Interview with Fr. Frank Silva on Grand Annuals – 8/27/2009

Fr. Frank J. Silva is pastor at Corpus Christi – St. Bernard Parish in Newton, MA.  He was ordained in 1976.

From our data, it looks like you might have recently started a Grand Annual at your parish, is that correct?

Well, we are a merged parish that was formed in July of 2006.  In the fall of 2006, we did not hold a Grand Annual campaign but we initiated one in the fall of 2007.  I believe that they did hold Grand Annuals in the former [unmerged] parishes.

How do you launch your campaign?

We begin by mailing a four-page annual parish financial report in mid-September.  The report consists of the parish’s financial information from the previous fiscal year, a narrative on the state of the parish, and the parish’s mission statement.  Within a couple of weeks after that, we send out a mailing that launches the Grand Annual.  On the weekend of the Grand Annual’s launch, we announce the Grand Annual at Masses, referencing the financial report, thanking people for what they’ve done and encouraging them to consider what they’ve contributed and encouraging them to continue to give.

Most aspects of the Grand Annual are handled through the mail and I’ve found it to be extremely helpful to employ a third party firm.  We use Letter Concepts.  For the cost, it works and really does not tax the parish staff in the least bit.

What advice would you give to a pastor who might not see the benefits of using a third party firm for their Grand Annual?

I would say that you gain greatly from the third party firm’s experience and knowledge.

Secondly, using an outside firm frees the parish staff from being caught up in trying to do all the mailing and other leg work.  The pledge cards come in to our parish secretary and she faxes copies to Letter Concepts who handles everything – sending us the numbers/stats on incoming gifts, sending follow-up letters, managing our database, etc.

Another advantage of using Letter Concepts is that they’re able to personalize the letters and pledge cards to each parishioner.  Personalize pledge cards help to increase gift amounts, as they state the previous year’s gift and suggest small increase amounts to each family.  I think that this is received as a much more personal approach and is thus more effective.

How important do you think those personalizd gift options are to increasing your support each year?

I think they are important because it shows that we recognize what people have given.  Parishioners see that we are concerned with what they’re able to give and they see that there is a high-level of professionalism to the process.

It’s also important that each letter is personally addressed.  I also think that it’s important to stress in the letter the parish’s goal and what the funds are intended to be used for.

 

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

We direct our Grand Annual money to specific projects that are above and beyond what the regular budget covers – capital improvements like the replacement of a boiler or the painting of the church.  The Grand Annual is not for operational purposes but for capital expenditures.

Our offertory does not cover our entire operating budget, but our rental income helps cover what the offertory does not.  The additional funds from the Grand Annual allow us to show people specific special projects that we can and should accomplish.

What does your annual parish financial report look like?

We make the report professional but haven’t been able to include pictures and graphs.  It’s a very neat format.  We specifically try to make people see that while finances are important, we also talk about the spiritual life of the parish and they say, as an aside, we need your contributions to make all this happen.  The report is a folded 11”x17” sheet of paper, one side of financials and the other side with a narrative on parish life.  We draft the content of the report in-house but send it to a printer to be professionally printed.

Is budgetary info included in the report?

Yes, the budget for the coming year is included in the financial report.

Does the Grand Annual letter include any financial information?

Not really.  The letter just brings the fact of the Grand Annual to people’s attention.

Do you do anything in church to promote the Grand Annual?

When the financial report is mailed out, the chair of the finance committee generally speaks very briefly at the end of Mass, indicating the state of matters and thanking people for their continued support.

Then when the Grand Annual is launched, I spend a brief minute or two appealing to parishioners at the end of Mass.  I thank them and encourage them to contribute whatever they can.  Throughout the campaign, we make brief announcements at the end of Mass to remind people of the Grand Annual but I try not to harp on it too much.

Do you put announcements in your parish bulletin about the Grand Annual?

At the beginning, we include a general description that the Grand Annual is under way – we mention the projects it will fund and the campaign’s goal.  Then, each week while the Grand Annual is under way, we include a progress report – the number of contributors and dollars contributed.

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, usually about a month after the first letter goes out, Letter Concepts sends out a follow-up letter.  This second letter is much briefer and more of a reminder, but it seems as though we receive as many gifts from this second solicitation as we do from the first letter.

 

Do you consider the services you receive from Letter Concepts more of a luxury or a necessity?

I would argue that any parish could use a third party firm.  It’s cost effective even if it looks expensive, because what you get in return more than balances out the cost.  The accuracy that you can call for puts you at peace of mind – you are not duplicating letters or sending out wrong statements.  One of the other great things about working with Letter Concepts is that they also send a thank you note, which is of course very important.  They use a digital signature for my thank you letters and personally address them to the parishioners.

Do you do anything personally to thank parishioners?

I call anyone who makes a significant gift.

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

About a third of the registered households respond to the Grand Annual mailing.  Many are people who do not contribute to the offertory on a regular basis.  I frequently saw this at my previous parish in Wayland too.  Some parishioners see the Grand Annual as their yearly donation.  Even people we did not often see at Mass gave to the Grand Annual.  A fair amount of parishioners who regularly give to the offertory do give to the Grand Annual as well.  Some do not because they think their regular giving is enough.

Is there anything else that you think leads to a strong Grand Annual that we haven’t discussed?

I’ve always kept my approach to the Grand Annual as low-key as possible, so as not to make it an agonizing venture for anyone.

 

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