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Connect with Your Donors: Tell Your Parish Story

Churches are lucky among nonprofits; time to connect with yourcommunity is built into religious life. For Catholics, that means Sunday Mass. And as you know, evoking an emotional connection with your parishioners is the foundation to getting them more involved in the community with their time, talent or treasure.While this is easy when they are sitting in the pew at Mass, how do you carry this connection on throughout their week? They have work concerns, children to care for, obligations with friends and family, and, of course, they have other nonprofits asking them, “donate to our cause.“The fact is, your parishioners’ attention is being pulled at by several other nonprofits, possibly many times each day. Compare this to the fact that they may only hear from you at Mass on Sunday. They might take home the bulletin, but that could just sit under a stack of bills. So how can you make sure your parish stands out?

Why Connect?

According to Giving USA, charitable giving grew 7.1% in 2014, and religious donations still hold the largest piece of that pie. However, that slice has been shrinking in comparison to other types of giving, a trend that has been going on for 30 years. This is due in large part to the influx of nonprofits reaching out to your parishioners, evoking a competing emotional connection for their organizations’ cause.So how can a church keep up? Well the good news is, a parish has an innate emotional connection to its parishioners – spirituality. Your parishioners get a very tangible refresher from hearing your pastor speak, so all you need to do is remind them of that refreshing feeling they get from your masses during the week. This will strengthen your relationship with your parishioners!

What’s Your Story?

Your parish already has a mission, and in it lies your story. Tell your parishioners a little bit about your church, and connect them to the history of your parish.

  • Why did your pastor decide to become a pastor?
  • Is there a message from the homily that could be repeated in a mid-week email?
  • How did you come to work at the parish? What about your colleagues?
  • What happened at your last big parish event, behind the scenes in preparation for the fun?
  • When was your church built? Is there a story of its founding you can share?
  • Can you share a weekly or monthly “Spotlight on a Parishioner” as an email or newsletter article?

Small stories like these are just the thing to help build up the sense of community that’s so crucial to your mission. Connected parishioners are engaged parishioners, and the more they feel like they’re a part of the church the more likely they are to volunteer, donate and participate. To help you share your story, I want to share a favorite, easy resource of mine with you.

Share Your Stories

My story-telling knowledge is inspired by a woman named Vanessa Chase. Her website, The Storytelling Nonprofit, is chock-full of resources, ideas, inspiration and motivation that you can learn from and adapt to fit your parish. I cannot recommend her website enough!Vanessa encourages non-profits to think of their donors as intimate relationships – and what keeps you supporting your friends, families, and loved ones more than the emotional connection you share with one another? It’s that emotional connection with your loved ones that is built so much by the stories you build together and tell one another, so Vanessa teaches us how to begin that conversation with parishioners and donors.Your parishioners come to you for a very intimate reason, and communicating your story with them not only validates their spirituality but also strengthens their desire to support your mission. Connect over stories and watch your community grow!

a red envelope tied with a candy-striped ribbon, surrounded by red and white snowflakes, a candy-cane ornament, and a red alarm clock

Holiday Email Adds a Big Boost to Year-Round Growth

The GiveCentral team’s goal is to help all of our client organizations to raise more, and we see a tremendous opportunity to improve donor retention rates over traditional payment methods like cash and checks. Earlier this year, we engaged hundreds of parishes in an exercise to test the power of communication to bring back donors who have stopped giving. Using the free email communication portal available to every GiveCentral client, we were able to demonstrate the potential of sending a single message before an important holiday.In the days before Easter Sunday 2015, we helped participating parishes send a message to their online donors who had not yet signed up to make an Easter donation to their parish. Each parish used GiveCentral’s free communication portal and email templates. The simple messages encouraged recipients to find their church on GiveCentral and make a donation.comparison graph: increase in fundraising between organizations who sent email vs. those who did notParticipating parishes saw a sustained increase in giving, growing by more than 9 percent on average over the following six months. That is nearly five times faster than the parishes that did not send an email.

