The dangers of using Cash App, Zelle, and Venmo for churches

Switch to a safer system—and do more with what God’s provided your church.

“What could go wrong?” they said

Using Cash App, Zelle, and Venmo for churches makes it easy for people to give. The apps are quick to set up, they’re easy to use, and they’re accessible to everyone.

But (and this is a big one)…

These apps don’t leave a paper trail. And churches need paper trails—they reduce the temptation for employee theft and they help in case you get audited by the IRS, for when you need to report to your donors, and for your protection.

While cash-moving apps appear to be the easiest, we see churches have the best long-term experience with dedicated church-giving platforms. Here’s why, and how to switch your church over to one.

Our recommended church giving platforms

All of our recommended church giving platforms have apps that make it easy for your people to give. So you don’t have to ask them to stop using an app altogether—just a safer one!

Our recommendations:

(If you’re looking for other types of software, here are our recommendations for payables and complete church accounting.)

Problems of using apps like Venmo for churches

Apps like Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle aren’t the safest for receiving gifts. Which means they’re not the best way to take care of the resources God gives you. Since your church needs to place every dollar on mission, church giving apps are the way to go.

All money becomes mystery money

When you look at your bank account, transactions through Venmo or Cash App just say “Venmo” or “Cash App.” They don’t say who the money went to or came from. It’s mystery money.

You could keep a spreadsheet of all money coming into your church through cash-moving apps. But that means having to manually enter who the money came from, the date, and the amount.

That’s a lot of data to enter, and lots of opportunity to hit the wrong buttons. Who has time for that? Certainly not a busy ministry person like you!
Church giving platforms give you clear reports about donations and tie them to each donor’s record, making it simple to keep track of your transactions. And you can trust that the information is correct. That’s the time savings and peace of mind every ministry person needs.

Your church and your people are vulnerable to theft

Lots of money gets stolen out of cash-moving apps. The credit card and bank account info for both your church and your givers is sitting inside systems that aren’t as secure as bank systems.

Your donors’ money is safer in a system that is made for it. The giving platforms we recommend are PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant, which means they demonstrate a high security level to their auditors.

Giving platforms also keep your church safer from internal mismanagement. With stricter security and more controls, they create records of everything. So you can see when money goes where it shouldn’t, and you can prove there’s no wrongdoing when there hasn’t been any.

Keeping your donors’ money safe is one of the many ways your church cares for its people. Show them how much your church cares by using a giving platform that’s made for it!

Donor reconciliation is just … bad

Church giving platforms include donor databases that let you reconcile accounts in about ten minutes, whether you’ve got hundreds of donors or a couple dozen.

Unfortunately, for cash-moving apps, the opposite is also true. You have to look at every single transaction in your church’s Venmo or Cash App, figure out which transaction was from whom, and add each transaction to each donor report.

It’s worth saying again—this takes way longer and leaves room for error. Use a giving platform with an auto-generated donor database instead!

Tax time becomes sloppy

In cash-moving apps, people can send gifts directly to church employees rather than to the church itself. This creates two big problems.

One is that even if that money was meant as a gift for the church, it gets counted as income for that employee. So the employee has to pay taxes on that gift even if they don’t get to keep the gift.

The other is that the donor cannot write the gift off on their taxes since it was not given directly to the church.

That’s a lose-lose for everyone!

When your church uses a dedicated giving platform, every dollar is routed through the proper channels. That means your employees and your donors are both protected—and your church is taking care of all its people.

How to switch to a safe church giving platform

OK, we’re done harping on cash-moving apps. Let’s talk about solutions.

If you’re using Zelle, Cash App, or Venmo for your church and want to switch to something safer, here are a few strategies to make the process easier.

Clean up your books

Go back a year or so to reconcile your books with what’s in your Venmo, Cash App, or Zelle account. It’s going to take a while, but it’s worth it so you can compare this year’s data to last year’s data and start identifying trends.

Pull up your big spreadsheet or create a new one. Look through every transaction in each app, and record it on your spreadsheet. If necessary, make adjusting entries on your accounts, which means add or remove money so the accounts match your books.

If your team doesn’t have the expertise or capacity to do this, Parable can clean up your books for you. We’re number nerds who enjoy that kind of stuff!

Talk to your people one-on-one about switching platforms

Your church’s people might ask, “Why are you fixing something that ain’t broke?” (but in whatever accent exists in your region).

Focus on management of the resources God has entrusted your church with. Tell them that with safer systems, better oversight, and time savings, your church can do more with what God’s provided. Not only the church staff but also, through their gifts, churchgoers themselves can have a greater impact for God’s Kingdom.

Once you’ve gained your people’s trust in the new giving platform, make the setup easy for them. Send them videos, share handouts, or offer a training session to help them get started.

Pair the switch with stewardship education

Switching to a dedicated giving platform also gives you an opportunity to teach your people about stewardship.

We don’t mean pushing harder for more donations through something like a capital campaign. We mean teaching the biblical concept of managing one’s resources and the impact of doing so.

This can be an opportunity to report what the church has been doing or to identify new opportunities. It also can be a time to offer financial-planning classes or to teach about financial management.

But will we lose donors if we switch systems?

From what we’ve observed working with churches—not really. You might lose a couple. But if your church’s Venmo or Cash App gets hacked or you have a theft issue, you’ll lose a lot more.

Plus, with a more secure giving platform and well established financial processes, people may actually feel more comfortable giving, especially if they want to give large amounts.

Start a conversation with us about managing your church’s finances

At Parable, we help leaders place every dollar on mission so their money can tell a better story about God’s Kingdom. Start a conversation with us about getting your church’s giving—and Kingdom story—on mission.