7 Steps to Encourage Church Donors During Your Annual Appeal
Your Catholic diocese issues a fundraising appeal each year to encourage church donors to put their faith into action and make a difference for your community and the growth of the church.
This annual appeal is typically issued around Lent, as faithful believers prioritize not only prayer and fasting in the 40 days before Easter, but also almsgiving. This way, giving to the church becomes a Lenten sacrifice—an opportunity to give something up for something greater.
However, despite the importance of these appeals, many church leaders struggle to craft their appeal messages in a way that resonates with their parishioners, which can lead to missed fundraising targets and miscommunication about the core purpose of the annual appeal. In some cases, parishioners may even end up feeling donor fatigue instead of feeling inspired to give.
If you’re looking to improve how you seek charitable gifts for your diocesan annual appeal, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll cover seven steps to encourage church donors during this time:
- 1. Cultivate a spirit of generosity year-round.
- 2. Design your annual appeal with care.
- 3. Make your appeals personal.
- 4. Demonstrate the impact of previous gifts.
- 5. Be transparent about how your diocese will use the funds.
- 6. Provide multiple ways to give.
- 7. Thank your parishioners.
With a strategic approach to your annual appeal, you’ll be able to connect with your parishioners, meet your fundraising goals, and do more for your religious community and people in need. Ready to dive into the specifics? Let’s begin.
A Quick Look At The Current State of Church Giving
Before you can engage your church donors effectively, you should understand what giving currently looks like in the Catholic Church. According to Balancing Everything:
- 95% of Catholics who give money financially also give money to their parish
- Over 50% of Catholics would give if asked by their priest at Mass
- Most working-age Catholics give online up to 11 times each year
So, what does this information mean for your diocese? It means that, when presented with the opportunity in the right way, parishioners will be eager and willing to give. Now it’s up to you to design and issue an annual appeal that will encourage giving from your specific congregation. Let’s dive into the first step for doing so!
1. Cultivate a spirit of generosity year-round.
Your annual appeal is just that—a one-time annual fundraising request. But to truly prepare your parishioners to give during this important time of year, you should create an atmosphere that encourages church giving all year long, not just during the diocesan appeal at Lent.
Here are some ways you can promote this giving spirit consistently:
- Lead by example. As a priest or bishop, your parishioners look to you as an example of a faithful believer, so how you act can have a great impact on how they feel about giving to the church. Make a conscious effort to live a generous life, and check in with yourself often. Ask yourself: Do you seek out daily opportunities to serve others? Are you available to offer spiritual counsel and guidance when someone in your diocese or parish is in need? Do you spend your free time giving back to the community? Your actions can set the tone for how your parishioners perceive the church and your fundraising efforts, so make sure you’re practicing what you preach.
- Teach generosity. By making generosity, service, giving, and charity central to your church services and teaching, you’ll not only set the stage for annual fundraising efforts but also help your parishioners become more selfless individuals. Look for natural opportunities to share stories of generosity from the scriptures, offer real-world examples, and invite your parishioners to put your teaching into practice in their daily lives.
- Provide plenty of opportunities to be generous outside of monetary giving. Giving a monetary gift isn’t the only way for your parishioners to put their faith into action! To cultivate a genuine spirit of generosity among your congregation, try to arrange opportunities for your parishioners to serve each other and the community besides giving money. These might include setting up a system for taking meals to families in need in different parishes, arranging volunteer days with local nonprofits, hosting a food or clothing drive for a community shelter, and more. Of course, you can solicit monetary gifts from your parishioners throughout the year, but don’t go overboard—this can lead to negative perceptions of you and the church.
Don’t let the core purpose of your annual appeal get lost in logistics. Put generosity and following God’s direction to give to others at the forefront of your work with parishioners year-round. This way, instead of feeling like the annual appeal is coming out of nowhere, it will feel like a natural extension of what you regularly teach and demonstrate to your parishioners.
Plus, framing your appeal as part of what you do on a regular basis will also lessen the pressure on your and your fellow leaders, helping you to focus on what really matters and letting the giving follow.
2. Design your annual appeal with care.
While you should consistently promote a spirit of giving with your parishioners, you do have to thoughtfully craft your appeal if you want to be successful when the annual appeal season begins. Here are some planning tips to help you get started:
Connect your appeal to the core pillars of Lent.
As mentioned above, most annual appeals are made around Lent, during which faithful Catholics focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Since Lent can be a time of significant spiritual and temporal sacrifice for many believers, it only makes sense that it’s an appropriate season to request your parishioners give a gift to your parish or diocese.
Make it clear that your annual appeal is associated with the overarching principle of sacrifice and spiritual refinement that can bring your parishioners closer to God. Keeping the “why” of your annual appeal rooted in Lenten sacrifice can help your parishioners view it as their opportunity to give something up for the greater good.
Set a realistic but flexible goal.
