Taking on a parish campaign of any size requires careful planning. Campaigns rarely fail in the middle or at the end. Success typically hinges on proper preparation prior to launching a major fundraising initiative. With increased competition for the philanthropic dollar, it is important that a parish undergoes necessary planning steps before proceeding. Consider the following five things before moving forward.

1) Assessing the Accuracy of Parishioner Information

Knowing how to communicate with your parishioners is essential to a successful campaign. Before taking any steps forward with your campaign plan or case for support, it is absolutely essential to know the accuracy of your parishioner records. Having a reliable database can be the difference maker in ensuring your campaign hits its target, and can help ensure certainty that you are prioritizing your outreach.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many parishioner email addresses and phone numbers do we currently have?
  • Do we have reliable and consistent parishioner giving information?
  • When was the last time our parish conducted a census?

It doesn’t take very long for a donor database to need refreshing. Consider allocating staff time and resources to obtaining the latest contact information. Once you have ensured that your database is dependable, you can move into the next phase of campaign planning with confidence.

2) Activating Your Advocates: Volunteers

Your existing parish leaders will most likely champion your cause at every turn. However, it is important to look at volunteers at all levels. Volunteers can be your strongest supporters on the ground level, and the proper organization of their roles can make or break a campaign. One common denominator of successful parish campaigns is that there is a strong volunteer infrastructure in place that includes every aspect of an existing ministry. This includes lectors, CCD teachers, members of the finance and parish councils, Eucharistic ministers, and choir members. Existing ministry members are usually some of the most active, supportive, and passionate members of your parish community.

Prior to your campaign, create a list of all ministry groups and their members, including contact information, and categorize them into groups, each of which have specific action items and plans. It is also important to make sure to consider all volunteers—even those on the periphery— into this plan. Convene volunteers early and often through gatherings, such as a ministry breakfast, to communicate next steps and maintain momentum before the campaign begins. During this process, it will become clear who your biggest volunteer leaders are as they will be the ones who step up and take ownership of their responsibilities.

3) Honing Your Case for Support

Having clear and well-thought out messaging is paramount to any successful parish campaign. While overarching aspirations and grand visions are essential for inspiring support of your campaign, it is also important to focus on specifics. The campaign plan, which includes all internal steps as well as external goals, should be carefully thought through before embarking on the creation of your case for support. During successful campaigns, every detail has been considered. For example:

  • How much will every aspect of your case cost?
  • Is the parish set up to acknowledge and process a large volume of gifts over a multi-year period?
  • If your case calls for mostly capital needs, what is the precise construction timeline?

The best case for support is air-tight and thorough. It allows you to have answers to any questions that parishioners may throw your way, and shows that you have carefully thought through every corner of the campaign.

Begin with the tangible goals you hope to accomplish through your campaign. What are the areas that need financial support? If you can produce a detailed list of items, costs, and projected timelines, you are one step closer to creating a robust case.

4) Solidifying Approvals

Involving your arch/diocese before you begin work on your campaign is essential. Every arch/diocese has a different campaign approval process. It is worthwhile to consider all steps needed to gain approval—including paperwork and a cost breakdown—so you can formally enter into a campaign with full support from your church hierarchy. This is also a great opportunity to test how your newly-created case for support resonates with audiences. If your arch/diocese has questions or is uncertain about any aspect of your case, the chances are your parishioners may have similar concerns. Carefully consider all feedback and incorporate it into your final case for support.

5) Improving Your Online Communications

Your digital communications strategy shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be something that closely mirrors your mission before your campaign begins. Your online presence includes your website, social media, and digital branding. Everything should be consistent and backed by a comprehensive output strategy. Successful digital communications strategies also include emails and your e-giving provider. Having steady outreach to your parishioners is essential, and so is making the process of donor giving simple. Before embarking on a campaign, consider how you want to communicate and who will execute this plan. The importance of having proper staff time and resources allocated to these endeavors can’t be understated.

What to Do Today

If you are considering a campaign, meet with your leadership to begin discussions about what the pressing needs of your parish are, and how you hope to accomplish these goals. Build a consensus around priorities so you can start your campaign planning on the right foot.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

About the Author

Carl Cervi specializes in assisting nonprofit organizations in strategic development planning, campaign management, annual planning, case statement development as well as prospect research and identification, primarily in healthcare and religious sectors. Clients that Carl has provided counsel to include NewYork-Presbyterian, the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Rochester General Hospital. He is a graduate of The University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.