Interview with Fr. Richard Messina on Grand Annuals – 8/12/2009

Fr. Richard C. Messina is pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Winchester, MA.  He was ordained in 1965.

Why do you think your Grand Annual is so successful?

I think that an important reason that we have such a successful Grand Annual is that we work hard at making our parish open and welcoming.  Through our homilies and activities, we really try to develop a feeling of “welcomeness.”  I think that when parishioners feel connected to a parish they are much more inclined to support the parish generously.

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

The fact that we have such an open and welcoming parish, with over 400 adult volunteers and over 125 high school volunteers, is certainly an important reason why we have a strong Grand Annual.  Over the years our parishioners have become more and more involved and are motivated to support the parish.  I think that we have an amazing parish staff and just a great spirit in our parish.  Parishioners want to give to a parish to which they feel so connected.

What are the specifics of your Grand Annual campaign?

The first thing that we do is send out a transparent financial report in September, letting parishioners know where all the money was spent in the previous fiscal year.  By October 15, we then send out our first Grand Annual letter, coming from me.  I have not felt the need to speak about the Grand Annual from the pulpit but we do place announcements in the bulletin encouraging parishioners to give.

What does the parish financial report look like?

The financial report is important.  It goes beyond just listing the parish finances, providing descriptions of ministries and various parish activities in addition to the numbers.  Usually the report is a 2-4 page booklet.

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

Yes.  Around November 15 we send out a second letter to parishioners who have not yet given, emphasizing that we haven’t heard from them and thanking them for “thinking of giving.”  Last year we sent another letter in December as well, but this year we probably will not send this third letter.

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

Last year as soon as we received a gift, we sent out a thank you postcard and then later followed this postcard up with a thank you letter.  This year we will send out a thank you letter right away.  I sign every letter and often include a personal note.

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

We handle everything internally, except for the printing.  I used to work with a firm to write the letters but they weren’t as personal as I wanted them to be so I always edited them.  This year I will be writing the letters myself.

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

We send the Grand Annual materials to every registered household.

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

Yes.  Some families that don’t give to the offertory give to the Grand Annual.  Even some parishioners that do not regularly attend Mass support the Grand Annual.  I think that this is because they know who we are in the parish, they just don’t regularly attend Mass here.  We send out about 2,600 letters and get a response from about 600 households.

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

Parishioners can either mail in their gifts in the envelope provided with the Grand Annual mailing or they are welcome to drop them in the collection basket.

Do you ask parishioners to give specific amounts?

In the past we used to ask for specific amounts, including a statement in the letters saying, “Last year you gave $___ to the Grand Annual, this year we ask you to give $___.” But last year we decided to discontinue this practice.  A few people each year voiced resentment about our suggestion of what to give.  Now, we do provide parishioners a customized table of gift-level boxes with suggested amounts based on the amount they gave last year.  This way we are able to provide suggested gift amounts without offending anyone.

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

Our Grand Annual is not for a specific project.  In our letters we mention all the various activities and ministries in our parish – the elderly, the youth, the education of the youth, the health of the elderly, etc.  The Grand Annual is important in helping us catch up with the bills and support our parish ministries.

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

In the past we had lay people speak about the Grand Annual at Masses but last year we did not.  Perhaps this is a reason why the Grand Annual did not do quite as well last year, but we were also in the middle of a capital campaign so I didn’t want to bombard people with too much fundraising.  We are debating about re-instituting the lay speaker this year.

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

We do get quite a few large gifts.  The top 20% of donors give a larger percentage than the rest.  We receive gifts as large as $25,000 from top contributors.  We receive many $750 and $1,000 gifts.

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