IFRM pilot parishes see increased offertory

BRAINTREE -- Some parishes volunteering to help the Archdiocese of Boston pilot a new model of financial support for its central ministries report seeing success in the first step in that process: increasing monthly offertory.

The archdiocese rolled out a new model of parish financial support of the archdiocese's central ministries in 2009 by asking for 30 parishes to volunteer for a pilot phase that would begin in the fiscal year starting this July.

The Improved Financial Relationship Model, which could be rolled out to all the parishes in 2012, would require parishes to contribute 18 percent of their total income to the archdiocese but at the same time eliminate most taxes and fees that parishes currently pay the archdiocese. In addition, this new model would raise the percentage of funds that get returned to parishes that exceed their Catholic Appeal goals to 50 percent.

Volunteer parishes who are participating in the pilot phase have already begun increased offertory drives, even though the first phase of the new model has not officially started.

"It is really going very, very well -- better than we expected in terms of transition," said Tricia Fraser, a parish services consultant for the archdiocese and a member of the implementation team. "These 33 parishes (involved in the pilot phase) are really stepping up to the plate."

St. John Chrysostom Parish in West Roxbury has seen collections rise since implementing an increased offertory campaign earlier this year.

Fraser said that results of parishes' increased offertory campaigns have begun to come into the archdiocese, with 21 of 33 parishes over their appeal assessment.

"From the new model perspective, a number of parishes are doing well," she said.

St. John Chrysostom has seen an increase of about 40 percent from its previous weekly offertory collection averages to over $10,000 per week, according to the pastor, Father David Michael.

Father Michael also reported that the parish received $100,000 for interior church renovations.

Bob Malone, chairman of the parish's offertory committee, said that they were hoping for a 30 percent increase in offertory collections.

Working with the Cunneen Company, a fundraising consulting firm recommended by the archdiocese, the parish launched a two-phase appeal consisting of an ask for increased offertory in the first phase and what St. John's pastor called a "discipleship appeal" for the second phase, calling parishioners to serve in various parish ministries.

For three consecutive weeks beginning in January 2010, Father Michael said he preached at all Masses, connecting the Sunday readings with stewardship, and placed updates in the parish bulletin. He also had members of the offertory committee speak at the Masses.

"I kept reinforcing the themes of Scripture and what our offertory is all about," Father Michael said. "I tried to give a faith vision instead of 'pay your dues, you belong to the Church.'"

Father Michael also said he emphasized that he was not asking for major donations, but intentional and sustained giving over the year.

He also increased the scope of the annual report already in use to include updates from different ministries within the parish.

"It was a lot of communication to the parish," Father Michael said.

The process of increasing the parish offertory began internally about two or three years ago with the goal of having offertory and sacramental income support the parish's operating expenses, Father Michael said.

"As we looked at our expenses, there were not huge amounts of money being wasted on extraneous things," he said. "(The parishioners) could see very clearly we were not blowing money on outlandish things."

John Cunneen, president of The Cunneen Company, said that his company recommends that parishes challenge parishioners to be "intentional" in their offertory contributions, encouraging people to understand why they donate to a parish and be "thoughtful" and "reflective" in their approach to stewardship.

He also encourages not only pastors, but fellow parishioners to share that message with the parish from the pulpit. In addition, he encourages pastors to provide a financial report to their parishioners.

However, Cuneen says, campaigns will only be successful if parishioners are devoted to their parish.

"Those who are there are there because they care," Cuneen said.

"If people don't care about their parish and love their Church, no amount of mailings and careful packaging will work," he added.