As social distancing puts pressure on churches’ finances, a London economics student has created an app which brings ‘the offering’ to our mobile phones.
Church donation app, Altar, has launched on the global tech website, Product Hunt, just a month after co-founder Lotanna Ezeike received a Twitter message from the former CEO of Bebo saying: if he could build it, Shaan Puri would back it.
The app removes the need to carry cash to church and means during times like this, when services are being live-streamed to people’s homes because of the pandemic, churches can still benefit from an income.
“Donations are the life and blood of the church,” Lotanna, 22, explained, so with many reliant on cash donations from visitors or from venue hire, churches are likely to suffer a considerable financial shortfall in the months ahead.
“It was my mum who kept nagging me. About a month ago she called me when I was out, as Nigerian mums do, to make sure I bring cash home for donations at church. I was like: ‘Who carries cash these days? Isn’t there a digital way to give to church?’
“I quickly researched online to see if there were any companies doing it and all I found were a US company called Tithe.ly and PushPay, based in New Zealand.
“I remember tweeting my annoyance and saying that someone should build something. That’s when Shaan Puri tweeted back and then sent me a direct message. I said to give me three months to build an app and four weeks later, we’ve launched.”
Having Puri reach out to Lotanna was a huge surprise, but when the tech entrepreneur mentioned him on his My First Million podcast, there was no backing down.
Lotanna, of Thamesmead in south east London, and co-founders Franck Ndame and Ayo Olubanjo, both 22, didn’t anticipate Altar being the answer to church’s financial problems during a global pandemic.
It was after development had started that Covid-19 hit, giving Lotanna a second sense of urgency and would make the Altar app far more important to churches, many of which have been accepting donations via bank transfers.
He said: “But with that, the church won’t receive gift aid because they can’t get the information they need from the sender.
“The process of claiming gift aid is very long for a church. A person is given the form, they need to complete it and bring it back, it’s then copied and posted to the HMRC. About three months’ later, the church will receive the gift aid.
“Most people don’t want to fill out the form in the first place so I have an idea to simplify this process.”
This is just one of Lotanna’s ideas to grow Altar – another is to get the seal of approval from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, so it can be rolled out across all Roman Catholic churches.
So far there are five churches on board testing the app’s features which will continue to be developed as more join up. This includes the RCCG Living Spring Centre in Haringey where Ayo is a member.
Lotanna and friend Franck are already behind XPO, an app coined the “PayPal for influencers,” where they borrowed the payment system to replicate in Altar.
The rest of the app’s design and functionality is “completely new,” he said, before adding: “Churches are definitely loving it”.
As businesses worldwide rush to diversify in response to Covid-19, for those churches which have been slow to go online, Lotanna believes the pandemic will be a catalyst for much-needed changes to both business operations and the perception of what it means to be religious within church communities.
He said: “Some Christians believe if you don’t go to church every Sunday then you’re not a real Christian, but this has showed that’s not the case.”
“Churches are doing live services now, which I think are going well, but they should’ve prepared better for this. Churches have been talking about going online for the last two years, but they kept postponing. Something like this needed to happen for them to finally say: ‘Let’s do this’.”
Not only has Lotanna been shocked at the influx of churches in a hurry for Altar to be finished, he’s also had other young people contact him for advice on starting a business as he works towards tech venture number three.
Before the former national level sprinter started playing with mobile apps, he thought the only way into tech was to look like Mark Zuckerberg – who he once sent an email asking if they could work on XPO together.
He relates to young men who believe their only options are music, sports, or criminality.
He said: “I never shoot down somebody’s idea – I help them think about the revenue model. With starting a business, a lot of people don’t understand the numbers. I always think about the numbers and if they make sense, I’ll try it.
“A lot of people care too much about people seeing them fail, but I don’t mind at all.
“I always say, if you have an idea just write it down because that’s a big step, and ask people in the industry you want to work in. A lot of people will give advice so just pretend you know a bit more than you do.
“The pandemic is a bad situation, but a lot of good things will be born from this. There’s also lots of opportunities that can be built without someone needing to have a technology background because you can leverage someone else’s tech.”
To download Altar on App store, click here.