  • 750 new donors responded to the call to give online.
  • Participating parishes saw a 323 percent increase in online Easter donations.
  • A single parish signed up 57 new donors with one email.

Communicating regularly is one of the most effective ways to raise more for your organization, and never is that more true than ahead of major holidays like Christmas and Easter. All you have to do is ask.

Download a case study of this great success story here.

four lighted votive candles on a snowy pine branch

A Parish Plan for Advent

This liturgical season is an occasion for many to revisit their faith. Throughout your Advent services, and especially on Christmas, it is important to reach out to the parishioners you see less often. Along with Easter, this is one of the best times to rekindle a person’s relationship with the Church.Not coincidentally, this is also the time to prepare for fundraising success in 2016.

Let GiveCentral help you with your Advent plan

  1. Welcome Them Home

    Let returning parishioners know that you’re glad to see them, and hope they’ll be around more during the rest of the year. Address them during announcements at Mass, if not during the homily.

  2. Get in Touch

    Ask everyone to provide their latest contact information (especially email addresses), so they won’t be left out of important announcements. Many parishes choose to provide paper slips to be handed in with the offertory.Even faster, ask everyone to text you their contact information all at once. That’s right, texting during Mass! GiveCentral can help you do this for free—contact us to learn more.

  1. Ask for a Commitment

    Don’t be shy—ask everyone to commit to making a regular gift to your church. For those who have been out of touch lately, this is a great way to begin reconnecting while they are in the pew.

  2. Sign Them Up

    Place GiveCentral signup forms in the pews, and ask parishioners to fill them out and drop them in the offertory basket. By completing a card during Mass, parishioners can give you all the information to automate their weekly or monthly giving.

  1. Stay in Touch

    Use your improved email address list to start reaching out to your parish community. Start with a message thanking everyone for participating in the Advent liturgy, and continue with a new message at least once per month. Use GiveCentral’s free email templates as a starting point, and customize them however you like.

A group of parishioners in gloves and aprons, preparing food for a charitable dinner

Great Things are Happening! The Value of a Hands-On Approach

I get a great deal of pleasure and fulfillment sharing the success stories of our clients, and I’ve started to document some of the more notable successes I’m seeing in a series I’m calling “Great Things are Happening!“Recently, I shared the story of Fr. Wayne Watts and St. John Berchmans parish in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, and how the two C’s of Communication and Community had such wonderful, positive impact on their fundraising efforts.Today’s Great Things are Happening! success story is all about the value of a hands-on approach with members. Not just to help in fundraising efforts, but also because caring for each other is so important to our community’s health and happiness. St. Teresa of Avila in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood recently enjoyed over 200 percent growth in their donor base, and it was due in no small part to a message of caring.

Case study: growth in giving and donors, year over year, at St. Teresa of Avila
A hands-on approach helped the church grow in online donations, number of donors, and Sunday Offertory from one year to the next.
Rebecca O’Brien, who heads up stewardship for St. Teresa, had realized the church would benefit from growing donor base, and that to do it, they needed to take a very personal approach to helping parishioners learn and understand how to use the GiveCentral online donation platform. Fortunately, GiveCentral is remarkably easy to use. Still, for some, the leap from offering plate to the digital world can feel daunting without a little love and attention, which is exactly what St. Teresa gave.They went “all-in” as I like to say, offering assistance on how to register in the system, get payment information uploaded, create a donor profile, and set up giving preferences. Meanwhile, the church stayed in near constant communications with donors new to the system, making them feel at ease, and demonstrating the benefits of how much more connected to the church parishioners feel when using the online giving platform.And the results bear witness to the success of their efforts. Over 30 new donors were registered in the first week of the push, and ultimately, their Sunday Offertory increased by an amazing 433 percent!We can talk about the importance of online giving platforms in increasing donor contributions, and there’s no doubt GiveCentral played a role in this success, however the kind of care and attention the leadership at St. Teresa gave to their drive is the real meat on the bone in this success, and it makes me proud to have them as a partner.I believe that no matter who we are, we are lifetime learners, and a few insights here and there about why we succeed can go a long way.

