Many parishes opt for a campaign when considering capital projects or debt reduction, but often become intimidated by the tremendous needs and the equally tremendous goals associated with such an endeavor. CCS Fundraising always recommends doing a thorough analysis to assess the feasibility of a capital campaign before deciding whether to move forward in that direction. If your conclusion is that your parish is not ready for a large or extensive campaign, it would be wise to consider an alternative approach: conducting a campaign to increase weekly collections.

Like most charities, operational funding in churches often comes from annual giving. To keep up with inflation and growing expenses, such as maintenance, compensation, and benefits, it is vital that churches also grow donor giving over time. An increased offertory campaign can help begin that process.

Many religious denominations have used pledging and annual stewardship drives for years and, as a result, encourage their members to grow their giving regularly. But what about those churches (especially Catholic parishes) that haven’t developed such programs?

CCS’s experience shows that Catholic churches (and even entire archdioceses and dioceses) are more often turning to increased offertory programs to overcome financial challenges and fulfill unmet needs. These programs can be easy to implement and can help you accomplish the following:

  • Educating parishioners on the need to be responsible stewards of the gift that is their church
  • Commencing discussions regarding the importance of increasing giving annually to keep up with growing expenses
  • Getting more parishioners involved as volunteers
  • Starting a pattern of written commitments that can aid in real-time budgeting
  • Addressing real financial needs in a fair approach that doesn’t negatively impact a parish’s ability to run a campaign at a later date

These programs are indeed easier to run than a traditional capital campaign, and can often be completed in a period of seven weeks. They have also proven to be very effective. Through our work in this sector around the world, CCS has found our tailored increased offertory programs to elevate parish giving as much as 25% with sustained levels of increased giving during the years that follow our engagement. When combined with broad implementation of electronic giving by parishioners, these increases can be “locked in” and generate a steady stream of additional revenue for the parish.

Over the past eight years, CCS has helped parishes conduct over 100 increased offertory programs. These programs engaged 900 volunteers, and saw more than 6,500 commitment forms returned. Parishes gained an average 20% increase in giving, ending with a projected $3.5 million increase in annual offertory. Some parishes even experienced an increase that approaches capital campaign results when calculated over five years.

Just as important as the results, however, is the cost. Most of these increased offertory campaigns saw a complete return on their investment after just five weeks of increased collections.

The key to generating the highest response and keeping the costs low is volunteers. A well run program will take advantage of every communication channel a parish has to offer: the bulletin, the pulpit, mail, email, social media, and the personal contacts made by parishioners. These contacts need not be solicitations, but rather a personal reminder to respond and a testimonial about why the parish is so important to them. These personal contacts help reduce the number of mailings needed in the program and have been proven to generate higher rates of commitment.

When planning an increased offertory program, it is important to have a very clear sense of what you hope to achieve. In addition to increased financial support, an increased offertory program should focus on achieving the following key objectives for the parish:

  • Identification of parish strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats
  • Increased understanding of the principles of stewards by the clergy and laity
  • Development of ongoing educational and faith formation opportunities
  • Parishioner commitments of time, talent, and treasure
  • More active involvement of parishioners in parish and diocesan life
  • Growth in Mass attendance
  • Upsurge in registration
  • Increased giving
  • Development and implementation of a plan for ongoing commitment to the principles of stewardship

In the end, however, the ultimate objective of an increased offertory program is changing the pattern of giving. At the conclusion of each program, CCS offers parish leaders training on conducting annual renewals of these commitments. Permanent change in parishioner giving behavior is only possible through regular attention and communication. It takes some work, but as any “stewardship parish” will attest, the process becomes automatic and expected by parishioners after a few years.

As an additional benefit, conducting an increased offertory program will not impact your parish’s ability to conduct a capital campaign in the near future – in fact, the process may help get you closer to campaign readiness.

So, when a campaign seems out of reach, or maybe you just need another year before starting one, consider an increased offertory program. The results speak for themselves.

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

Erik Kiernan is a Corporate Vice President with CCS. For over 15 years he has worked with nonprofit organizations, providing expert services such as project management, organizational development, data analysis, volunteer management, and major gift solicitations. He resides in central Massachusetts with his family.