Utilizing Bulletins to Grow Parishioner Contributions

By Tom Gull

Parish staff and bulletin editors might wonder if people actually read the weekly church bulletin from front to back. People call the parish office frequently asking questions about meetings or liturgy schedules that had been printed in the bulletin. But seasoned bulletin editors know that bulletins are well read because on that rare occasion a mistake is made, someone will be quick to point it out to the parish staff.

The weekly bulletin is the most important printed source of information for parish members. It is filled with vital information necessary to the ministry of the parish and archdiocese. The bulletin includes news of the parish such as notices for important meetings, weekly reports, the pastor’s letter, and listings of such things as ministry schedules and of course, the Sunday collection.

Belonging to a parish has its benefits and obligations. As Christian Stewards, we believe that because God has given us so much it is important that we share our gifts with other and the Church. One of the ways we do this is with our financial support. As parish staff, we need to provide regular reports to our parish members. One of the ways we do this is by the weekly reporting of the Sunday offering. This report makes us accountable to our contributors. They have entrusted the parish to spend the money judiciously for the needs of the church. It also creates a benchmark for the contributors.  

Many parishes simply list the amount given the previous week. Without including what the weekly budget is for the Sunday collection, parish members do not know if their gifts are sufficient to maintain the ministries of their parish.  Many parishes include the year-to-date information for the actual collection and the budgeted goal. This approach gives a clearer picture over a longer term than just what happened last week. This method is preferred because parish members don’t all contribute on a consistent basis. Some give weekly, some make a monthly gift, while others contribute only when they are at Mass. The report should also include the year-to-date surplus or year-to-date deficit. Do not be hesitant to show a surplus as people like to give to success! If the year-to-date shows a deficit include that as it gives people something to work towards eliminating.

As part of the offering report, many parishes also report the number of envelopes used each Sunday. This data is often misinterpreted as again it is a snapshot of just one week. Many parishes report higher collections on the first Sunday of each month as people who make monthly donations tend to make the contribution on the first Sunday. Their monthly envelopes are counted with those who give weekly. In the remaining weeks, the number of donor envelopes can drop significantly. Those who haven’t studied parish finances might not understand why the number of envelopes used can shift significantly from week to week. The annual financial report of the parish would be a better place to report on the number of financially participating families. Again, this gives an overall look instead of just one Sunday at a time.

Parishes also may opt to receive donations as electronic funds transfers. These contributions also may be made weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly. It is important to report these contributions with the “in basket” gifts. Many parishes list these contributions as “electronic gifts” as another way to remind parish members of that option for sharing their treasure.

Parishes may also include a monthly contribution detail. This report would list various contribution levels and the percentage of contributors that gave at each level. Once again, because some members give weekly and others monthly, you could use the first Sunday of each month to report on the average week from the prior month. Each parish will need to evaluate which levels are appropriate to use. The report might look something like this:

TOTAL SEPTEMBER GIVING: $68,380

Average Weekly Donation

Percentage of Contributors

Up to $10

12%

$10-$19

23%

$20-$29

43%

$30-$40

10%

$40-$49

7%

$50+

5%

 

A report such as this can be a real eye opener for many parish members. Only recently have Catholics begun to learn about stewardship. While our Protestant friends understood the Biblical practice of tithing (giving back 10%), it is a relatively new idea for many Catholics. Using this type of report, you can encourage donors to move up a level. We can also encourage our members to pray about their support of the parish and evaluate if they are making a just return to the Lord.

Lastly, parishes also have collections on holy days, for parish groups such as St. Vincent DePaul societies, and Archdiocesan  and National needs. It is important to reports these activities as well. It is important for parish members to see the support for ministries outside of our communities. Above all, be transparent in your financial reporting. Our parishioners expect and deserve nothing less.

Tom Gull, author of The Complete Parish: A Recipe for Success and Stewardship Stew, a monthly stewardship newsletter, is the National Sales Consultant for the J. S. Paluch Company, a major provider of parish bulletins and electronic giving services. For more information, please visit www.jspaluch.com.

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

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