Campaigns Are Different Today – Embrace These Changes at Your Parish

September 18, 2009

Capital Campaigns, The Pilot

By Brian Nevins

Over the course of the last year, the thought of a campaign at the parish level has likely been met with fear and anxiety among parishioners, finance councils and pastors.  A depressed economy, an uncertain economic outlook, and rising unemployment have given many parishes a reason to put needed campaigns on hold.  However, one only need look at the recent results about philanthropy in the USA, released earlier this year, to find reasons to be encouraged.  Americans are still a generous people and of all the philanthropy provided last year (in excess of $300 billion) only giving to religion increased.  Gifts to hospitals, schools, advocacy groups or environmental concerns all suffered, but giving to faith based entities increased.  While true anytime, if a parish has a case for support that is compelling, urgent and exhibits a resolve to address its need, it should consider proceeding with a formal campaign to address them.

It is important to recognize that campaigns today, however, are different than they were just a year or two ago and the informed parish applies this new knowledge to the design of its own effort.

The best run campaigns at the parish level still require a strong case for support, leadership demonstrated by parishioners and the parish staff, and a plan that addresses the new realities of campaigning.  When well conducted, parish campaigns, as has always been the case, can raise 3-4 times the annual offertory or more during the focused effort.  CCS is currently working with parishes throughout New England (outside of Worcester, Massachusetts, in Providence, Rhode Island and Portland, Maine) that are raising 2-4 times their offertory for various case elements including debt reduction, facility renovations, even as part of a larger diocesan effort.

So, what have these parishes recognized that is different about campaigning, and how are they proceeding with their own efforts?  There are several major realities about campaigns today: campaigns are taking longer; more parishioners are making one time pledges and pledge periods are being extended; and fewer volunteers are assuming a greater portion of the work in these campaigns.

Campaigns are taking longer Not long ago it was fairly easy to establish a campaign timeline based on the number of families and suggested goals.  In a parish with 1,000 registered families almost certainly there would be a three month campaign that would be implemented.  Today, the same parish might have a campaign that is 16-20 weeks in duration with a longer and more extended “quiet phase” during which early commitments are received and momentum is generated at the parish.  Communication about the campaign has always been critical, but is more so now during these times.  Planning accordingly is important to manage the expectations of volunteers and address your own needs that will be addressed via the campaign.

One time gifts are increasing and pledge periods are being extended Particularly in the last year, there has been an increase of the number of one-time gifts being provided to the parish campaign for a number of reasons, not the least of which is economic uncertainty.  Many parishioners are agreeing to make a gift and re-visit annually the idea of making another gift.  This requires that parishes build their own particular “style or system” to re-engage the parishioner twelve months later.  If five years ago, 10% of the gifts were one-time donations, this year it is more likely 20%-25% are not ready to make a multi-year pledge.  Additionally, many families are extending pledge periods for five years (versus three years).  This allows the parishioner an opportunity to make a pledge that he or she would want to make, but would not be comfortable or have the ability to fulfill over three years.  Here again, this reality is important to recognize, as the cash flow at the parish level is impacted, and efforts to truly “campaign” continues in subsequent years with reminding the one time donors to consider a subsequent gift.

Fewer volunteers are doing more – As is no surprise at the parish setting, there are precious few volunteers available to be engaged for any ministry.  Rather than of thinking of campaign volunteers, parishes would be well-served to think of campaign recruits.  That being said, there is a finite number of such parishioners available for a campaign that can provide the necessary dedication.  Whatever methodology is employed for your parish campaign (receptions, one-on-one visits, pulpit announcements or a combination of all) it is more critical than ever that the precious volunteer corps that is available is well trained and well supported over the course of the efforts.  Segmenting campaign volunteers/recruits to work on a particular aspect of a program will more likely guarantee success and result in happy volunteers.

While these are some of the changes our firm is seeing, it would be fair to state that there are many similarities between campaigns today and just a few years ago: a strong case is almost always well received; committed leadership helps motivate others; engaging active parishioners in a methodical manner makes sense; and a commitment to action prevails.  CCS is encouraged to see parishes today are indeed launching and completing successful campaigns.  Those parishes that continue to apply what is being learned by those that go before them, and do not stick with an outdated plan will likely meet with success.

Brian Nevins is a Senior Vice President and Managing Director of CCS, one of the leading Catholic fundraising firms in the United States.  For more information, please visit

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

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