What’s the best way to contribute to my parish in 2010?

December 11, 2009

Best Practices, The Pilot

by Scot Landry

As parishioners, we know that our pastors and parishes are grateful for our financial support. However, some support methods are better than others from the parish’s and the parishioner’s perspectives. The options below vary on convenience, cost, processing time, transaction recording time, and tax receipt quality. As we close 2009 and prepare for 2010, it is a good time for families across the archdiocese to consider how best to support their parishes next year.

Just last week, my wife and I made the decision to begin using an automatic check from our bank’s online bill paying system instead of the traditional offertory envelopes. We agreed with the parish business manager on the best day for the check to arrive and programmed the system appropriately. Now we are all set for the year.

I encourage you to consider one of the following new methods of support or simply an option higher on the list. Overall, in terms of the benefits to parishes and parishioners, I’d rank the types of offertory support in this way (#1 is best):

1. Monthly or weekly e-check from your bank — In today’s world, parishioners have numerous recurring monthly transactions, such as car and mortgage payments, and many use a bank’s online bill payment system instead of a checkbook to satisfy these obligations. Typically the system is entirely free for the family, including the checks and mailing costs. For families that utilize these systems, mailing a monthly e-check to the parish office can be the most natural and convenient manner by which they can support the parish. It can also be easier on a family’s Sunday morning routine to not have to worry about finding the offertory envelopes or the checkbook! 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.

2. Participation in the Parish’s Electronic Giving Program — Electronic gifts made through a system like ParishPay or Our Sunday Visitor are the most convenient gifts 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.

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. Parishes can 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 weekly gifts are processed 52 times per year (vs. 12 for monthly gifts) 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, parishes should remind parishioners to mail their weekly envelopes if they are unable to attend Mass on particular weekends, helping the 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 cash or checks versus online gifts. Parishes can stress 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 in their offertory envelopes.

6. Loose Cash — As a last resort, parishes welcome loose cash in the collection basket. But this is typically not a form of contributions that parishes budget and forecast as confidently as the other forms of offertory support. If parishioners are choosing this approach because they want their contributions to be anonymous, parishes should encourage them to use the “anonymous” option in the electronic giving programs.

Research on stewardship suggests that parishes and parishioners will experience many benefits if more families choose an electronic form of offertory contributions. We encourage parishes to continue encouraging more families to give monthly and/or electronic gifts a try and to join 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.

This article appeared in The Pilot on December 11, 2009.

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