Interview with Fr. James Rafferty on Grand Annuals – 8/11/2009

Fr. James F. Rafferty has been pastor at St. Paul’s Parish in Hingham, MA since 1994.  He was ordained in 1963.

Why do you think your Grand Annual is so successful?

I think that being in the parish for 15 years and always being very honest with our parishioners about what needs to be done has helped.  We really work to develop trust and active participation amongst our parishioners, and I think that results in increased generosity.

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

There is a good history of generosity amongst our parishioners.  They respond to concrete needs.  Each time we have come to ask them for significant funds, they have responded. 

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

Our Grand Annual has become an annual fund for special projects.  The weekly offertory covers our annual operating budget, so every year we have a specific project that the Grand Annual funds.  We are sure to clearly communicate the specific need and parishioners are pleased when we follow through with information about how we’ve spent their contributions toward the project.  I think that this model helps because visible projects motivate people; operating expenses don’t have quite as much “sizzle” as specific projects.

Do you use an outside firm or handle all elements of the campaign internally?

We handle all matters internally, besides the printing of materials, which is done by Blue Hill Printing.  We [the parish pastoral council and I] talked to a firm a couple of years ago about outsourcing it.  But after the presentation, our people were motivated and decided that we could do it ourselves.  Since then, we have worked hard to accomplish a successful campaign each year.

What are the specifics of your Grand Annual campaign?

We start our Grand Annual in October because everyone is hopefully back by the fall – during the summer there is a tendency for the parish to somewhat clear out, as many people go to the Cape.  In our Grand Annual mailing, we include a cover letter and a brief budget report detailing what came in last year and what it was spent for, along with a projected budget for projects that are ahead, and a remittance envelope for gifts.  A couple of days following the mailing, a member of our parish finance council gives a prepared talk about the Grand Annual at all masses.  I also mention the Grand Annual in my preaching, but always keep it gospel-based.  Similarly, a couple of times each fall, I mention the GA in my pastoral letter in the bulletin.

Do you send the GA letter to all parishioners or only those who receive offertory envelopes?

Every registered parishioner/family receives the Grand Annual mailing and we place copies in the back of the parish for those who want to give but are not registered.

Are parishioners asked to mail in their gifts or to place them in the collection baskets at mass?

We give parishioners the option to either mail in their gifts or drop them in the basket.  Most seem to prefer to mail their gifts.

Do you provide updates to parishioners on how the GA campaign is going?

Yes, every week there is an announcement in the bulletin on how much we have raised to date.

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, we do not send a follow-up letter or hold receptions.

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

We thank donors by sending a personal letter.  I sign every thank you letter and include personal notes to many parishioners.  I also personally call those who give major gifts to offer sincere thanks.

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

I’m not entirely sure what explains the growth but we have worked hard to build up confidence and trust in our parish, and that certainly goes a long way in helping our Grand Annual.

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

I would say that, on average, about the same number of people give to the Grand Annual as give to the weekly offertory.  We send materials to about 2,400 registered families and can count on about 300-350 families for gifts (as well as for weekly offertory contributions).

Do large gifts make up a large part of your Grand Annual contributions?  Would you consider your Grand Annual to be “top-heavy”?

I would not consider our campaign to be overly top-heavy.  We received one $20k gift last year but other than that, the vast majority of gifts are under $10k.  I would consider $5k a good-sized gift for our campaign, and we will get several of those.

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

I would recommend that a new pastor wait a year or two before instituting a Grand Annual.  It is important to build up the offertory first.  I’d also stress that it’s critical to promote a spirit of giving and generosity and that the pastor must ask very humbly and directly.  Every year I believe it’s important to reinforce the idea that the GA is for special expenses while the offertory is for operating expenses.

 

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