Basic Steps to Enhance Parish Offertory Collections

By Terry Poplava

Recently I found cause for optimism about parish offertory collections.  In early August I attended a conference held by O’Meara, Ferguson, Whelan and Conway:  “Development, Financing and Catholic Education in a Turbulent Economy”. The conference focused on exercising good stewardship on the temporal resources of the church. 

In one breakout session on the topic of increased offertory programs, the diocesan attendees (a cross section from different parts of the United States and Puerto Rico) were asked about the impact of the economy on their diocesan Catholic Appeal campaigns and also on offertory contributions at parishes. Across the board with only one exception, the answer was that diocesan appeals are within 5% of their goals, and some are exceeding their goals.  Parish offertory has reduced only about 2% to 3%. I also visited the Diocese of Bridgeport in August.  Their parish contributions have increased over 2.5% in aggregate for their fiscal year ended June 2009. 

Stewardship is the message and the journey that their parishes teach.  The key to good stewardship results is good execution on the basics and regular planning to keep on track.

At Our Sunday Visitor we talk with thousands of parishes and dozens of dioceses every day.  With this input and through customer panels and our Stewardship events, we have observed that the following steps are done consistently to create vibrant communities and generous offertory.   

Step 1: Plan your communications regularly.  While we ideally attend Mass at our parish daily or at least weekly, the nature of our mobile society and the demands of work and family result in an average attendance rate somewhere in the range of about 50%.  This reality makes communication planning an important part of annual activities for parishes and dioceses.  There are many tools that exist in a parish.  Take the time at least annually to determine what the parish wants to achieve for the year and what messages or teaching the parish would like to reinforce for the parish or as part of a broader diocesan message.  With your goals and messages set, develop a plan to deliver and reinforce this information with parishioners.  People notice and respond to different forms of communication. Use the website, email, the bulletin, offering envelope design and inserts in the envelope packets, printed and mailed newsletters, and other mailings in concert with each other.  This approach increases the impact of parish teachings.

Step 2: Optimize your offering envelopes.  Offering envelopes have been used for over 95 years and continue to be a proven tool for offertory. Often the process runs so smoothly that the envelope is almost forgotten. When was the last time your parish actively discussed as a strategic part of offertory and church communications?  A parish often can boost giving with a focus on envelopes as a strategic tool and by making a few changes to the envelope program:

(a) Bring attention to the envelopes.  Talk about using them and reinforce their role as a part of offertory during Mass;

(b) Update the design to reflect a current message;

(c) Change from box sets to a periodic mailing program.  Envelope packets mailed to the parishioner household serve as a reminder to give.  It is also easy to fold and insert other items such as a letter from the pastor, a pledge card, or even a pamphlet into the envelope packet. Our Sunday Visitor has conducted several surveys comparing annual box sets to more frequent periodic mailing. Parish experience indicates that quarterly mailings increased revenue 12%, bi-monthly mailings increased revenue 16%, and monthly mailings increased revenue 18% over annual box sets.

(d) Provide a range of gift options on the envelope.

(e) Plan your inserts in the envelope packet as part of the overall parish communication plan. 

(f) Use mail back envelopes.

(g) Coordinate your envelope program with electronic offertory programs.

(h) Use a Special Mailing at Christmas and Easter. 

Step 3:  Offer Electronic Offertory.  Electronic Offertory provides parishioners another option to give.  The process of setting up gift amounts for regular offertory is, in effect, a pledge.  In his book Why Catholics Don’t Give and What Can Be Done About It, Chuck Zech suggests that electronic offertory is appropriate for Stewardship because it is a pledge.  Survey results also indicate that revenue may be increased where parishes offer electronic offertory.  Our Sunday Visitor survey results from over 500 parishes indicate 3% saw an increase of over 25%, 14% of respondents saw an increase of 10% or more in contributions, and another 47% saw an increase of at least 5 to 10%.

Step 4:  Thank Parishioners Regularly.  Thank parishioners for their participation in the parish and for their financial gifts.  Include specific mention of both envelopes and electronic giving to reinforce the use of the tools for offertory. 

Step 5:  Introduce an Annual Stewardship Commitment.  Stewardship should be taught and reinforced throughout the year in actions and communications.  In addition, an annual Stewardship commitment is an opportunity to help every parishioner recognize his or her strengths and gifts and to offer his or her time in prayer, talent in ministry, and treasure in financial gifts. 

Any of the steps in this list can help to enhance offertory.  By implementing all of them and focusing on the relationship of the parish with your parishioners, you can create a community with active participation and a sustainable, generous offertory.

Terry Poplava is Director of Marketing and Sales for Our Sunday Visitor, the leading offertory envelope provider to parishes in the United States.  OSV is also a major Catholic publisher and has recently launched an electronic giving program.  For more information, please visit www.OSVenvelopes.com.

This article originally appeared in a special “Parish Stewardship & Fundraising” section of The Pilot on September 18, 2009

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