When the reality of the pandemic became apparent last year, many parishes were thankful to have online giving and video streaming in place to keep people connected and to keep giving somewhat consistent. Many more parishes rushed to put systems in place, learning on the run, encouraging members to tune in and to keep their stewardship current through online giving. Many are still fine-tuning and evaluating systems hurriedly installed.
In many parishes, stewardship giving has actually increased during the pandemic. However, parishes accustomed to meeting their budget with event and rental proceeds have had to adapt existing events and adopt new fundraising initiatives. The drive-thru Greek Festival has become ubiquitous throughout the Archdiocese.
As we look ahead in these early days of 2021, we realize that the services of Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha will likely take place within restrictions. Spring fundraising events will be adapted or canceled. Parishes will feel the crunch.
A number of steps may be implemented now to prepare for the likelihood that the pandemic will stretch into the fall:
- Maintain cash flow by looking for savings and delaying major expenditures. Parish leadership sets the example by being good stewards. Adjust thermostats to lower bills. Order supplies in enough volume to receive price breaks, but don’t order more than you need. Examine your income and expense statement for items that can be reduced or eliminated for the short term.
- Stream worship services with quality sound and video equipment. Review your recent streamed services for ways to improve. Frustrated viewers will eventually stop tuning in. Bringing them back is more difficult than keeping them in the first place.
- Promote regular online giving in announcements and all communications. Implement online giving if you have not. Include the option of giving by text and post the give-by-text telephone number on your streamed video. Provide various categories for online giving to include memorial donations, light-a-candle requests, Easter and Christmas special donations, philanthropy and more. Many parishes have had a great response to their light-a-candle programs. Guidance is available on the goarch.org website or email email@example.com.
- Encourage major gifts by those able to offer them. Use announcements, bulletins and other communications to encourage people to make a gift in addition to their regular stewardship. Although the pandemic has hit many people hard, others are in a situation to make a special gift to the church.
- Make personal contact a priority. Phone calls, personal notes and visitations mean a great deal, as many parishioners are forced to shelter in place to avoid the risk of the virus. Some priests and parish leaders have made it a practice to hand-deliver the church calendar. Others bring a few groceries to those that may not be able to get out. These visitations provide an opportunity to greet members and keep the Church in their life.
- Use Streaming as an outreach opportunity. It has never been easier for our members to invite friends to Divine Liturgy. With streaming, they never need to leave home. Members are able to connect by phone with friends tuning in to watch the liturgy, explaining various aspects of the service.
- Encourage people to remember the church in their will/estate planning. A reminder in all online and print communications can result in ongoing supplements to parish income and in some cases a bequest that changes the long-term financial outlook of the church. Click here for planned giving information and resources.
- Continue regular ministry gatherings online. Keep the schedule of regular Youth, Sunday School, Bible Study, Prayer Groups and other ministries through online meetings and discussions. Engaged members become generous members.
- Implement creative fundraising activities. This can include a virtual 5K, an Easter bread sale, a drive-through food festival, a bake sale and more.
- Invite video testimonials in which members speak on “What My Church Means to Me.” These short 1-2 minute videos can be recorded on a smartphone and easily shared in church e-bulletins and on social media.
In all communications, it is important to remain positive. Stress that the church’s mission continues in the face of the pandemic. The support we receive supports our mission. Avoid “sinking ship” or “pay the bills” language. People give to vision, not to need.
In conclusion, love your people, stay in contact and keep them engaged. Remind them of the various ways to support parish ministries. Most importantly, always thank them for their support of the church.
Fr Jim serves the Archdiocese as Director of Stewardship, Outreach & Evangelism and as pastor of Saint George Church in Kingston, New York.