Ten Successful Practices for Parish Grand Annuals

September 18, 2009

Best Practices, Grand Annuals, The Pilot

By Tim Regele

Grand Annuals are critical to the funding of the mission of a majority of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston. 

This summer, Scot Landry and I had the privilege of speaking with nine pastors of parishes with the largest and/or fastest growing grand annuals in the Archdiocese.  It was interesting to learn that there are many different approaches to Grand Annual “success.”  Although each parish is unique and differs in its approach in some ways, there are commonalities as well; most notable is that successful Grand Annuals are run as “campaigns” instead of “collections” and involve a letter to all registered households following the release of a parish annual report.

These pastor interviews suggest ten tactics that have been shown to enhance parishes’ Grand Annual campaigns.  Many of these strategies serve not only to enhance Grand Annual “success” but also to strengthen parish life as a whole. 

To bring the tactics to life and to provide practical testament of their effectiveness, we have included quotes from our Pastor interviews.  In order to achieve a thriving Grand Annual, a parish must do more than become an effective fundraiser; it must also grow and enliven the spirituality and commitment of its faithful.

(1) Send a personalized letter to all families.  Hand-signed letters, with a brief note, increase success in the Grand Annual and improve the connection parishioners feel with the parish.  Include a pledge card, return envelope, and a budget (or reference to the annual report).  Every pastor we interviewed implemented this practice and noted the letters as being essential to their success. Father Jim Ronan, pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown, states that an “initiative that contributed to our growth in our Grand Annual was the increased personalization of the letters.  Last year I began hand-signing each letter and including personal notes.” 

(2) Personalize the requested gift amount based on parishioners’ previous support.  As with the letters, personalization of pledge cards increases success.  On the pledge cards, state what the family gave in previous years and ask them to prayerfully consider an increase.  If you think a “general norm” is more appropriate for your parish, ensure the ask amount is on the high-end of what parishioners consider appropriate, noting that “some can do more; others can afford less; please give according to your means/situation”.  Father Frank Silva, pastor of Corpus Christi–St. Bernard Parish in Newton, observes that “personalized pledge cards help to increase gift amounts, as they state the previous year’s gift and suggest small increased [gift] amounts to each family.  I think that this is received as a much more personal approach and is thus more effective…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.”

(3) Publish an annual report about one month prior to the grand annual.  Annual reports build new bonds of trust from enhanced transparency and accountability.  Go beyond the finances, detailing parish ministries and tying the report to the upcoming grand annual.  Mail the report to all registered households or make it available in the church/bulletin. Father Richard Messina, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Winchester shares that “the financial report is important [to the success of the grand annual].  Our report goes beyond just listing the parish finances, as we provide descriptions of ministries and various parish activities also.”

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

Follow-up or reminder letters are essential to all fundraising campaigns.  Be sure to personalize these follow-up letters too, maintaining a close connection to parishioners.  Father Frank Silva, pastor of Corpus Christi–St. Bernard Parish in Newton, notes that “usually about a month after the first letter goes out, Letter Concepts sends out a follow-up letter on our behalf.  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.”

(5) State the GA need and goal clearly and show visually how previous grand annuals have improved the parish. Parishioners must be informed of how important the grand annual is to the parish’s ability to fulfill its mission and continue its services.  Reinforce the need/goal in church, in the bulletin, in the solicitation letters, and in the thank you letters.  State the goal for total dollars and participation (100% of parish families).  Images are very effective in showing what previous grand annual proceeds were able to accomplish for the parish.  Father Richard Fitzgerald, pastor of St. Paul Parish in Wellesley explains that it is important to “justify the need.  There are always needs, but you must to give your parishioners sufficient info to justify the need as something they want to support.  Mention real needs/projects that will have to get done this year.”

(6) Allow parishioners to pledge and then make multiple payments. When people are given the option to stretch their desired gift over a period of time, they are often able and encouraged to give more. Father Michael Lawlor, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Needham recommends: “providing parishioners the option to make multiple payments toward their Grand Annual pledge.  Every parish is different, but at my previous parish in Lynnfield, instituting the option of multiple (i.e. three) payments significantly increased our Grand Annual.”

(7) Thank parishioners immediately and frequently for their grand annual gifts.  Everyone likes to feel appreciated.  After receiving a gift, send personalized thank you notes quickly.  This shows that the parish takes the campaign seriously, is professional, and is thankful.  Remember to continually express appreciation – in spoken and written word – throughout the entire campaign. Father Michael Steele, pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Marblehead comments: “we thank people right away, sending out the thank you note immediately.  I hand sign these thank you letters.  Parishioners appreciate the quick thank you.  If parishioners pledge and give more than one gift, they will get a thank you card each time.”

(8) Employ the services of a third-party firm to execute the grand annual.  Invest in success.  Employing third-party firms provides a great return on your parish’s investment.  In addition to providing invaluable experience and knowledge, these firms take the burden off of parish staff, handling the work of the mailing, gift processing, reporting, database updating, and follow-up letters.  Father Michael Guarino, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Revere remarks:  “We use Letter Concepts for our Grand Annual.  We’ve greatly increased the amount we raise in our Grand Annual for a relatively small fee.  [With Letter Concepts working with us] we don’t have to do much…I would absolutely recommend that pastors get in touch with one of the parish fundraising companies.  They know how to help a parish increase its Grand Annual and offertory.”

(9) Communicate the parish’s overall goals/priorities and demonstrate aspiration for excellence. Success breeds success.  People want to support thriving organizations with high standards and great results.  Communicate a few goals that focus on growing the parish and emphasize parish successes.  Investments in spirituality and faith formation – religious education, family liturgies, schools, etc. – typically generate increased support.  Father George Evans, pastor of St. Julia Parish in Weston states that “we work really hard on issues of pastoral life and put a lot of effort into providing spiritual nourishment to our parishioners.  I trust that they appreciate that we do a lot in our parish.  Our activity helps them to respond generously when we make appeals.”

(10) Reinforce the campaign with frequent in-church and bulletin mentions.  Reference the Grand Annual weekly in-church in some way, thanking people for their gifts and encouraging total participation.  Report both total dollars contributed and total number of gifts received in each bulletin and reinforce that you hope EVERY parish family contributes in some way.  Father James Rafferty, pastor of St. Paul Parish in Hingham explains that “a couple of days following the mailing, a member of our parish finance council gives a prepared talk about the Grand Annual at all masses.  I also mention the Grand Annual in my preaching, but always keep it gospel-based.  Similarly, a number of times each fall, I mention the Grand Annual in my pastoral letter in the bulletin.  Every week there is an announcement in the bulletin on how much we have raised to date.”

To read transcripts of these pastor interviews and to view additional resources to help your grand annual, I encourage you to visit www.ParishFundraisingBlog.com or to call us in The Catholic Foundation. 

Tim Regele is Operations Associate for The Catholic Foundation.  He is a frequent contributor to ParishFundraisingBlog.com. 

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

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