Download a case study of this great success story here.

abstract stained glass window

Online Giving: Why Haven’t Churches Made the Switch?

Online giving has been on a significant upswing in just the past five years, but churches are lagging behind. A recent Dunham + Company/Campbell Rinker survey shows that while 70 percent of nonprofit organizations offer opportunities to donate online, just 42 percent of churches give their parishioners that chance. That number is even lower for small churches (under 200 attendees), at only 29 percent.As an example of how online giving has grown for nonprofits, just under half (48 percent) of donors had given through a charity’s website in 2010. Today, 60 percent say they have given an online gift. That’s incredible growth that should catch the attention of any stewardship director, so what is it that churches aren’t seeing about the benefits of online giving?In my time working at a church as well as here at GiveCentral, I’ve heard more than a few arguments against making the switch to online giving. The thing is, it’s not a switch at all! Offering an online giving option to your parishioners lets them choose one more way they can give.Here are a few more commonly-heard arguments, and why I don’t think they hold water:

Argument 1:

We’ve always done things this way, it’s hard to make a change

The church is the cornerstone of the community, and it’s been a presence in our lives for as long as we can remember. But when was the last time your church made a change in the way they do things? We understand that there’s a lot of tradition in the church and you know what works best. However, as you notice your offertory on the decline or less participation in your ministries, perhaps it’s time to take a look at how your community is changing and adapt with them.

Argument 2:

Our older donors don’t understand computers, they don’t want to give online

Your older donors may not agree with your assessment of their abilities. Back in 2010, 29 percent of those 65 and older said they’d made a charitable donation online. Today, that number has grown to 59 percent, on par with younger donors. And boomers are a vibrant and generous demographic, and they’re not about to let new technology stand in the way of supporting the causes they love.

Argument 3:

We don’t have to be online, we see our donors every week

But do you want to be asking people for donations every week? Can your appeal compete with the socializing happening in the entryway, the family discussion in the parking lot, the rush to get to brunch, or the bustle to get a cranky child home? With online giving, donors can set up recurring gifts and pledges whenever they have a free moment, right from home. Those gifts can be scheduled and automatically deducted with ease, granting your parishioners (and your staff!) a few more minutes of precious free time.


Churches simply must respond to changes in their attendees’ preferences. People of all ages are becoming more and more comfortable in the online world, whether for socializing, shopping, reading, and more. Why not meet your donors where they’re already spending their time? See how GiveCentral can help. 

St. John Berchmans: images of the church exterior, the church logo, and Fr. Wayne Watts

Great Things are Happening! A Case Study

Since his first day as pastor of St. John Berchmans Parish in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, Fr. Wayne Watts’ motto has been: “Great things are happening at St. John Berchmans! From the beginning, Fr. Watts has focused on communication and community to celebrate a shared faith life. He is what I call “respectfully relentless” in his use of personal visits, phone calls, email and even Twitter to regularly engage with parish members in a very meaningful way. In addition to regular bulletin articles, the church sends monthly emails to their faith community, and Fr. Watts personally sends regular messages on social media letting the community know about how the people of their parish are working together to help each other.The impact has been amazing. Today, both the parish and school are thriving. Mass attendance and school enrollment continue to increase. And Fr. Watts’ communication has had a significant effect on giving: In 2010, the first year the church began using the GiveCentral online communication and giving platform, they were receiving an average of $5,000 per month in online donations. Today, the church processes an average of $22,000 online each month, an increase of 440%.Case study: giving growth, year over year, at St. John BerchmansFr. Watts and his church understand that parishioners want to have an ongoing dialog, and that they are more fulfilled when they see leaders like Fr. Watts initiating and maintaining those communications. And more engaged members are almost always more loyal donors. In fact, Joe D’Arco, the parish’s Director of Operations, has found that community members and school families now give more year-round, preventing the normal dips in giving caused by summer vacations, school breaks, and homebound parishioners who can’t always drop an envelope in the basket each Sunday.It began with reaching out to build community and monthly email communication. “Great things are happening at St. John Berchmans.” Fr. Watts and his team have done an amazing job that can help us see the possibility for all our parishes and schools.

