Can I Get a Receipt for My Church Offering?

A new Internal Revenue Service rule that requires written proof on any charitable donation raised some concerns among churchgoers whose cash goes into the offering plate each weekend.

"When we put that money into the offering plate, it's ridiculous to think we need to ask for a receipt," Charles Moffatt, a retired Presbyterian minister, told The Tennessean newspaper.

To deduct any charitable donation of money (including contributions less than $250), a taxpayer must have a bank record or a written communication from the charity showing the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution, an IRS news release stated. The new tax law requirement, among other changes, went into effect in January.

While smaller churches are most likely to feel the impact of the change, many pastors are not concerned since most congregants make their offerings and tithes in the form of checks and even debit/credit card transactions. Moreover, they believe it could even boost giving and prevent embezzlement.

Churchgoers at Stevens Creek Community Church in Augusta, Ga., have long been swiping their cards on SecureGive kiosks – ATM machines built by the church's founding pastor, Dr. Marty Baker. With a touch screen monitor, a secure encrypted PIN pad, and an instant receipt printer, Stevens Creek saw an 18 percent increase in giving since the kiosks came out nearly two years ago.

Although the kiosks may have contributed to the boost, Baker believes people just give because of the generosity of their hearts. You can have all the kiosks you want, said Baker, but without a generous heart, there would be little giving.

Mike Weeks, president of the Southern Baptist Foundation, also indicated that Christians do not determine their contributions on other factors besides their faith. "Christians give because they are led to give obediently, and not because it may generate favorable income tax consequences if properly documented," Weeks told Baptist Press.

Still, ATM machines speak to today's culture where much of the population does not carry around cash.

"We really feel like it's relevant to the culture because people come into our church and if you're under 40, you carry a debit card," said Baker. "With a kiosk system like this, they're able to pull out a piece of plastic."

Currently, around 20 percent of Stevens Creek's income comes from the kiosks and 18 churches in 12 different states now have the machines for their attendants. And Baker anticipates more churches will pick up on the trend.

"We feel the kiosk system is helping people to donate to something they really believe in – the local church," Baker commented.

The updated way of giving to churches may also relieve embezzlement issues. Money fraud has become a more prevalent problem among both Catholic and Protestant churches in the nation and a more comprehensive recordkeeping, as the new tax law requires, could better protect collections in churches and the donors.

Baker believes it. He calls the company he started with his wife, Patty, "SecureGive." In November of 2005, Stevens Creek had deposited into a bank checks that it received from around 116 families on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The bank, however, was robbed. As for those who made their weekly offering on the kiosks, their money was safe, Baker recalled.

"Right there, we were reminded of the safety of electronic transmissions."

Baker further pointed out that money in the offering plates get into the hands of a number of people. But electronic giving at the kiosks automatically transfers the money to the church's account. And the giver, even the anonymous, gets an instant receipt recording their donation. A receipt also goes to the giver's e-mail and into the church bookkeeping.

"We hope this will cover everything and make it easier for people to give," said Baker.