

So I won’t pretend that this approach is as simple or as fast as putting cash in a bowl, say. But with a little creativity, this may unlock a new source of income. And it may help you get past that common problem with cash, that people’s brains often seem to tell them, in church, that the right amount to hand over and feel generous is the amount of their pocket money they would have put in the plate in 1975, which is probably a third of the what they’ll pay without thinking for a quick coffee!

A final note. If you are part of the Church of England or the Church in Wales, Parish Buying have negotiated a smaller fee per transaction than you will be offered directly. Log in to your account (or set one up – it’s free) to check the details. Other churches can check with 2Buy2 whether they have special terms available.

And of course, you now have all you need to take card donations and payments at other events away from the church. Think of the possibilities! And you can even take payments by phone, though the “card holder not present fees” are higher than the face-to-face flat rate.


The total cost to get up and running and try out card and contactless payments could be as low as £15 if you don’t need mobile internet or £60 if you do. And if the immediate benefit for many churches is responding to the reality that people are less and less likely to carry cash apart from small change, there are opportunities for everything from service refreshments, to pop-up church cafés, ticketed events paid by phone or at the door, to church fetes and fund-raisers, to… well, I leave it to your imagination.

This may not be for everyone, but taking card and contactless payments is now so affordable that it’s in the reach of even small churches.

If you have experiences to share, or other options to recommend, please add your comment below. Your input helps us help churches to be more and more effective in the digital world.

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