Download a summary case study of this great success story here.

an older man with short hair and a grey button-down shirt about to write on a blank flip-chart

Ideas to Encourage Online Giving

Your donors want to support you, but they need to know what you need. They know your parish needs money, but how can you best express this to encourage giving?

Here are some creative ideas for communicating your expenses and their effect on the parish community:

Explanatory

These ideas reinforce your message of need with repetition, making your message familiar:

  • Discuss your message of need with your pastor, and ask him to consider weaving this message into his homily.
  • Place an advertisement in your bulletin asking parishioners to contribute to a specific initiative. Include a link they can type into their browser that goes to your GiveCentral page. (Try a link shortener to save space.)
  • Print up flyers with messages of stewardship and place them around your church, activity hall, and school (if you have one). Time and talent are just as important as treasure… it’s not always about the money, but connecting donors to your community events is shown to encourage giving when the time comes.
  • Send an email “newsletter” with messages about your various initiatives. Is your Women’s Club holding a flower sale? Are you raising money to repair the church steps? Is your choir holding auditions soon?

Interactive

These ideas ask your donors to take action on the spot:

  • Make sure to have a prominent link to your GiveCentral page on your parish website!
  • Place giving forms in the pews to encourage them to register for online giving. (Make sure to make it clear where the forms should be dropped off.)
  • Post helpers at the back of church after Mass to distribute registration cards or instruction sheets for online giving.
  • Hold a “Stewardship Table” in the church lobby or entryway to talk to people about online giving. If you can, have a computer or tablet available to help parishioners to sign up then and there.
  • Use social media to convey your message of giving! Facebook now lets you post a donation button (only for Pages), and you can also share links to GiveCentral on Twitter. People love photos, so you can share pictures of your events and the results of your campaigns.
  • Send a short email with a specific giving request. Include a link directly to the fund you’d like them to support on GiveCentral.

Demonstrative

These ideas show, rather than tell, what happens without giving:

  • What if you couldn’t pay your electric bill? Turn the lights and/or air conditioning off during Mass.
  • What if you couldn’t pay your gas bill in winter? Hold Mass with the heat turned low in the church. (Keep Sunday school and day care warm, of course!)
  • What if you couldn’t pay for songbooks? Remove the songbooks from the back of the pews… and consider replacing them with GiveCentral donation forms.
  • What if you couldn’t pay for music? Hold Mass with no choir or cantor to lead the parish in song.
  • What if the church had to close? Lock the doors of the church one Sunday and hold mass outside.
  • What if you had to merge with another church? Have congregations from two parishes attend the same Mass at one church
  • What if you could only afford one Mass? Hold just one mass on a particular Sunday (announced in advance, certainly).
  • What if you couldn’t pay for printing? Conspicuously remove all bulletins and flyers from the church for one week.
  • What if you couldn’t afford landscape maintenance? Consider letting the church lawns grow out, with a lawn sign explaining why.

And as always, remember that your donors want to know where their money is going. Let them know your plans for their donations, and also the outcomes. Show them the great results, and they’ll be encouraged to give again.

Do you have more ideas for encouraging giving? What has worked at your parish? Let us know in the comments, we can add them to the list!

two smiling women and a man doing online training

Announcing New Parish Training for Holiday Fundraising Success

Did you know some parishes now receive up to 60 percent of donations online?

Research shows that churches lag behind in offering online giving as an option, so we’re inviting leaders in Catholic stewardship to learn how. We know your focus is to fulfill your parish’s mission and we think GiveCentral can help by making fundraising easier and more productive.Our upcoming Christmas Giving Series helps parishes learn how to increase donations with the use of GiveCentral.

