Once COVID-19 hit, and public Masses were suspended in parishes, Alex Previtera knew reaching the $3,730,310 Annual Diocesan Appeal would be a challenge. He also knew from previous appeals that the Catholic faithful were generous year after year.
“We hadn’t solicited since March,” he said. “We were pleasantly surprised, since well after the appeal was over donations continued to come in. People just kept giving even without solicitation.”
Bolstered by an October mailing to potential donors, the result of that giving, as of Friday, Nov. 6, was that the appeal had raised $3,843,077 — exceeding the goal by slightly more than 3%.
Previtera, director of development and operations for the Catholic Community Foundation, noted that when Masses were suspended on March 16, negatively affecting parish offertory collections, CCF opted to forego the April and May appeal mailings in order to help the parishes.
“Our goal is that we continue to support our parishes with offertory. In fact, one of the messages we’ve always put out there is that people shouldn’t sacrifice offertory giving for an appeal,” he said. “The idea is to strengthen our parishes. It makes no sense to take money from the parishes to fund the Annual Appeal. We try to be very sensitive to that — even more so this year.”
Ashley Winans, a vice president at Pranger Solutions Group, a consultant the diocese enlisted to help with development last November, agreed.
“We want parishes to focus on offertory through the end of the year,” she said. “We will do things to help them focus on Advent and Christmas.”
Compared to 2019, when 14,613 donors contributed $4,012,847.27 to the appeal, 12,994 donors contributed to the amount raised this year.
“That speaks to the larger picture across the country — fewer people giving more money,” Previtera said, noting that unemployment was a factor in that trend.
With the 2020 appeal concluding, he and Pranger Solutions Group are building upon what they learned from it as they prepare for 2021.
“One thing we’re really going to do this year — more than any other year — is to really ramp up the communication we do to the parishes and to parishioners through social media, Flocknotes and other means,” Previtera said.
One area they will emphasize is online giving.
“That’s not just the wave of the future; that’s happening now,” he said. “We need to get more people to go online and give.”
Given the uncertainty of whether or not the pandemic will still have an impact upon parishes in the early months of the new year, Previtera said using technology in the appeal will be “real key.”
“At this point we’re planning for an all-digital in-pew process,” he said. “We don’t know for sure, but we’re counting on more people going online and giving their donations.”
Winans said that they will encourage pastors to “over communicate” about using the technology.
“Be transparent with parishioners: ‘This is rough, this is very different, but we’re going to figure a way through it,’” she said. “Focus on talking about it at parishioners’ Masses or through the livestreams.”
Winans said pastors shouldn’t feel that they have to do this on their own.
“If we’re going to go all digital, we’re going to be walking people through what that looks like. How do you walk through giving online?” she said. “If pastors are uncomfortable with it but can set the stage on the importance of giving and why for offertory and the annual appeal, they can bring in volunteers, savvy people, to walk them through it step by step.”
Previtera noted that the adaptations that had to be made in raising money this year had an upside.
“There were the connections we’ve made with a lot of our donors we didn’t even know about before. This is truly amazing. So many things we’ve done that have built good will with our donors,” he said, citing biweekly emails sent to donors by Margaret Keightley, executive director of the Catholic Community Foundation. “We’ve gotten to know our parishes better because of the work we’ve been doing with them more intensively with offertory and Facebook livestreaming.”