There is a common misconception that a campaign ends once the solicitation or “asking” phase has concluded. The truth is, while your parish may no longer be actively soliciting parishioners, a campaign lasts as long as its pledges are being fulfilled. Before you go back to business as usual, be sure you know the three key strategies to maximizing pledge collection at your parish.
1. Evaluate Your Parish’s Strengths and Opportunities
A capital campaign is not a “one size fits all” endeavor. You will find that donors vary on how they prefer to make pledge payments and that standard methods for pledge redemption may not be best for your parish. Knowing your parish, its culture, and who your parishioners are will help you keep your donors engaged over a three to five-year period.
One example can be found at the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, one of the largest urban dioceses in the United States. During its $80 million Generations of Faith campaign, tailor-made strategies were essential for the campaign’s success, especially when it came to pledge redemption. Because this community is so diverse, with 30 different languages spoken, identifying parish strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities helped to address challenges for pledge collection early on so that all parishes could be successful in their collection efforts regardless of their donor base or neighborhood.
John Notaro, Director of Operations for the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens, emphasized the importance of the pledge redemption phase of the Generations of Faith campaign: “Creating a tailored pledge collection plan was truly the second chapter in our campaign efforts, and turned out to be equally as important as our active campaign phase.
After spending such a considerable amount of time and effort on our capital campaign, we knew that our pastors and parishes would benefit from an outreach plan that was built around their strengths, but also assistance and guidance along the way to ensure that they had proper support as the campaign moved into this new phase,” said John.
Narrowing your focus and tailoring your campaign outreach are important, but gaining a full understanding of the dynamics in your community comes first. For example, CCS has found that highly urban, multi-lingual parishes typically rely on cash payments to fulfill their pledges.
Therefore, the use of bi-lingual pledge collection envelopes can be used in-pew so that parishioners can make payments during Mass. Less urban, predominately English-speaking parishes may find that their parishioners most often utilize online payment methods in their respective households.
An automatic or online payment focus tends to be more successful in these parishes. While the number of families giving online to religion continues to increase, great potential remains to migrate more donors away from traditional methods. If you find your parish may be a little bit of both, try a hybrid approach that focuses on promoting in-pew payment collections as well as an electronic payment option.
Regardless of the type of parish you’re in, your parishioners will certainly appreciate convenient options for pledge payments that make the most sense for them.
2. Segment Your Donors
Just as all parishes are not the same, neither are your campaign donors. Your next step will be to determine how to keep your donors engaged over a multi-year redemption period. You will find that once pledge collection is underway, your donors will fall into several different categories:
Late Payment or Delinquent Donors
Once a donor has not made a payment in over 90 days, they are considered “delinquent.” While there are many justifiable reasons as to why a parishioner may stop paying their pledge, it is essential that the parish put a system in place for pledge payment reminders before the redemption phase of the campaign even begins.
Reminders can be done in a variety of ways. A phone call or face-to-face conversation between the pastor and the parishioner is the most effective way to address an unpaid pledge. A general rule of thumb is that delinquent pledges above $10,000 warrant a personal phone call or conversation from the pastor as your campaign’s success relies on the participation of your major donors.
If you find that the number of late pledge payments is growing, write a templated reminder letter or email and have your staff reach out to delinquent donors in a more systematized way. If your parish has limited staff, consider re-engaging your Campaign Executive Committee and ask them to assist with making phone calls or mailing out reminder letters.
Don’t forget to keep your regularly-paying donors engaged as well, especially if your campaign is long term. Data shows us that the most engaged your donors will be is in year one. On average, 35 percent of total pledges are collected in year one, 25 percent in year two, 20 percent in year three, 15 percent in year four, and so on. It is important that you combat this pledge payment lull and keep your parishioners engaged from the beginning and throughout the campaign. Put an announcement in the bulletin on a weekly basis thanking your parishioners for their support and updating them on total funds collected to date. Mail a thoughtful thank you letter to your donors each Thanksgiving or Christmas, letting them know how grateful you are for their support. These are easy steps you can do to maximize pledge collection that will have a lasting impact.
Paid-In-Full or One-Time Gifts
Just like your regularly-paying donors, don’t neglect the donors who have their pledges paid-in-full or who may have given a one-time gift to the campaign. A common best practice is to send out a thank you letter immediately upon a donor’s fulfillment of his or her pledge. You also might want to reach out to this constituency one year later, asking them to consider making another gift to the campaign. This will not only have a positive impact on your parish’s stewardship, but will also offset unredeemed pledges.
3. Highlight Your Successes
The most effective way to guarantee a paid pledge is to show your parishioners the fruits of the campaign. Share project updates with your campaign donors every step of the way and celebrate milestones in your pledge redemption. This motivates donors to continue working towards fulfilling their pledge with enthusiasm.
Be strategic with your campaign marketing and announce successes when you can give them evidence of the impact their gift is having. Take photos of scaffolding or construction taking place and include them in a parish newsletter. Get creative in promoting the campaign’s progress as it will carry donors through the redemption phase with the confidence that their pledge payments are making an impact within their parish community.
Remember that Catholics are most motivated by the impact that the gift will have, as well as a sense of moral obligation. Authentic donor engagement and continuous campaign promotion will not only instill confidence in your donors that their pledge is helping to further your parish mission, but will also be a source of pride for your entire community.
About the Author(s)
Margie O’Connor brings several years of professional counsel in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to CCS. She specializes in nonprofit management, grantmaking, case statement development, capital campaign direction, and pledge fulfillment in the religious and healthcare sectors. She is a graduate of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and received a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management from George Mason University in Arlington, VA. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.