How do we help? Let me share an example:

This past April, GiveCentral helped numerous parishes dramatically increase Sunday giving, generating over $100,000 in additional donations – and all it took was a little training from us.GiveCentral guided the participating parishes every step of the way, from initial training to identifying and reaching out to donors who had not previously given during the Easter season.By sending just a single email, this small select group of participating parishes saw an increase of 323 percent in online Easter donations.

Because of this success, we have decided to expand our training program. We have extended an invitation to select parishes to participate in our upcoming 2015 Christmas Giving training series. Check your inbox (or your mailbox) for your invitation!We can support up to 100 parishes in this training class, coming together remotely via webinars, conference calls and email. Through this pilot program, the participating parishes will be trained on how to dramatically increase Christmas donations by:

  • Effectively collecting email addresses of donors
  • Implementing simple, multi-phased email communication techniques
  • Incorporating seasonal donor gift giving strategies

Our next class will start in just a few weeks. We can only accommodate 100 parishes in our kickoff training, which begins on September 17th.

Are you interested in joining an online training series like this one?

GiveCentral exists to help parishes like yours fulfill their missions and we would be honored to help you increase your Christmas donations this season.To express your interest in this FREE training series, just click here before September 15th to see if we can fit you in. 

slices of pumpkin, apple and berry pie on three separate white plates

Would You Like a Larger Slice of the Charitable Giving Pie?

Giving Grows, but Religious Donations Still Slide

Great news for nonprofits was just released this week: donations grew in 2014! According to Giving USA, charitable giving in the United States increased by 7.1 percent overall, rising to $358 billion. This is even higher than the amount projected in 2013 and a level of giving unseen since before the Great Recession. Individual contributions made up 72 percent of the increase, so you can tell that people are feeling generous.Another encouraging discovery: the ongoing upswing in charitable giving increased by 5.4 percent in 2014, far outpacing the five-year average growth rate of 3.4 percent.And once again, religious organizations received the largest share of charitable dollars (32 percent) and the estimated amount contributed to religion reached its highest value ever. The downside? As a percentage of charitable giving, religious donations remain in a 30-year slide. Dropping from 54 percent in 1987 to 32 percent today, religion is claiming an ever-shrinking piece of the charitable pie.So what is a faith-based nonprofit to do?First, be aware that there is ever-growing competition for your donors’ time, attention, and generosity.Excellent causes abound, and they’re all asking for the same dollars you are. Don’t let this discourage you from telling your story, but get comfortable with the idea that you might not be a donor’s top priority on a given day (and try again later, of course).Second, give your donors a reason to notice you and not the other guy.Inboxes are filled with tempting offers, social media is chock-a-block with interesting links, and other demands for attention are almost literally everywhere you can imagine. Consider what you are doing differently to stand out, and highlight what makes your cause unique.Third, follow up graciously.A thank-you note is certainly in order for every donation, but stories of what-happened-next speak to both donors and prospects alike. Demonstrating the good work that you do encourages potential donors to support your efforts and makes current donors consider giving more.The findings from the 2015 Giving USA report are encouraging, but this news is only the whipped cream on our delicious pie. Don’t eat your slice and assume more is always on the way! Many ingredients are needed and we’ve got to keep doing the work that mixes them all together.To learn how GiveCentral has helped hundreds of organizations find the right mix, just ask! Sign up for a webinar or contact us here

