Start-up enters the church with tithes collection app


A church service in Eldoret town on July 19, 2020. FILE PHOTO | NMG

When churches were ordered by the government to minimise the number of people attending worship last year due to Covid-19, James Chege sought to help them manage congregants.

After rigorous research, last year, he invented the Usalama Kanisani app to enable churches book attendees, assign seats as well as trace coronavirus patients.

However, Mr Chege wanted to help them more. So, he developed Jumuisha to allow them to receive donations via USSD, bank transfers, online payments or credit cards besides making payments to contractors, suppliers and employees.

“Jumuisha is a platform that allows churches and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to manage payments and host events. The payments include tithes and offerings. It is a bound payment platform where we aggregate all digital money service providers, including mobile money and online transaction companies,” the founder of Usalama Technology Limited says.

Donations and payments can be made through M-Pesa, Airtel Money, T-Kash, Visa, MasterCard, and Paypal.

He says that the platform offers congregations' flexibility since they do not have to remember paybill and till numbers.

“We also allow churches to manage their outbound payments. So, if they have petty payments they can easily use our platform to do outbound disbursement of funds.”

“We have noted through the use of our platform most churches are reporting an increase in collections via channels like M-Pesa and a decrease in cash collection, which is a good thing during this Covid-19 period. They are also benefiting from better accounting.”

He says that they company has on-boarded 143 organisations and targets to grow in the coming months. Initially, they started with three.

“Some are network of churches like Citam Church while others are independent churches such as PCEA (Nairobi, Nakuru, and Eldoret, among others), ACK (across the country), and Purpose Centre Church (Mombasa Road).” He has invested about Sh200,000 on the platform for personnel and tech such as USSD code hosting from Safaricom.

“The platform has since grown. We have dedicated servers and changed the USSD service provider. Now we have one that is accessible to all subscribers and also scaled up our infrastructure,” he says.

He adds that the company has eight employees and four being directors.

He adds that they are still raising seed funding rounds with first coming from North America. “We are in the process of raising Sh22.1 million ($200,000). We have interests from other investors and once we finish the seed round we will be able to disclose because of the valuation issues with the company,” he adds.

“The initial business model that we had would have been more lucrative but now we have stumbled upon very many regulatory challenges that would have restricted us from approaching it from that perspective,”

“The first is the required licensing from the Communication Authority (CA). This was something that was a little bit costly,”he says.

The cost, he notes, would have been too costly for churches to afford their services.

“We had to adjust our business model. We had to use a third party premium rate service provider so that we could be able to price at a level that churches will afford and still sustain the company and make profits as we grew.” Other big challenges include sourcing investments locally as banks are unwilling to support unproven businesses.

“Right now we are charging Sh13,500 per month for a dedicated USSD extension and for a shared extension the charge is Sh5,000. And then we have add-ons where we resale bulk SMSs to churches and we still make revenue from that as well as customisations that we do for these churches,”

However, he says that they are looking at expanding services to other organisation.

“We have brought together very many gateways into one platform that are easy for someone to integrate into their own platform,

“This is technology that can be used in many other application areas and not just to receive payments for churches and NGOs,” he says.

He adds that their goal is to scale out to reach at least 1,000 churches. Once they reach that they will be eyeing the international market.