Our journey to find a useful database for tracking congregant giving and church management began seven years ago when we knew our congregant-created Access database was no longer serving the needs of our growing congregation. Another staff member and I began research into data management systems geared for churches. After many hours of speaking with vendors, sitting through webinars and crunching numbers, our top choice was Fellowship One.
But, as with many good ideas, funding was an issue. We instead went with a less expensive, in-house option that fit our requirements at that time. Unfortunately, the reporting features were not intuitive, there was no web integration, and, of course, a training option was not available. It didn’t take long to outgrow this option.
Fast forward six years. We reinitiated our search for a comprehensive Church Management System (CMS) that would grow with us and serve the needs of our spiritual community. We once again sat through demos, webinars and sales pitches. This led us back to Fellowship One as the CMS of choice.
Some of the perks of Fellowship One that swayed our choice were centered on training and implementation.
Implementation: We were assigned our own implementation team and project manager. The team was outstanding. They answered our questions and helped guide us in verifying information, which made the conversion from the old to the new system much easier.
Training: Fellowship One (F1) has an extensive video learning center available online to train the user in every aspect of the system. F1 provided “best practices” guidelines about how to create an in-house team to implement all the changes. This team concept assured that more than the team champion understood the system and knew what was going on. We opted for an onsite visit at the end of our conversion so that each member of the staff could ask questions and get hands-on experience with an expert.
We created a yearlong strategy for implementing all the features of our new CMS. We were at our 9-month mark in July. We have implemented online giving, event registration, prayer chaplain groups, children’s check-in, class check-in, prayer requests and in-reach. We are currently working on the volunteer pipeline.
Staff members often declare, “I love Fellowship One!” Many aspects of our job are simplified now that F1 is in place. Once over the learning curve of the new system, our finance associate was able to go from full-time to part-time because her job is now streamlined. This system really is paying for itself!
How Is It Working?
Here are some of the reasons we are so excited about Fellowship One:
- Cuts employee time to process donations.
- Batching is faster.
- Financial reporting is faster.
- A report can be generated for almost anything you can think of.
- The depth and breadth of the reporting module has gone well beyond our expectations.
- 1,200 end-of-year annual contribution statements, with thank-you letters mail-merged, took less than 10 minutes to process. (It used to take days!)
Other benefits have to do with the ease of registration for events.
- It is much easier to keep track of event participants at a glance or run a report.
- A tiered payments system is available for retreats or other costly events.
- Provides quick check-in to S.E.E. (Spiritual Education and Enrichment) classes.
- Attendance reports are a breeze.
- Accommodates registration changes quickly, while automatically tracking the financial aspect.
One great aspect of Fellowship One is that the database is “in the Cloud” and accessible to the ministerial staff no matter where they are. If they are making hospital visits, they can easily access a member’s information and update it on the spot. No more having to remember to “make a note of that later.”
We are able to track follow-ups and outcomes to requests for help from our congregants. A weekly pastoral care report is generated, and we go over it during staff meetings. This helps ensure that nothing and no one has fallen through the cracks. We see each request, who the request was routed to for follow-up, and the outcome.
We are able to track volunteer assignments and class/event participation. At a glance, we can see if a person is only volunteering and not being spiritually fed. This helps prevent volunteer burnout. But we see the other side as well; a person who is not giving back through service. Ahh! A potential volunteer!
In Unity, we stress personal responsibility, and Fellowship One helps us foster this in our congregants. They create their own accounts and this gives them access to their own information. They can now:
- Update their own information
- Schedule their own giving
- Download their own end-of-year records
- Choose to participate in an online directory
- Sign up for classes and other events
Finally, our children’s ministry uses F1’s industry-standard system to check children in to their classes on Sunday morning, as well as during children’s events. Our youth and family director is able to track which children have allergies or other information the teachers need to be aware of. She can easily track which families have completed the registration forms and can send the forms in a quick email through Fellowship One.
Nine months into the process, we are still learning and still singing the praises of this system. Yes, there is a learning curve. Yes, and their help desk is wonderful! Would we do it over again? Absolutely!