Interview with Fr. Michael Steele on Grand Annuals – 8/18/2009

Fr. Michael L. Steele is pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Marblehead, MA.  He was ordained in 1977.

Thank you for sharing your Grand Annual materials with us.  I particularly like how you have developed parish goals that are very down to earth and that parishioners can certainly get behind.  Could you speak on this short, practical list of goals and how it contributes to your Grand Annual success?

I’m now starting in my fifth year as pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea.  When I first arrived, I was replacing a pastor who had served there more many years.  To begin a discussion with the parish councils about how to move the parish forward, I figured that a good place to start would be to collaborate on parish goals.  To advance our mission and deepen our spirituality, I hoped that developing concrete goals would get us there.  We have just finished our two year goals and it’s now engrained as a process.  Because of this, parishioners know our priorities and have a good sense of where the parish is investing its resources. 

It is very helpful that there are six clear goals that allow you to measure your success towards achieving them.  The parish is intentional about its future.

Yes.  We have a focus on our mission and our spiritual development.  ARISE has been very successful at our parish.  What I like about ARISE is that it’s created a new sense of spirituality here.  Over 180 parishioners have joined our ARISE groups.  We’ve instituted Adoration on Monday afternoons – we got 27 people here yesterday afternoon!  I think that to focus on spirituality is very important – community, message, service, and worship.

How have these priorities contributed directly to your Grand Annual success?

We’ve worked really hard to incorporate spirituality in our parish.  We’ve brought in speakers, increased religious education, and began a family liturgy.  The family liturgy greatly helped the Grand Annual – we’re getting a full church at these masses.  First communions are up.  Confirmations are up.  Parents are not just dropping their kids off for CCD and leaving.  Since we’ve moved CCD to Sunday, parents are staying on the parish campus, socializing, becoming more involved in the parish life.  We’ve really invested in the spiritual life of the parish, making sure that people see the parish heading towards becoming more spiritually enriching and more alive.  When we then go and ask people to invest in that continued growth, they are much more inclined to want to do so.

What are the specifics of your Grand Annual campaign?

We launch the Grand Annual in September with a letter, photo sheet, and annual financial statement.  We mail these materials, along with a remittance envelope, to every registered household.  To ensure the financial statement is the best it can be, we have a CPA read and edit it.  About three weeks prior to this mailing, we send a newsletter informing parishioners of our parish life.  This year we also sent one of these newsletters in the spring and also during Advent.  These newsletters contain pictures of parish life and an upcoming events calendar, encouraging parishioners to get involved.  We include photos to help visual learners see how we’ve invested their contributions.  I think it is very important to inform parishioners as to where all the money is going in the parish so that they are encouraged to continue supporting our wonderful activities.  Pictures drive the point home better than words.



Do you ask parishioners to give specific amounts?

We do not.  Our finance council recommended that we do not include specific amounts on the envelopes.

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

We have lay people who have been active in the parish speak on the Grand Annual.  They are the ones who can best make the case to their fellow parishioners.

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

We thank people right away, sending out the thank you note immediately.  I hand sign these thank you letters.  Parishioners appreciate the quick thank you.  If parishioners give more than one gift, they will get a thank you card each time.

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

Some parishioners that do not regularly support the offertory choose to give a onetime gift to the Grand Annual.  We probably receive around 300 responses from the 1,800 registered households.

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

I would consider any gift over $1,000 to be an “extraordinary gift,” and I send a personal thank you note to anyone giving such a gift.  I would say that there are typically about 50 of these, with the largest gift probably being about $25,000.  The most typical gift is probably about $150, but we get quite a few gifts of $200-$250.

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

We publish an update every week in the bulletin, all the way until March and April.  We only track the amount of money received, not the number of gifts received.

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 or place them in the collection baskets.  We also implemented electronic giving in our parish last year so some give this way.

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 the pastor hold off on implementing a Grand Annual for a year or two while he focuses the parish on the mission of spirituality and enhances the life of the parish.  A pastor must first show his parishioners that he is giving them something.  Even if money is tight at first, pastors can institute adoration, position Christ as the center of the mission of the church, enhance your music, make sure the liturgies are beautiful, have well-trained lectors.  You must examine what you are offering to the community and ask parishioners where they want the money to be spent. 

After the parish community is built up, I would suggest that the Grand Annual should focus on growing the parish and not focus on specific projects such as a roof or boiler; those projects are more for a capital campaign.  I would also stress that the thank you component is important.

Finally, I think pastors should invest in a family liturgy, strengthen religious education, gather parents while their children are in CCD – a great way to build a community and recruit catechists.  These steps are very important as to why our Grand Annual has increased.  The parish must continually be moving towards greater spirituality and revising its mission statement so that people are involved, invested, and renew their commitment to living the mission.  It may take a couple of years to build, as it has for us, but it leads to a very successful parish.


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