Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas! Welcome everyone home and invite them to stay

Wishing you a blessed Advent and very merry Christmas!  Take time to celebrate the season and to build your parish community as we await the coming of our Savior.   Give parishioners an opportunity to join in the Celebration of your Parish.  Update your Online Giving and your Website to  provide information about your mission and what you have accomplished in 2013.  Provide an opportunity to participate and to give financially.  Welcome everyone home and invite them to stay!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Celebrating Parish Community: tell your story using web site best practices

We just returned from the International Catholic Stewardship conference in Dallas.  This event is a great way to gain updates on what is happening in parishes and dioceses across the country, to reconnect with friends, and to be uplifted spiritually.

Our theme this year was "Celebrating Parish Community",  which we will continue to use as part of our focus over the next months.  As we work with parishes and dioceses we see many examples of exciting and dynamic organizations.  They engage their parishioners in their mission and direction and as a result accomplish exciting and transformational work.  We decided to write about four of those who were able to transform themselves because of their leadership and staff with the support of OSV Offertory Solutions products and services.

Chuck Zech refers to "financial transparency and accountability" in his work on Catholic Giving and stewardship.  Al Winseman describes the hierachy of engagement starting with "What do I get" and proceeding to the highest level: "Where are we going".  Clif Christopher and St. Augustine both agree that the purpose of church is to "Change Lives".  And the Notre Dame study I covered in my last post emphasizes the importance of demonstrating and describing what we accomplish in our parishes as a way for people to feel connected and empowered.

All this research suggests that each parish must tell the story about what is happening to change lives at that parish.  A great place to start is on the parish website.  When someone visits your parish are they able to tell what you are doing, your key focus,  and where you are going?

Here are a few points to consider:

1. Use images that capture what is important or iconic at your parish
2. Include a tool like "Google translator" to allow for multiple languages on your site
3. Update your site regularly with descriptions of what you have accomplished  including both financial results (as appropriate) and impact to people, parish and community. 

Tell us what you are doing with your parish website!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Notre Dame Study: conscious decision and habitual systems of giving increase contributions

In their follow on to their celebrated study about Catholic generosity, author and researcher Brian Starks teams up again with professor Christian Smith to understand the components of generosity.  They conclude that people who have made a conscious decision to donate money at some point in their life, combined with the use of habitual and standardized systems of giving (such as offering envelopes or Online Giving) are key factors that directly impact the amount of the financial gift.

"The study, “Steps on the Journey to Becoming a More Generous Person,” published by the Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative (CSPRI) of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life and co-authored by Brian Starks, CSPRI director, and Christian Smith, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology at Notre Dame, found that spontaneous givers were, as a group, less generous than their more systematic counterparts.
“We find that Catholics who are more generous are very likely to have made a prior conscious decision to give more money away and to follow routine, habitual systems of giving,” Starks said. “This suggests that, for other Catholics to become more generous, it would help to do the same.
“Concretely,” Starks continued, “American Catholics who made a conscious decision to give more money away at some prior point in their lives donated three times as much money to religious and nonreligious causes in the previous 12 months as Catholics who said that their financial giving ‘just happened.’"  - from Michael O Garvey, Notre Dame News
If you or your parish are still undecided about using Online Giving, this study provides another substantial reason why Online Giving helps increase offertory.  Online Giving from OSV makes it easy for your parishioners to determine their own gift amounts and set up their own individual accounts for gifts.  This also encourages the parishioner to think about their gift.  In his book "Why Catholics Don't Give and What Can be Done About It", Dr. Chuck Zech describes Online Giving as a pledge because parishioners must make a conscious effort to set up their recurring contributions ahead of time.

In addition to the conscious decision,  Online Giving provides a regular, repeatable schedule for contributions which to some extent goes beyond habitual giving.  With a little extra prompting from the parish to update gift amounts periodically, the combination of habitual and automatic giving results in strong cash flow for the parish.  And the gift amounts are typically larger than last minute Masstime contributions.