mixed group of business people standing in a hallway and chatting

Developing a Winning Conference Participation Strategy

by Bridget Mayer, Director of Business Development at GiveCentralNow that the seasons have officially changed, many of us have started to enjoy fall’s perennial offerings, including cooler temperatures, beautiful changing leaf colors and of course, a caramel apple or two.Fall also ushers in a very busy time of year for more than just pumpkin patches. For nonprofit and religious administration managers, along with many leaders at for-profit businesses, the start of autumn marks the start of the busy conference season. Many of us will travel near and far to attend annual gatherings over the next several months, juggling the responsibilities of our day jobs with the inherent craziness of conference participation.Developing a winning conference participation strategy is key to ensuring you take full advantage of all the conference’s benefits. Here at GiveCentral, we’ve spent last week connecting with industry colleagues new and old at the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference (DFMC) and are busy preparing for National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) which starts October 4th.Since we’re in the thick of it, we wanted to share some advice on developing a winning conference strategy to help you make the most out of your conference participation:Identify your goals before you arriveYou need to choose the conferences that will give you and your business the best ROI in terms of your goals. It’s important to come prepared with established participation goals and that your any participants from your organization understand these goals.

What do you want to get out of the conference? How many leads/connections are you looking to generate? Are you focusing on promotion/branding or do you have a product to demo?

You can have more than one goal, of course, but the point is that you need to be clear about what your participation in the conference is going to achieve. Determine what your ROI would be—if one new customer helps you justify you being at the event, then focus on connecting with as many participants as possible in order to unearth and connect with that customer.For example, many of the attendees at DFMC are finance and accounting-focused professionals who are focused on learning how to best cut down the costs associated with managing their organization’s capital campaigns. We looked to connect with the attendees to inform them about how, without breaking the bank, our electronic giving systems allows users to get comprehensive donor functionality to easily:

  • Manage donor relations
  • Access donation activity
  • Run reports/managing donor accounts
  • Send and manage donor communications

In the booth, we conducted live demonstrations of our GiveCentral Go technology, our easy-to-use card reader for mobile devices, which is perfect for off-site donor events. In addition, for those that received our pre-conference email, made a donation to Catholic Relief Services and visited our booth, we gladly matched their gift right there in the booth using GiveCentral Go!

GiveCentral's tradeshow booth before the opening of NCDC 2013
Our booth at NCDC 2013 – pardon our old tagline!
For the upcoming NCDC, our focus will be to connect development directors whose priorities differ from a CFO. Tending to be the end users and executors of the ins and outs of giving programs, their goals are zoned in on how they can best save time with giving logistics and enhance their programs—both of which are right up GiveCentral’s alley!Carve out time to build connectionsBuilding personal relationships are a key benefit of conference participation. Conferences are ripe for connecting with potential customers, but it’s also a time to build on the relationships you already have. If you know people that you want to reconnect with or get to know better who will be attending—clients, vendors, friends-of-friends—reach out a few weeks before the conference to set up a time to meet for coffee or a meal while you’re at the event.That’s what we did for DFMC. These one-on-one conversations allow us the opportunity to understand donor needs and to talk about how GiveCentral has worked with hundreds of church and diocesan offices as well many non-profit organizations to help them meeting that challenge via electronic giving.Friendly follow-upRemember that the conference doesn’t end with the closing session. In fact, in most cases this is when the important relationship building and sales work starts. You need to keep your business at the front of your prospects’ minds by staying in touch after the event. This increases the chance of converting your leads into sales.Following DFMC, we’ll be following up with all the great connections we made via personal emails, phone call and/or face-to-face meetings. We’ll also be looking to share a copy of our upcoming survey GiveCentral: 2015 Predictions for Giving which is set to launch in early October. Our goal with the survey is to better understanding donor giving preferences and the role technology increasingly plays in non-profit donations. Once launched, the survey will be accessible from our home page at www.givecentral.org.Pay it forwardYou gained a lot of new information, inspiration and contacts at the conference, now it’s time to share the knowledge with fellow colleagues, prospects and clients. For example, send clients and prospects, especially if they couldn’t make the conference, links to session videos or presentations you thought were particularly valuable. This knowledge share is a great value-add to any relationship.No matter what your fall schedule has in store for you, we hope this advice on developing a winning conference participation strategy proves valuable. And if you’re headed to NCDC, we look forward to seeing you!