The Parish Offertory: 10 Ways to Improve Giving in Your Parish

By John Cunneen

It is in times of financial distress that churches need more, not less, of our help as dedicated parishioners. This is because the material, emotional and spiritual support they provide us all is needed all the more. I would humbly suggest that we think less about the economy’s impact on our trips to the mall and perhaps a bit more about how fewer trips to the mall might enable us to discover a better use for our dollars. I promise to do such thinking myself! We’ve all heard the adage about lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. It might also benefit us to reflect upon Saint Paul’s admonition in his letter to the Galatians (6:2-3): “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, deceives himself.”

The good news is that despite the difficult economy, offertory giving has only slipped a few percentage points in most Catholic parishes.  The bad news is that parishes can ill afford even a slight drop, as expenses continue to increase-facilities age and require repair, and the Church continues to face increasing demands of ministry in the 21st century. 

Fortunately, we can exercise a theological virtue here – HOPE.  There are tangible steps that each Catholic parish can take today to plug the slow leak in the weekly stream of revenue, and perhaps even enhance the flow.

(1) Discuss the Christian Principles of Stewardship – Often in Catholic parishes giving money is treated as (at best) a necessary evil; something to be ignored until a major physical need demands attention. This misperception can be effectively evangelized by sharing the solid Biblical principles that should undergird each parishioner’s giving decisions. These principles can be broadly summarized in two components: (a) Giving in proportion to our blessings; and (b) Giving from our substance not our excess.  Many pastors have effectively blended these principles into homilies.

(2) Have an Annual Conversation about Giving – You should be having, at least, one full conversation about giving with your parishioners every year.  This conversation should include pulpit remarks and handouts.  Well-informed parishioners feel a greater sense of ownership in their parish’s financial situation and are more pro-active in their giving.

(3) Challenge Parishioners to be Intentional in Their Giving – Without discussing specific levels of regular support, ask all supporters to be “intentional” in their giving – to give of their “first fruits.”  By reflecting on stewardship and making a plan instead of simply reacting to the passing of the collection basket, parishioners will enhance their stewardship experience and feel a greater sense of belonging.

(4) Introduce and Promote Electronic Giving – Every parish in America will have an electronic giving option within three to five years.  Envelopes are an integral component of parish collections but they are no longer sufficient. As a parish, you must meet people where they are ¾ not where they were. Many parishioners want to give monthly, via their credit card, or directly from their checking account. An astutely designed electronic giving program will enable parishes to receive the necessary level of support regularly.  Absences from Mass, whether they be to visit friends or take vacations, will no longer impact the parish collections as dramatically, and parishioners will be able to access their giving plans online, allowing them to adjust as necessary.

(5) Provide a Monthly Contribution Option – Many parish members do not always attend Mass in their own church.  Some worship elsewhere and some stay home. By offering a monthly contribution option, a parish can capture (by mail or online) a significant level of support that would otherwise be lost without an appropriate mechanism to collect it.

(6) Adjust Your Envelopes – Believe it or not, some parishes still have $1 and $2 options printed on their envelopes! This is likely because no changes have been made since families were grouped around the TV watching the astronauts step on the moon in 1969. Printed options are powerful suggestions, so consider beginning at $10 or $15 per week on your envelopes, or $40 for a monthly option. Folks who cannot afford these levels can still easily give less – after all, it is much easier to fall than it is to jump!

(7) Chart Your Progress – Let’s say a parish collection has been running at a level below where it needs to be on a weekly or monthly basis to survive and prosper.  One way to focus attention on this is to create a couple of charts that can be placed at the doors of the church. After you announce that your challenge is to bump your collection from $12,000 per week to $15,000 by the time Thanksgiving comes around, you can simply show the increases each week, allowing parishioners to become excited as you approach the goal. Visual images are important and can serve as powerful motivators.

(8) Conduct an Annual Time and Talent Initiative – Many folks in the pew are unaware of just how much the parish can use their talents and enthusiasm. Sharing the needs and asking for help is a solid method of capturing energy for productive activities. A parishioner who feels needed will in turn feel a stronger need to give.

(9) Embrace the Technology! Email, blogging and networking systems such as FaceBook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are here to stay. Explore ways to connect with more people and you will open fresh avenues for potential support.

(10) Conduct a Professional Offertory Enhancement Program – Conduct a program comprised of pulpit talks and multiple mailings every two to three years.

John Cunneen is President of Cunneen Fundraising, an approved professional fundraising firm in the Archdiocese of Boston.  For more information, please visit www.CunneenFundraising.com.

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

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