Dear Fellow Catholic,
I would like to share with you my experience in fundraising. I may not have fresh ideas that you haven’t come across before, but I think it may be helpful to hear a priest’s experience on the matter. Also, we can all learn from each other because that’s what being Church is all about.
I’m currently a parish priest in Ireland. When I arrived at the church two years ago, we were ‘in the red’ and finances were certainly not in great shape. A lot of time and effort went into discovering how the parish had reached this stage and what could be done to reverse the trend. The church had run at an annual operating loss for a consecutive 17 years.
By making some minor changes, we turned around our parish financial situation, and, in a short amount of time, we have even succeeded in completing various capital projects to restore buildings. People may find it interesting to hear how I, with my parishioners and volunteers, achieved these results.
Step 1 – I didn’t ask anyone for more money
When appointed to the parish, I was advised to ask the parishioners at Mass to contribute more. I decided to not do so for two reasons. Firstly, I believe that people already give what they can. They don’t have as much extra money as we think they do. Plus, I think that it looks bad to keep asking for more.
Secondly, putting myself in their position, I asked the bigger question, “why would I contribute more if I had the sense that nothing more was being done?” So I decided not to ask.
Step 2 – Remove the non-essentials
Instead, my immediate focus was to use more efficiently what parishioners were already giving. I took a hard look at the finances, staffing hours, expenditure, and I saw a lot of waste. We were paying for things that we didn’t need, and some things were costing us more than they should have. Liaising with the finance committee, I made the tough decision to reduce staffing costs and cut out non-essential spending.
Within a short time span, we increased the amount of available cash. With the extra funds, I made visual improvements like re-painting worn areas, allowing people to experience how their current donations renewed their church. They were inspired and pleased with the changes. Things were happening, and no fundraising had even happened.
Step 3 – I encouraged parishioners with the little things
As we entered the Advent season, I decided that my parishioners could experience the benefits of the extra cash in another visual way. I bought decorations and a new tree to replace the coat-hanger that they had been using for 20 years.
Again, parishioners greatly appreciated these changes, seeing how they were renewing the life of the church without having to give anything extra. They felt as if they were receiving back.
Step 4 – I gave regular updates on how things were going
Almost every week, I gave parishioners an update on what work had been done and how much it cost. By doing so, they felt included in the decisions and could see that I was running a transparent operation. Also, I spoke about the finances at each Mass one weekend, explicitly stating that I was not asking them to contribute more.
Instead, my key message was how changes had been made to ensure every penny they donated was used honestly and utilised for the upkeep of their parish. I mentioned that I had stopped using some of our traditional suppliers and had searched for competitive rates for everything the parish purchases. I also explained that I buy most things online to achieve the best deal. Ah, the joys of the internet!
As a result, in one year, the weekly collection increased by 30%. If you include the reduced expenditure on non-essentials, you will notice how even bigger the transformation was at the parish.
“How did this happen”, you ask. I think this is because I have been wise with what parishioners already give me and visibly show them how their money is already transforming the parish. My parishioners have appreciated my approach to giving. By not asking for money and seeing the changes themselves, they were inspired to give more because they knew more would be achieved with additional money.
People say that the church constantly asks them for money. Add all the planned giving drives and special collections, this observation appears to be true. There quite quickly can be one appeal after another on Sundays.
I’ve rarely done this with my parish, and this I think has been the reason for my success in fundraising. By stewarding my parishioners’ donations, rather than continually asking them for money, they have increased their stewardship to their parish. And together, we have been able to turn around the finances without the parish being accused of having an obsession with money.
In conclusion, when it comes to parish fundraising and stewardship, I think there are four essentials to remember:
1. Limit (or eradicate) non-essential spending so that people can see you’re making every effort to use their money more efficiently. People contribute if they feel their donations are being spent wisely.
2. Focus on using contributions in ways that mark visible progress, even if it’s something simple like new Christmas decorations or vestments.
3. Being transparent seems evident but is also vital, especially these days. If people feel included in the decision-making process, they will be more inclined to be generous. Rather than ask for donations, ask parishioners for their opinions. You will benefit from their ideas and experience. Also, keep them informed of all that is happening on a regular and frequent basis.
4. Remember that you are responsible for stewarding the resources of the parish which belong to the people. Often those who contribute are not wealthy and are already making a sacrifice to donate. Those who administer the parish resources, therefore, have an incredible responsibility to ensure that the money is used honestly and efficiently for the good of everyone.
I hope you have found my experience helpful.
Fr George Mahon is a pseudonym. This article first appeared on CatholicFundraiser.net, a free global community of Catholic fundraisers sharing their knowledge and skills