(The envelope continues to be an excellent way to reach everyone including Online Givers. We are doing more work on custom designed envelopes to request prayers and to provide education and reminders about Mission.  The envelopes don't have to be used expressly for contributions.  This regular mailing helps to encourage engagement from all parishioners and works to augment the purpose of Online Giving. Couple all this with an Increased Offertory program from OSV and you have a plan that can generate tremendous positive impact!)

In "Becoming a More Generous Person", Starks includes sample graphs that indicate the impact of Intentionality:

Parishes must continue to help parishioners identify financial giving with their Catholic faith and with the mission of the parish.  While we are doing this we also need to find ways to help parishioners make a decision to be generous.  Part of this is by identifying the results of past programs and the plans for what the parish will accomplish over the next period of time.  And some simple instruction and encouragement about using Online Giving and yes, envelopes, reinforced through the parish website can help to educate and encourage parishioners.

You can find this Notre Dame Study at:

And you can see videos from parishes using Online Giving and other tools from OSV at:

Let us know what you are experiencing!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Make the Move to Online Giving - Avoid a summer decline in contributions

I don't know about you,  but the cool weather we had during April and most of May lulled me into thinking it was still spring!  But here we are moving out of the Easter season into Ordinary Time and about to celebrate our heroes during Memorial Day.

So summer is here!  and so are vacations and trips to the beach, moves to summer houses and visits with family.  With all the activity we likely will be away from our home parish for some of the time. Pastors and parish staff tell us that they see significant changes in parish income during summer months in particular - ranging from 10% to 20% reduction in weekly contributions!  This cash flow fluctuation creates a tremendous challenge for parishes to maintain operations and budgets.

Online Giving helps to provide consistent cash flow

We just recently held customer panel discussions at our headquarters in Huntington, IN and had many meaningful discussions about what is going well and also where we can improve.  The subject of Online Giving and cash flow came up several times as a significant benefit.  This is consistent with information we have heard in the past. (We also heard that ease of use of Online Giving,  our customer service and our extensive support are key positive differentiators for OSV.  Parishes know they can count on our help.)

St. Patrick in Carlsbad, CA credits a significant change to summer cash flow, which in turn helps the parish throughout the year.  Historically, contributions were down at least 10% and they have more than made up that difference.  In addition they are seeing very high fulfillment on campaign pledges that are paid through Online Giving.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton in Ft. Wayne, IN tells a similar story.  The pastor describes a situation where a large number of parishioners typically go to "the lake" during the summer.  Monthly income to the parish would go from about $30,000 to more like $20,000 and it practically brought the otherwise thriving parish to a standstill.  They credit Online Giving with making up that difference and more.

Look on the OSV Offertory Solutions website for stories and videos about Online Giving.

Spend your summer worry free! Implement Online Giving.

If you already have Online Giving in place, then this is a great opportunity to remind more parishioners to sign up.  Set up a table after Mass and make it easy for them to get started.  Send a reminder to users to update their gifts.  Be thankful to everyone who participates.

Let us know how we can help you!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Greater Frequency Increases Annual Online Gift Amounts; 4 Points about Parish Benefits

More Parishioners Using Online Giving
We just completed our most recent quarterly review of trends in contributions based on parishes who use Online Giving from Our Sunday Visitor.  A number of our parish customers have more than 20% of active parishioners using Online Giving, with more than a few at or near 50% of parishioners.  Overall we see slightly more ACH (direct withdrawal) used for regular contributions in comparison to credit card,   (around 55% ACH and 45% Credit Card).  Parishioners are starting to use QuickGive more often for one-time gifts and these tend to be done via credit card.

Greater Frequency and Annual Gift Amounts
Parishes who provide parishioners the option to give contributions recurring weekly and bi-weekly see a larger annual donation from those parishioners in comparison to contributions recurring twice monthly,  monthly, quarterly and annually.   Weekly givers are contributing about $1810 annually and bi-weekly givers about $1943 annually.  Twice monthly schedules offer fewer opportunities to give in comparison to bi-weekly, so the annual amount is lower.  Monthly givers donate about $1270 on an annual basis.
Make sure you are providing your parishioners flexibility to give at any time, so that they can work with their particular income schedules. And importantly, so they can make a donation when they are moved to contribute.

