Don’t pass the hat, pass the iPhone

Yesterday, ReadWrite Web reported about a new credit card scanner from a company called Square. This scanner will hook up to any device with an audio input jack. While this may start as an iPhone-focused product, it is clear from Square’s website that it won’t stay that way. You don’t hire developers for Android and Blackberry unless you are looking to create a broad mobile product. The card reader and application will cost only $1. Square can do this because they’ll be taking 2.9 percent of every transaction. It won’t require fund recipients to have a merchant account, so the 2.9 percent fee is competitive for taking credit card transactions.

If you read the comments on the post linked above, you’ll read about a number of security and privacy concerns. Concerns I share —though I’m fairly certain that it’s a bit premature to say the product isn’t safe when it won’t launch for six months. Regardless of this product, mobile payment solutions tied to cell phones are coming— and coming soon. For ministries, I see a number of possible uses. The first that comes to mind is events like concerts or conferences. Instead of keeping volunteers behind a counter and requiring possible donors to fill out forms, volunteers could be out front. Each one equipped with an iPad showing a video presentation. If a donor is moved, the volunteer simply swipes the donor’s card and processes the transaction. At only $1 per device, you could even imagine sending these out into the field with advocates for your organization. For example, someone is giving a talk to their Sunday School class about your ministry. You send them a Square device, and they can immediately take donations.

Of course you can raise objections, like control and others, to these ideas. It is always easier to tear down a new idea than to embrace it. New ideas always have an element of risk, and this one is no exception. From everything I’ve seen, it is clear that ministries are going to have to do things outside of their comfort zone if they hope to continue to thrive. The question for your organization is: “Are you willing to be out front, or are you going to follow behind?”