Interview with Fr. Michael Lawlor on Grand Annuals – 8/10/2009

Fr. Michael Lawlor is Pastor at St. Joseph’s Parish in Needham, MA.  Previously he served as Pastor at St. Maria Goretti in Lynnfield.  He was ordained in 1973.

Why do you think your Grand Annual is so successful?

I think that our parishioners see all the good things that take place in our parish, for themselves and for their children, and are thankful.  They realize that in order for these services to continue, they must support the parish; many do this through the Grand Annual.  A parish must be alive, as ours is, because people will be more likely to give to something that’s vibrant.  I have no problem speaking about money and I think that’s important to get parishioners involved as well.

Is there anything about your success that you think is unique to your parish?

We have a very active parish with a strong history of stewardship.  Success breeds success.

Do you use an outside firm or handle all aspects of the Grand Annual campaign internally?

Everything is done internally except for the printing, which is handled by the envelope company.

What are the specific details of your Grand Annual campaign?

We start our Grand Annual in September.  We distribute campaign materials in tandem with our annual parish financial report.  So, our Grand Annual mailing includes the parish financial report with a brief summary from a member of the parish council, an envelope for parishioners’ gifts, and a letter from me (the pastor) requesting support.  The financial report, a product of months of analysis by our finance council, is a bare bones report of the financials, but I also include in the accompanying letter something about what’s happening pastorally – pastoral life, religious ed., baptisms, etc.  In my letter I mention why the Grand Annual is so important but I’m also careful to keep it to one page so that parishioners take the time to read it.

Do you send out a letter to all parishioners or only those who receive offertory envelopes?

We send out the Grand Annual materials to every registered household – for us that is about 2,100 families.

How important do you think it is that the GA is tied to the parish financial report?

I think it’s quite important, as it allows people to see how the money is spent.  For most parishes, I think it’s very helpful to share the annual report.  Even if not everyone reads it, I think it’s important to have it there for parishioners.

What does the Grand Annual benefit (i.e. specific or general needs)?

The Grand Annual is one of the most important things that we do to keep the parish going.  The GA is for all the operating expenses of the parish.

Do you ask parishioners to give specific amounts?

No, we don’t ask for specific amounts.  We ask our parishioners to be as generous as possible.

Do you follow up with those who haven’t yet given, whether it is with a second letter or a reception of some sort?

No, there is no follow-up letter or in-house receptions.  Because of our large parish, there is so much fundraising going on that I don’t like to constantly flood people with materials.  We do host receptions for the capital campaigns, but not for the Grand Annual.

How do you recognize, thank, or acknowledge parishioners for their gifts?

We thank parishioners with a personal letter.  I sign every thank you letter and include personal notes.  This letter also covers the IRS tax requirements for their giving.

Your parish’s Grand Annual has grown significantly over the past couple of years.  To what would you attribute this growth?

I would say that this is partly due to the fact that in 2006 some people were still paying their capital campaign pledges; they couldn’t pay for two things at once.

Have many parishioners increased their support of St. Joseph’s Grand Annual over the past 3 years?

I think the growth has had more to do with parishioners sustaining their overall giving to the Parish.  As they paid off their capital campaign pledges they were able to shift some of their support over to the Grand Annual.

Do you notice a difference in the number of people who give to the Grand Annual versus the weekly offertory?

More people contribute to the Grand Annual than to the weekly offertory; however, the core of Grand Annual support is indeed those that give to the weekly offertory.

What advice would you give to a pastor that wanted to implement a Grand Annual in a parish where there is not currently one?

Most importantly, I would tell this pastor to write a letter to each household and include with it a financial report.  The letter should stress how the Grand Annual is necessary to continue the current services and not scare people into giving.  I would also recommend providing parishioners the option to make multiple payments toward their Grand Annual pledge.  Every parish is different, but at my previous parish in Lynnfield (St. Maria Goretti), instituting the option of multiple (3) payments significantly increased our Grand Annual.

Do you have an idea of the total number of parishioners who support the Grand Annual?

Last year we sent out 2,100 letters and received 555 responses.

What percentage of the total amount raised do the top 10 donors contribute?

Our Grand Annual is not very top heavy.  Just over 27% of our gifts are between $100 and $150.

How many donors give more than $1,000?

Under 5%.

 

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