Interview with Fr. James Ronan on Grand Annuals – 8/19/2009

Father James J. Ronan is pastor of St. Mary – St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown, MA.  He was ordained in 1982.

Your parish’s Grand Annual almost doubled from 2007 to 2008.  To what would you attribute this incredible growth?

I would point to three major initiatives as the catalysts of this growth.

First would be the decision in 2008 to focus not on trying to determine specific gift amounts for parishioners but to focus on increasing participation in the Grand Annual.  In order to get as many parishioners involved as possible, we asked that each household contribute an amount equivalent to taking the family or friends out to dinner for one night.  Since our parish is made up of some of the poorest families in Boston, and some very wealthy families, we hoped that this approach would allow and encourage everyone to give within their means.  I think we were successful in this.

The second initiative that contributed to our growth was increased personalization of the letters.  Last year I began hand-signing each letter and including personal notes.

Thirdly, we also instituted a practice of having lay parishioners speak about the Grand Annual from the pulpit in order to encourage greater participation.  I believe that having lay people provide the explanation of the Grand Annual contributed to increased success.

Which one of these three initiatives made the biggest impact?

I think that directly tying the ongoing theme of increasing participation to our parish mission statement was crucial.  As we worked to develop a greater sense of community and bring a controversial and diverse cluster of parishes together as one, the Grand Annual flowed somewhat naturally from the pastoral work of the parish.  By articulating what we were chosen to be as a community, and the challenges that we faced to achieve this vision, the funding flowed almost as a consequence of the mission.

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

The Grand Annual is for general needs of the parish.  We relate the Grand Annual to the annual financial report; we explain what the offertory/other collections have achieved towards our operating expenses, pointing to and explaining the shortfall, and then ask parishioners to help make up the difference with the Grand Annual so that we can balance the budget.

What do you include in the Grand Annual letter?

About a week or two prior to the Grand Annual, we make available an annual financial report.  We’ve gone through several iterations of financial reporting, with the most brief and efficient also being the most effective.  When we were still struggling with the merger, we reported every single financial item in hopes of increasing trust.  But as we have grown in trust, we are able to keep it briefer and crisper.  We do not mail this report out and as tensions have decreased, we included it as a four page bulletin insert last year.  With the Grand Annual letter itself, we mail a remittance envelope that parishioners are welcome to mail back or they can drop in the collection basket with their gifts.

Do you include suggested amounts on the remittance envelope?  Are parishioners also given a Grand Annual envelope in their offertory envelope packets?

We do not include specific amounts on the remittance envelopes.  Yes, parishioners do also receive a Grand Annual envelope with their offertory envelopes.

After a while, 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.  We send out a follow-up letter about four weeks after the start of the campaign in early November.  Starting last year, we now personalize these letters as well.

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

We do everything internally, besides getting mailing labels from the envelope company.

Is there anything else about your Grand Annual that we haven’t discussed yet that you think contributes to its success?

I would emphasize how important it is to our success that parishioners in Charlestown feel good about their parish, that they’ve stepped forward, and that they’ve supported some very radical changes – closing churches, undertaking a capital campaign.  I think that the most important thing to do is to continue reminding people of who they/we are as a parish and showing them where the money goes and how successful we are.  There is a feeling in the parish that things are alive and parishioners want to contribute since so many good things are happening – beautiful liturgies with music, social ministry programs, food pantry programs, recovery programs, to name a few.  Parishioners are more inclined to support a parish that is moving forward and responding to their needs.  Once the investment is made in these initiatives, the money will follow.

Comments are closed.