Best Ways to Support the Parish’s Offertory

By Scot Landry

Given the advance in electronic giving and other forms of Church support, parish families are frequently asking “What’s the best way to support my parish’s offertory collection?”

It is important to state up front that pastors and parish staff are grateful for all parish contributions, regardless of the method parishioners choose for support.  But all support methods are not created equal, and some are better than others.  The options below vary on convenience, cost, processing time, transaction recording time, and tax receipt quality. 

Most parishes with multiple forms of offertory support would rank the options in the following order (#1 is best):

1. Participation in the Parish’s Electronic Giving Program – Electronic gifts are the most convenient for the parish to process and the most reliable for budgeting purposes.  Typically, families enrolled in the parish electronic giving program make an annual pledge that is paid on a monthly basis.  This amount is then budgeted by the parish and becomes the foundation of the parish revenue; it is much more consistent than other forms of offertory support.  From a parish labor standpoint, electronic gifts save time previously dedicated to the manual counting and documentation of cash and loose checks, while also providing far better accounting controls.  For parishioners, electronic giving is extremely convenient.  Charges are placed monthly on a family credit card or debited from a bank account.  Parishioners receive automatic receipts for their tax filings and the knowledge that the parish is benefiting from the regularity of their contributions each month.  Electronic giving providers solve the biggest hesitation many parishioners have in signing up for electronic giving – what to place into the collection basket each week if they are no longer using envelopes – by providing “I support the parish with a monthly electronic gift” cards or prayer forms to be placed into the basket instead.

2. Monthly e-check from your bank – In today’s world, many parishioners have numerous recurring monthly transactions, such as car and mortgage payments.  For families with these commitments, mailing a monthly e-check to the parish office can be the most natural and convenient manner by which they can support the parish. For most families, this option is free (not even the cost of a stamp) and easier on their Sunday morning schedule than trying to remember to hand-write a check and to find the offertory envelopes.  This option also provides automatic receipts, fewer transactions to record for parishioners and parishes, and many processing benefits.  Parishioners can place in the collection basket an “I support the parish with a monthly electronic gift” card or prayer form in lieu of a weekly offertory envelope.  To implement this, parishes need only to promote it as an option in their bulletins, newsletters and annual reports.

3. Monthly check in parish offertory envelopes – Many parishioners make an annual pledge to the parish after reflecting on their other significant expenses.  When this is done, it’s typically easier for the family to contribute in 12 monthly installments than in 52 weekly installments.  Today, most families pay their significant bills monthly instead of weekly, as was the case a couple of generations ago.  Encourage parishioners who decide to write a monthly check to utilize their envelopes to allow for easier processing in the parish office.  Cancelled checks are great when it comes to filing your taxes.  From a parish’s perspective, there is usually far less fluctuation in contributions from people who contribute monthly versus weekly, making this offertory technique more consistent and reliable than the weekly collection.

4. Weekly check in parish offertory envelopes – This is still the most frequently chosen option for offertory support.  Checks provide natural receipts, and the combination of a check in an envelope makes it easy for the parish office to process.  The negatives from a parish’s perspective are that gifts are processed 52 weeks per year (vs. 12 months) and total contributions can fluctuate significantly from week to week.  Since most families now pay their significant bills monthly, it makes sense that parish offertory migrate to this frequency.  Considering that many parishioners will continue to utilize this form of offertory support in the near future, please remind parishioners to mail their weekly envelopes if they are unable to attend Mass on particular weekends, helping your parish to experience greater consistency in contributions.

5. Cash in parish offertory envelopes – Cash is less preferable to checks, but when it is contributed in an offertory envelope, it allows parish staff to attribute the gift to the proper parish family.  From an accounting control standpoint, many parishes need to employ more staff or volunteers to ensure proper control and stewardship of contributed funds.  Try to stress that that, if checks are an option for a family, it’s usually better for the parish and the parishioner (for their tax filings) to use them over cash, but if parishioners do choose to put cash in their offertory envelopes, encourage them to mail their weekly envelopes if they are unable to attend Mass on particular weekends to allow the parish to experience greater consistency in contributions.

6. Loose Cash – Research on stewardship suggests that your parish will experience many benefits if more parishioners choose one of the new forms of offertory contributions.  We encourage you to continue encouraging more parishioners to give monthly and/or electronic gifts a try.  Explain to them that they would be joining the thousands of parish families that are already supporting our parishes in this way.

Scot Landry is Secretary for Institutional Advancement at the Archdiocese of Boston.  Many of his writings on stewardship and parish fundraising are published on www.ParishFundraisingBlog.com.

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

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