Interview with Fr. George Evans on Grand Annuals – 8/13/2009

Fr. George P. Evans is pastor at St. Julia’s Parish in Weston, MA.  He was ordained in 1977.

Your parish has seen a fairly steady increase in its Grand annual from 2006 to 2008.  To what would you attribute this increase?

Specifically in regards to the increase, the only change I can think of is that I instituted an annual parish report in the 2008 campaign.  Before the 2008 campaign, I went to a workshop at St. Mary’s in Winchester on creating annual parish reports.  I really liked one of the reports I saw at this workshop so I used it as a model to create one for our parish.  The annual report was a step above our usual Grand Annual letter that only included about a page with a financial/budget report.  The new annual report included a few pictures and our parish’s financial data for the previous fiscal year.  This is the only thing that we have changed and although I didn’t receive any feedback about the report, I can only imagine that it helped.

We work really hard on issues of pastoral life and put a lot of effort into providing spiritual nourishment to our parishioners.  I trust that they appreciate that we do a lot in our parish.  Our activity helps them to respond generously when we make appeals.

Did you mail this parish report to parishioners?  If so, when?

Yes.  We mail the report to all registered households about a month before our Grand Annual mailing goes out.

What do you include in your Grand Annual mailing?

In 2008, since we had the annual parish report, I kept the Grand Annual letter to one page and did not include financials since they were in the report that went out the previous month.  In 2007 I included a longer letter in which I described some of the challenges and complications in running a parish in the present world and it seems to have been well received.  I try to change the letters each year.  Since I’m more verbal than picture-oriented, I do not include many pictures in the letter, instead we include them in the annual report.  We also include a gold-colored envelope with the letter.  This is in addition to a Grand Annual envelope parishioners receive with their offertory envelopes.

Do you ask parishioners for specific gift amounts?

Before I joined the parish, there was a history of an approach in which parishioners were asked to give $600 per household each year.  When I arrived, I was told that people resented this approach so I started to include a line in my letter saying that I know that in the past there was a guideline for $600 per family, but I am aware that there are many families that cannot afford that, many that can afford that, and others that can afford more.  I mention that I include this historical number in case parishioners would like a guideline, but I trust their ability in knowing what they give to the church throughout the year and in knowing what they can give to the Grand Annual.  I don’t want to make parishioners feel as though I am requesting the $600 gift but it seems to be a well-known figure.

Do you include suggested gift amounts on the envelope?

We do not.  There is a blank line on which parishioners can input their own gift amount.

Do you speak about the Grand Annual at Masses?

There is no emphatic verbal appeal for the Grand Annual from the pulpit.  One year we did have a couple of lay parishioners speak on stewardship at Masses but these talks were not meant to replace the homily and they focused on time, talent and treasure.  The treasure aspect was not given any more attention than time or talent, and I would say that there was only a vague connection to the Grand Annual.

Do you publish anything in your parish bulletin to promote/track the Grand Annual?

I write a letter in the parish bulletin every week, so for two weeks around the time of the Grand Annual, I usually make about one third of this letter about the Grand Annual.  In this I speak very honestly about the need for the Grand Annual.  We also always have a section in the bulletin with statistics – offertory collection, special collections, Catholic Appeal – and during the Grand Annual campaign, we include the amount raised to date for the Grand Annual.

Do you do anything in November or December in terms of a second appeal to those who have yet to contribute?

Yes.  Every year before Christmas we send out a letter about the availability of Christmas Masses and activities.  We have two version of this letter, one for those who have given to the Grand Annual and one for those who have not yet given.  The letter to those who have given thanks them for their support while the other essentially summarizes the first Grand Annual letter.  I think that this second letter is important because I think that many parishioners wait until the end of the year to give their gifts for the Grand Annual, so it serves as a friendly reminder.

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

I think that the most generous parishioners give to both the weekly offertory and the Grand Annual but I would guess that we have a fairly substantial number who give only to the Grand Annual.  Some of these parishioners are not heavily involved in the parish’s daily, pastoral, and spiritual life but still wish to support the church.

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

Currently, the only thing we do is send out the Christmas letter.  I recognize that we can do better in this respect.  I do write a personal note to all those who give a gift over $1,000.

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

We handle everything internally.  I would note, however, that in addition to the envelope we send with the Grand Annual letter, we provide envelopes for the Grand Annual in the offertory envelopes as well.

Is there anything else about your Grand Annual that you would like to share that we have not covered?

I would mention that the tradition in this parish seems to be that people give a lot to the Grand Annual but do not give as strongly to the weekly offertory.  St. Julia’s is sort of unusual in that many of the parishioners did not grow up in this parish, nor do many plan on retiring here.  The people also seem to be used to giving money in larger denominations instead of giving weekly.

We plan to add a family mass to help engage younger families at the parish.  We really need to build up a better sense of closeness in the parish and with that will come more support, we hope.

In September of 2004, St. Joseph’s in Lincoln became part of our parish.  They had relied on a monthly collection instead of a grand annual.  So we needed to introduce the Grand Annual concept to them through my pastor columns and other forms of communication.

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