Interview with Fr. Richard Fitzgerald on Grand Annuals – 8/11/2009

Fr. Richard W. Fitzgerald, VF is pastor at St. Paul’s Parish in Wellesley, MA and Vicar Forane of the West region.  He was ordained in 1987.

What are the specific details of your Grand Annual campaign?  Why do you think your Grand Annual has grown significantly in the past few years?

We always hold our Grand Annual in the fall, usually late September or early October, when everyone seems to be back from summer vacation and in a good mood.

We used to send out a letter with a summary of the previous year’s fiscal data and a paragraph on the Grand Annual.  In 2007, however, we decided to send an annual income and expense report for the previous fiscal year at the end of August and then send out a separate mailing with Grand Annual materials in September.

The Grand Annual materials now consist of an appeal letter including the upcoming year’s budget and any significant expense info, as well as a list of all the things done in the parish over the last five years and a remittance envelope.

In my mind, it is important to include as much information as possible about what has happened in the parish – especially, any significant expenditures  In 2007 we also began speaking about the Grand Annual at all masses.  I speak about the nature of the appeal – why it’s important – and also mention the budget and why we need the money.  I specifically point to what projects will need to be undertaken in the next year.

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

Everything besides the printing is handled internally.

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

Our Grand Annual helps fund general operations of the parish.  We do not use it to fund one specific project, but rather tie it to the total needs of our parish.  I feel that tying it to one specific project might make it difficult if we were without a big project one year.

Do you ask parishioners to give specific amounts?

We do not ask for a specific amount from each parishioner, but the remittance envelope has a table of gift-level boxes containing suggested amounts – $100, $500, $1000, or Other (on the higher end).  These envelopes are distributed with the Grand Annual letter, not with the offertory envelopes.  We ask in general for parishioners to increase their gifts if they are able, but we do not tailor this request to each individual.

Do you speak or have a lay person speak about the Grand Annual and annual financial report at masses?

No one speaks on the budget and income statement, but the week before the Grand Annual materials go out, I speak about the Grand Annual request at all Masses.

Do you send the Grand Annual materials to all parishioners or only to those who receive offertory envelopes?

We send the materials to all registered families and we leave copies in the back of the parish for those who are not registered.

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

Parishioners can either put their gifts in the collection basket or mail them to us in an envelope sent in the Grand Annual mailing.  Many parishioners choose to mail in their gifts.

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

We do not send any follow up letters or hold any receptions.  We do put a note about the Grand Annual in the bulletin, but we do not put the amounts that are coming in.  Our parish finance council has decided not to put figures in the bulletin, as the consensus is that an annual report shows all the expenses so we do not need to put numbers in the bulletin every week.  Our finance team actually thinks that doing so might make people tend to think that the parish is doing fine and does not need more money.

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

To some degree.  There are people who give regularly to the offertory but that don’t give to the Grand Annual.  I plan on promoting the Grand Annual even more at the family mass to encourage the younger families to become more involved.  Overall, we send out about 800 letters and get about 300 responses.

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

We send a thank you letter to everyone that gives a gift to the Grand Annual.  I hand sign each of these letters and often include a personal note.

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

Justify the need.  There are always needs, but you must to give your parishioners sufficient info to justify the need as something they want to support.  Mention real needs/projects that will have to get done this year.  I would also stress the importance of the Pastor’s talking about the Grand Annual directly and the needs of the parish, even if he is reluctant.

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

No.  We do not typically receive any gifts over $10k, with the top gift probably being $8k.

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