Using what you know about your parishioners and past annual appeal results, determine a realistic but flexible goal for this year’s appeal. This is best done by considering:
- What causes, projects, or groups your diocese or parish needs funding to serve
- How much you’ve raised in past years
- What you know about your parishioners’ affinity for giving, capacity for giving, and giving habits
By setting a realistic goal from the get-go, you can be confident that you’re working toward annual appeal success that you can actually attain. And, if you begin your annual appeal and meet your goal early or notice higher giving than normal, you can always set a stretch goal down the line!
Assemble a strong team.
To carry out your annual appeal, you should rely not only on the help of clergy and staff members but also on laypeople. With a strong team made up of these different parties, you can better anticipate what your parishioners need to have a positive experience with your appeal.
Choose your team members with care. You should look for individuals who are:
- Dedicated givers themselves
- Deeply involved in your church’s charity work
- Enthusiastic ambassadors for the church
- Friendly, approachable, and who can include everyone in their fundraising efforts
Additionally, you may find that your team members bring special skills to the table that can help take your annual appeal to new heights. For example, a parishioner might work in social media for their day job and could help you spread the news about your annual appeal on Facebook or Twitter. Or, another team member might be a professional photographer, helping you capture inspiring images of the students in need in your diocese’s school. Be sure to encourage your team members to let their talents shine as you plan your appeal!
Create a case for support.
As you plan your annual appeal, you should create a case for support document. This document identifies why your appeal is needed and why your parishioners should support it. Think of it as the backbone of your efforts that can guide your first annual appeal announcement, your marketing materials, your personalized gift request letters, and more.
Your case for support should contain:
- An overview of your diocese’s larger mission
- The needs of your diocese or local community
- Your fundraising goal and how you plan to apply the money raised to the needs of your community
- A compelling call-to-action
In the early stages of planning your annual appeal, think of your case for support as a living document—something you can revise as you learn more about your fundraising goals, your parishioners, and the needs of your community. You should finalize your case for support before launching your appeal, and use it as the guiding document for all of your fundraising activities.
Follow annual appeal best practices.
As you get closer to issuing your annual appeal, be sure that you’re following tried-and-true best practices. Use this checklist to ask yourself and your team if you’re on the right track:
- Does your appeal include a parish-sharing component in your case for support? Does the sharing include funds raised up to a parish’s financial target, not just funds raised over the target?
- Does a committee of pastors review parish targets? These leaders should account for growth in certain parishes and declining registrations in others, and adjust accordingly.
- Does the diocese recruit lay chairs and create an “officer pipeline” of future leaders? And is each parish encouraged to do the same?
- Does the diocesan ordinary solicit major gifts ($25,000+) and ask for commitments for two years? This can free him up to solicit new prospects each year.
- Are parishes encouraged to solicit major gifts as well? These gifts will likely be at the $5,000+ level.
- Does the appeal ask parishioners to measure their gifts using their annual income? If so, please stop. This approach has never worked.
- Does the appeal wait until its end to conduct an in-pew solicitation? Don’t make the mistake of conducting this method of solicitation too early in your appeal.
Use this checklist often to make sure you’re moving in the right direction, and course-correct if needed. Following these best practices will help you not just successfully raise funding during this year’s appeal, but will also promote a culture of generosity within your diocese and parishes and encourage church donors to continue to give consistently.
Work with a Catholic fundraising consultant.
A fundraising consultant that has experience working with Catholic dioceses and other Catholic organizations can provide your team with the expertise and outsider’s view that you need to make sure your appeal is going to land successfully with your parishioners.
Not only can a consultant help you plan and manage your appeal, but they can also help you implement the fundraising practices that will help retain your parishioners’ support for the long run.
At Averill Fundraising Solutions, we’ve worked with a variety of faith-based institutions, so we understand the unique needs and challenges that Catholic dioceses face with their fundraising efforts. Partner with us to make your annual appeal a success!
3. Make your appeal personal.
Say you have one parishioner who appreciates an in-home visit every year during your annual appeal. They look forward to this chance to connect with their religious leader and present their gift in person. However, this approach doesn’t appeal to everyone. Another parishioner might prefer to hear about your annual appeal and give via email, while another may prefer putting their gift in an envelope the next time they go to Mass.
Clearly, every parishioner is different and will respond to different gift requests. This is why you should make your annual appeal as personal as possible—so that your fundraising ask resonates with parishioners as individuals and encourages them to act.
Here are some ideas for making your appeals more personal:
- Use data to get to know your donors. You likely already have a database or record of information about your parishioners that provides information like name, address, phone number, email address, church attendance details, and giving history. Use this data to get a better handle on who your church donors are as people, and to get critical information that will make your appeals possible (such as preferred names and mailing addresses). If you need to conduct further donor research, especially in the case of seeking out more major gifts, a fundraising consultant can help you navigate the process.
- Group your parishioners into segments based on shared characteristics. While it would be almost impossible to craft a personalized gift request for every single individual parishioner, you can narrow your approach to appeal to different groups of parishioners. You can do this through segmentation, in which you identify patterns or trends in your parishioners and then group them based on those shared characteristics. For example, you might segment your parishioners by age, preferred communication method, or average gift size, and then cater your messaging to those segments.
