Successful Grand Annual Practices (Outline)

September 1, 2009

Best Practices, Grand Annuals

Grand Annuals are critical to the funding of the mission of a majority of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston.  In most parishes, they are “campaigns” instead of “collections.”  While there are a lot of different approaches, the largest grand annuals in the RCAB (and those that are fastest growing) all involve a letter to all registered households following the release of a parish annual report.

The following 10 steps are recommended by pastors and other fundraising consultants as key to Grand Annual success.

1.  Send a personalized letter to all families. 

  • Handsigned letters, with a brief note, increases success in the Grand Annual and improves the connection with the parish.
  • Include a pledge card, return envelope and a budget (or reference to the annual report that was recently shared).
  • Note: Broadcasting the message only from the pulpit, in the bulletin, and via offertory envelopes allows will not produce the same response as a personalized letter.
  • To ensure a complete mailing list, update the database prior to the campaign.  Early September might be a good time, so you can include all the school & religious education families, as well as new families moving into the parish.
  • If you mail the annual report, use it as an opportunity to identify those that didn’t receive it, and ad them to the databse, before you mail the grand annual letters. 

2.  Personalize the requested gift amount based on their previous support.

  • State what was given by the family in previous years on the pledge card.
  • Ask them to prayerfully consider whether they may be able to increase it this year. Ask them to be as generous as their means allow.
  • If you think a “general norm” would be appropriate for your parish, ensure the ask amount is on the high-end of what parishioners consider appropriate and temper it with “some can do more; others can afford less; please give according to your means/situation”.

3.  Publish an annual report about one month prior to the grand annual. 

  • Detail both ministries and finances – the length and depth can vary according to the parish.
  • Introduce the goal for the upcoming grand annual in the launch/mailing/discussion of the annual report.
  • Have a lay person provide an in-church report and mention the upcoming grand annual. 
  • Either have copies available in church/bulletin or mail to all registered households. 

4.  Send follow-up letters out 1 and 2 months after the campaign launch to parishioners who have yet to give.

  • Followup / Reminder letters are essential to all fundraising campaigns. 
  • Followup letters can be shorter than the initial letters.  They can serve as a simple reminder to the parishioners.
  • Personalization increases gifts and gift amounts in the followup letters too. 

5.  State the GA need and goal clearly and show visually how previous grand annuals have improved the parish.

  • Explain how important the grand annual is to the parish’s ability to fulfill its mission and continue its operations. 
  • State the goal for total dollars and participation (100% of parish families). 
  • If your offertory (+ rental income) covers the normal expenses, identify special projects for the GA campaign.
  • Always show pictures of what last year’s grand annual proceeds were able to accomplish for the parish.
  • Reinforce the need/goal in church, in the bulletin, in the solicitation letters, and in the thank you letters.

6.  Allow people to pledge and then make multiple payments.

  • This allows people to stretch their desired gift over a period of time, often resulting in higher overall gifts.

7.  Thank parishioners immediately and frequently for their grand annual gifts.

  • After receiving a gift, send personalized thank you notes quickly.  Great and quick thank yous show that the parish takes the campaign seriously, is professional, and is thankful. 
  • Regularly show appreciation as you begin the campaign (for last year’s gifts and their overall generosity), as they give (personalized), and after the give (each time you mention the results/progress).

8.  Employ the services of a third-party firm to execute the grand annual. 

  • This is a great return on your parish’s investment. 
  • They have experience of what works across many parishes.
  • They allow the easy personalization of the letters and the ask amounts (in the 2nd year of the campaign).
  • They can check the accuracy of all the mailing information quickly. 
  • They handle the work of the mailing, gift processing, reports, database updates, and followup letters.

9.  Communicate the parish’s overall goals/priorities and demonstrate aspiration for excellence.

  • People want to support “winning” organizations that will be around for a long time, so communicate the wins and improvements.  Show in everything you do that you “strive for excellence.”  People want to support those with high-standards and great results.  
  • With your lay leaders/parish councils, pick a few goals that focus on growing the parish. 
  • Investments in excellent faith formation for the children (religious ed, family mass, schools) generates wide support, typically.

10.  Reinforce the campaign with frequent in-church and bulletin mentions. 

  • Report both total contributions (dollars [$] contributed) and total participation (# of gifts) in each bulletin to highlight participation.  Participation goals are important. Reinforce that you hope EVERY parish family contributes in some way. 
  • If it’s appropriate for your parish, list alphabetically the names of the families contributing (without gift amounts) in your bulletin.
  • Reference the Grand Annual weekly in-church in some way, thanking people for their gifts and asking everyone to participate

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