Parish Experiences
We have asked a number of our parish customers to track contribution amounts before and after implementing Online Giving.   While the vitality of the parish and the programs and depth of commitment to Stewardship all impact the parish financial results,  they are also willing to say that Online Giving has had a positive impact on the financial health of the parish.  Those parishes who looked specifically a credit card and direct payment gifts documented increases of from 32% to 63% in the amount of the specific parishioner gifts.  Those parishes who looked at overall total contributions saw an increase of from 11% to 32%.  And parish staff is quick to point out that the cash flow during vacation months has smoothed out and in at least one case the Pastor states that “it has saved the parish”.  

Envelopes Continue to Play A Key Role
The significant majority of parishes have continued to use envelopes to reach parishioners on a regular basis.  They have used new designs for their envelopes to focus more on commitment to prayer and time at the parish for parishioners who contribute electronically.  The combination of envelopes and Online Giving has been powerful.  See the graphic below that shows actual parish results:

We continue to work with parishes to help them make the best use of all the tools available to them.  Online Giving has had a positive impact!
Tell us about your experience.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

3 Points to Update Online Giving - Pope Francis Motivates Us

I have been impressed by the coverage of the Papal conclave.  We have seen and heard many wonderful stories about the events and the sincerity and focus of the Cardinals as they entered into the process of electing our new Pope. And then to see the humility and prayerful attitude exhibited by Pope Francis!  What a great time to reflect on our own behavior, and a convenient time to think about our financial commitment to our parish.

If you want to read more about coverage from Rome,  here is a link to the Daily Take blog from our Publisher, Greg Erlandson, who has been there to observe the conclave: a-pope-who-is-bishop.
In this edition Greg refers to Francis of Assisi:  "He is a Pope who was chosen, I believe, because the cardinals want a renewal of the Church. "Help rebuild my Church," the Lord told St. Francis in a dream."  Greg goes on to refer to our need to begin with prayer.

As we pray about rebuilding the church, we also should pray about what we each can to do rebuild the church through our parish communities.  The recent study published by the University of Notre Dame Institute for Church Life: Unleashing Catholic Generosity – Explaining the Catholic Giving Gap in the United States,  indicates that we need to focus our attention on the Mission and works of our parish communities.  

Here are some points to consider as we update gifts in Online Giving:

1. Update Fund Categories: Provide parishioners the opportunity to give to programs that result in improved lives for parishioners or the community.  

2. Review Your Personal Gifts: Use this time of change to pray about rebuilding the church and seek inspiration for where to spend your time and how best to allocate your financial gifts to the church.  Update your Online Giving commitments.

3. Make an Announcement: Make an announcement at Mass or through your communications about any changes to gift categories in Online Giving.  Ask parishioners to pray and to update their gifts as we celebrate the announcement of Pope Francis.  Invite those who are not giving online to make that first step.

Tell us your thoughts and ideas! 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

3 Key Points to Increase Offertory - Online Giving Essential

We are seeing optimism among parishes and dioceses that we visit across the United States. Catholic parishes are providing meaningful services to the community and strong educational programs to their students.  Many of you are on the path to engaging parishioners in both the current activities of the parish and also the direction you want to head for the future.  The Pastors we have talked to have been doing some very creative and wonderful work ranging from working with the children in the parish to develop videos of guinea pigs riding in Lego automobiles to expansive programs to serve the needy in the community.

The results from the work we have done to Increase Offertory at parishes have been very positive.  A parish in the Diocese of San Diego experienced an increase in commitments of over 53% and $330,000.  One in the Diocese of Providence saw an increase of over $120,000 which amounted to 79% .  Another one in California had 140 new families start to participate in the parish.  One in upstate New York was able to define a new identity and bring people together for a new purpose in the midst of a 5 parish merger.