- Use your parishioners’ names. This seems like an obvious tip, but too many faith-based institutions make the mistake of neglecting to use their parishioners’ names when making gift requests. Doing so can make the request seem more like a transaction than an opportunity to give. Use your parishioner data to include donors’ names in your messaging, and pay attention to any information you have on preferred names, titles, or nicknames.
Every donor, no matter the cause they’re giving to, wants to be seen as an individual. By personalizing your annual appeals, you can communicate to your parishioners that you care for them and their spiritual well-being, and that you truly believe that giving a gift will benefit both them and your broader religious community.
4. Demonstrate the impact of previous gifts.
You can encourage more church donors to give to your annual appeal by sharing how previous gifts have impacted your ability to serve the community. By doing so, you communicate why giving matters and help your parishioners visualize what is possible when everyone in their congregation gives.
Here are a few suggestions for demonstrating the impact of previous gifts:
- Share impact stories in sermons and connect them to stories of generosity in the scriptures.
- Create a video in which you interview beneficiaries of your church’s services and ask them to share how their lives have been blessed by parishioners’ gifts.
- Post a letter on your website sharing the success of the previous year’s annual appeal and detailing everything you were able to accomplish because of the funding.
As you share these impact stories, try to frame them in terms of tangible benefits. For example, the statement “Because of your gifts to last year’s annual appeal, we were able to provide 1,300 meals to homeless individuals in the Boston area” provides a clearer picture of how funds were used than “Thanks to you, we’ve been able to serve more people in need.” The former is much more memorable and inspiring!
5. Be transparent about how your diocese will use the funds.
On top of sharing how past funds have been used, you should also have a plan for explaining how funds given during the current annual appeal will be dispersed. This transparency will foster trust between church leaders and parishioners and lead to more gifts, as donors will feel confident that they know where their money is going.
Additionally, share with your parishioners how you’re stewarding church finances year-round. Offer information about your diocese or parish expenses and larger financial goals, and be prepared to field questions. This will help your parishioners feel like they’re included in the church’s financial life and will build their confidence in your leadership.
6. Provide multiple ways to give.
You can also encourage church donors to give by offering them plenty of ways to do so. After all, just as different donors will respond to different gift requests, they’ll also need various giving options that fit seamlessly into their lifestyles.
Consider these various ways your donors might make a gift to your annual appeal:
- Via your website. However donors get to your church’s website, whether by email, a text-to-give message, or by simply searching for it, they’ll need an easy-to-use online giving form to make their gifts possible. Keep your giving form short and simple, and include options to make a one-time gift into a recurring one.
- With an envelope. Some donors may prefer to pick up a gift envelope from their pew when they go to Mass. Make sure to include a form in each envelope where the donor can clearly lay out the amount they’re giving and their contact information so that you can thank them for their gift later.
- By phone. Be prepared to receive gifts over the phone. You can even ask volunteers to help you answer phones and collect gifts.
- Through the mail. You may write personalized gift request letters and send them to your donors, encouraging them to return their gifts by mail. Make this easier by providing an addressed return envelope.
In addition to considering various giving methods, it’s important to remember that some parishioners may not be able to contribute a monetary gift to your annual appeal. You can still include everyone in your appeal by planning volunteering opportunities to get involved (such as serving on your planning committee, answering phones, planning fundraising events for church youth to participate in, etc.) and encouraging in-kind gifts. For example, one parishioner may not be able to provide a cash gift, but they may be able to give a gift of used clothing that can be distributed to community members in need.
7. Thank your donors.
After your annual appeal has concluded (and you’ve hopefully met or exceeded your fundraising goal!), it can be tempting to want to move on from the appeal to focus on other duties. However, skipping the important step of thanking your church donors can be detrimental to parishioners’ views of the church and can destroy any groundwork you’ve laid for future gifts.
Take the time to thank each individual donor who gave to your appeal. You can do this by writing traditional thank-you notes, creating thank-you videos, or meeting with your donors to express gratitude on behalf of your diocese. However you go about thanking your donors for their gifts, remember to continue to personalize the experience. This will ensure that your thank-you resonates with your parishioners.
As you thank your donors, express gratitude for the specific gift they made, and let them know how their gift will be used. You can also encourage further involvement opportunities within your diocese or their local parish, but avoid asking for another gift right off the bat, which can leave a bad taste in your donors’ mouths.
Your diocesan annual appeal makes it possible for you and your fellow church leaders to continue serving your religious and local communities. As you carefully craft your appeal and encourage church donors to give generously, remember the bigger picture of working to raise funds so that you can do more to further God’s work, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a fundraising expert for help.
Looking for further reading about the world of fundraising? Check out these additional resources:
- Capital Campaigns for Nonprofits: Steps for Success. Capital campaigns are large-scale fundraising efforts that require a strong strategy. Learn more in this post.
- Conducting a Planning and Feasibility Study: A Guide. Planning and feasibility studies help you determine the viability of a project or campaign. This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of conducting one.
- Build a Successful Annual Fund Campaign: The Essentials. Your annual fund keeps your nonprofit running. Learn how to create a winning annual fundraising strategy.