Interview with Fr. Michael Guarino on Grand Annuals – 8/19/2009

Fr. R. Michael Guarino is pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Revere, MA.  He was ordained in 1968.

Why do you think your Grand Annual is so successful?

Simply put, we use Letter Concepts for our Grand Annual.

What are the specifics of your Grand Annual campaign?

The Grand Annual takes place throughout September, October, and November.  Letter Concepts sends out an initial appeal letter with a pledge card asking each household to contribute $300 or more to the Grand Annual in September.  After some time has passed, Letter Concepts sends a follow-up letter to those who have yet to give.  Further, they send a thank you letter to each parishioner that contributes to the Grand Annual.  A digital version of my signature is used on all of the letters.

Why do you choose to use a third party firm to handle your Grand Annual?

When I arrived at the parish, the Grand Annual raised around twenty thousand dollars.  Seeing this, I did not think I could do any better, as the parish had been led by a well-established pastor before me.  I had received an advertisement from Letter Concepts so I brought them in.

How much do you pay for Letter Concept’s Grand Annual services?

We pay a little under $5,000 dollars for the Grand Annual campaign.

Do you think that this money has been well spent?

I would certainly agree that this has been a smart investment.  We’ve greatly increased the amount we raise in our Grand Annual for a relatively small fee.

With Letter Concepts working with you, what work does your parish staff have to do anything for the Grand Annual?

We don’t have to do much.  Our parish secretary makes copies of the pledge cards/payments as they come in and faxes them to Letter Concepts so they can handle it all – from thank you letters to updates to database maintenance.

Do you speak about the Grand Annual at Masses and include any bulletin announcements?

The week before we launch the Grand Annual, I preach at all the Masses.  Letter Concepts sends out draft bulletin announcements and even prayers of the faithful for the Grand Annual.  As we wrap up the campaign in November, I again mention the Grand Annual at Masses, thanking the parishioners for their support.

Do you publish a goal for the GA?

I usually set a goal of $75k.  This year, due to the struggling economy, I lowered it to $70k.

Do you think that the decision to ask each household for a gift of $300 or more has garnered a positive response?

Yes, I think parishioners responded greatly to this.  I think that if you ask for something specific, the parishioners want to come through, and do come through.  If we just asked for a general amount, I do not think that as many people would give as much as $300.  Even long after November, people are sending in gifts – they feel a responsibility to support the parish.

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

The Grand Annual is for general needs and is used to help meet the parish’s operating budget.  The Grand Annual is one of our major sources of income.

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

Parishioners can choose to either mail in their gifts or place them in the collection baskets.

What advice would you give to a pastor that wanted to implement a Grand Annual in a parish that does not currently have one?

I would absolutely recommend that the pastor get in touch with one of the parish fundraising companies.  This is the work of these companies.  They know what they’re doing.  They know how to help a parish increase its Grand Annual and offertory.  I would also advise the pastor to write an honest, down-to-earth letter; lay out the facts, hide nothing, and go from there.  Letter Concepts has been great in drafting letters like this for us.  If you stick to this down-to-earth approach, the parishioners come to expect the Grand Annual and take it as a responsibility.

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