Needless to say, the Pastor and parish leadership are integral to the success of any program.  While every parish has different dynamics, there are some consistent points we are seeing the teams implement to increase their chances of a successful and sustained program.  Here are 3 of them:

1. Focus on the good works of the parish.  In addition to our formation and our personal Faith journeys, we care about organizations that are doing positive things. We want to donate our time and money to successful programs that deliver products or programs or services that we care about.  Our parishes do this all the time but sometimes we don't highlight this work.  Those parishes who experience a wealth of financial contributions are able to demonstrate how they are changing lives for the better and how they are improving lives for the people in the parish and the surrounding areas.

2. Use Online Giving to make it easy to give.  Remove any impediments to accepting a gift. Find ways to make it easy for anyone to give to the parish.  They don't have to be current members.  In fact as you are communicating about the wonderful things the parish does you should expect to attract new people to the parish. Online Giving is an integral part of regular contributions and of any increased offertory program. Allow people to give from the convenience of the web at a time that is convenient for them!

3. Keep Parishioners Informed.  The successful parishes use all their channels of communication to let parishioners know what is happening during and after the Increased Offertory program.  They incorporate points about the direction of the parish and the intent of the program across their website, offering envelopes, newsletters, announcements and bulletins.  It's very important to let all parishioners know about the results of the program and what the parish plans to do next.  Parishes can sustain their results by updating parishioners regarding how funds were used, what new positive programs were implemented, and the results of those new programs.

Do you have experience with increasing offertory?  Let us know!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Websites and Online Giving Tips for a Great Combination - Like Peanut Butter and Chocolate

This is an updated version of an earlier blog topic
 As we continue to learn from our work with the Archdiocese of Boston, and across the country, your website is your "virtual front door" to your parish. One of the key components of a great parish website is easy access to Online Giving. This past week we talked with several parishes who are very interested in pursuing Online Giving. The website is a significant impediment to their progress rather than a useful tool to enable access to web-based giving.  OSV "Faith In Action" websites are designed to make this easy for you.

Set a Communication Plan

As you prepare to offer web-based giving, you should create the initial communication plan and get the system set up so parishioners can immediately access the application. So one of the steps is to update your website to include information about Online Giving, plus a link that connects to Online Giving. Once you announce that the service is available, you want parishioners to be able to get to Online Giving easily so they can get started right away.
 Incorporate Website Best Practices

Your website must be organized well and easy to navigate. A great parish website can help you improve the acceptance of Online Giving by making it obvious how to get started, easy to access, and by providing useful information about the importance of Online Giving. If your website provides other compelling information about the Faith, then as parishioners access the site for Online Giving, they may also be able to spend time learning more about being a good Catholic!
 Here are a few tips:
  • Display your parish name, city and address and contact information prominently
  • Feature a map to your parish
  • Add information about the Faith
  • Add a section to welcome newcomers
  • Add dynamic information
  • Offer people the opportunity to give a gift! 
 Make Sure Your Website and Online Giving Are Easy to Manage
The parishes I referenced earlier were embarrassed and frustrated by their web sites. The web sites were not compelling and not up to date. The person who is setting up Online Giving did not have the ability to do updates. In a couple cases, the person who updated the website worked part time and was the only person who had access to update the site.

The parish website is the best place to access your online giving application. And we should all be implementing Online Giving at our parishes so that our parishioners have this additional convenient option to contribute to the parish. So we need both. Parish Website and Online Giving. When the website is good and you have your Online Giving link prominently displayed, they work together. That's why the web site and Online Giving are like peanut butter and chocolate, which is one of my personal favorite combinations!

How about your experience with your parish website and Online Giving?

By the way thousands of new parishioners per month are signing up to use OSV's Online Giving at parishes across the country. The average parishioner use for parish is now at 13 to 14% of parishioners, up to a high of more than 50%.