Parishioner generosity exceeds $166 million annually

By Neil W. McCabe

In a myriad of ways, such as dances, dinners, the Catholic Appeal, collection baskets and electronic offerings, parishioners supported their parishes and shared ministries with contributions totaling more $166 million in the 2007 fiscal year.

“Parishioners are incredibly generous,” said Scot Landry, the secretary for Advancement and Chief Development Officer for the Archdiocese of Boston.

“They have given to their parishes and the archdiocese in the last fiscal year; about $150 million has been contributed to their parishes and the rest through the Catholic Appeal, which is the source of most of the funds for the shared central ministries of the archdiocese,” he said.

The four largest categories of contributions are: parish offertories, 54.3 percent; parish fundraisers and capital campaigns, 15.7 percent; the Catholic Appeal, 8.2 percent and parish grand appeals, also at 8.2 percent, he said. The remaining sources — parish gifts and bequests, Christmas and Easter clergy collections, parish sacramental offerings and parish shrines and candle offerings account for the rest.

“Many more parishes are including an electronic giving option for their parishioners to support their mission,” Landry said. “Over time, we’ll see many more parishioners choose this approach as Americans pay more and more of their payments electronically.”

Landry said his office does not favor one company over another, but works as a partner with the parishes as they take advantage of the programs. “Anything we can do to make it easier for the parishioners to support our mission, we should do. Both parishes and parishioners win with electronic offertory.”

Many parishes are taking advantage of electronic giving programs, when contributions are automatically deducted from a bank account or credit card, as one more way to help parishioners support their parish, Landry said. There are companies that provide this service to parishes, including envelope companies, many of which are migrating to electronic platforms. Three companies, ParishPay, FaithDirect and ParishSoft, made presentations at a Catholic Foundation-hosted seminar held last September for parishes looking into these programs.

“Electronic giving represents just another step in the evolution of the offertory, from animals or fruits of the harvest to cash, then to checks and now to electronic payments,” said W. Brian Walsh, the president of FaithDirect.

There is some lift in offertory totals when a parish joins ParishPay, said Timothy Dockery, the president of ParishPay, the largest electronic giving program provider in the archdiocese.

There are two main factors that lead to those increased contributions. First, parishioners often decide to increase the amount of their annual giving when they compare their current level of giving to other regular expenditures such as cable television service. Second, since most families attend Mass at their home parish 45 to 50 times per year, ParishPay allows parishioners to support the parish those times they are attending Mass at other parishes for a wedding or traveling on vacation, Dockery said.

“If your family gives $10 per week, on average you are probably giving $450 per year, not counting second collections. If you sign-up for electronic offertory, without it even being in this reactive mood of ‘I give $10 a week when I have it,’ you will probably pledge $520 per year. This is even without increasing how much you want to give because your Church is just as important to you as cable,” Dockery said.

The pledging component tends to make Catholics more generous, he said. The pledge is an intentional, reflective decision, as opposed to a reactive what-do-I-have-in-my-pocket decision.

FaithDirect’s Walsh said that the use of checks is declining rapidly in the wider economy. Soon, checks will represent fewer than 20 percent of all non-cash transactions, yet checks still represent 90 percent of parish envelope payments. In general, the payment instrument of choice for most people is becoming the electronic option, so electronic giving programs are presenting an option parishioners are familiar with and many prefer. “The end result is that parishes have more resources and a more predictable cash-flow to operate their programs.”

ParishPay now serves 46 parishes and more than 2,100 donors in the archdiocese, with 19 parishes joining since 2007, said Christian L. Ortiz, the ParishPay executive in charge of servicing the archdiocese.

St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Andover has been enrolled in an electronic giving program since 2003, said Irene M. Bonner, the parish’s business manager. “Our pastor, Father Rick Conway, and I both felt it was a cutting edge program, so when we heard they were looking for pilot parishes, we jumped on it.”

Although it has been five years, Bonner said that registration is on-going and there are families who have yet to sign-up for the program. “It was slow at first. It didn’t pick up like I thought it would, but now it is accepted and growing.”

Participants like contributing the same way they handle other expenditures and they like the option of downloading an annual report of their giving, so they can keep track of their budget, she said.

In all the time the program has been in place at St. Robert’s, Bonner said she knows of only one person who started and then withdrew from the program. “She was one of the first to sign-up, an older woman in her 90s. She said she was sorry, but she just missed not being able to put something in the basket.”

In the beginning, ParishPay was a simple collection program, but recently it added a function that allows members to print offertory slips with a space for a prayer that can be put into the collection, said Ortiz. There is also a function for the parish to customize their electronic giving program to synchronize with the special collections or fundraising events.

To address the desire of parishioners to put something in the collection basket at St. Robert’s, Bonner said she created 30 cards with the message: “We are a ‘ParishPay’ Contributing Family,” which she laminated and leaves at the entrance of the church. “At the end of Mass, when we count the collection, we gather up the cards and put them back to use next time.”

This article originally appeared in a special “Stewardship” section of The Pilot on September 19, 2008

Comments are closed.