Diocese gets advice on making appeal more successful
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - The Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., spiritual and physical home to some 130,000 Catholics, took in $4.2 million last year in its annual bishop's appeal.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Jim Kelley, right, director of development for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., and Pat Signs, director of development for the Diocese of Savannah, Ga., listen during a meeting examining the Together We Can appeal.
The Diocese of Savannah, Ga., with some 76,000 Catholics, took in $1.5 million.
The development directors of both dioceses came to Kansas City April 12 to help a diocesan committee unlock the mystery of why the Together We Can annual appeal in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, home to nearly 160,000 Catholics, has never reached the $2 million mark.
At that meeting, where participants included pastors, pastoral administrators, and lay people from across the diocese, the results of a survey were reported in which parish leaders where asked to identify the top reasons that Together We Can appears to be stuck.
The 54 parish leaders who responded cited as the top five reasons:
Jim Kelley, director of development for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., cited two reasons that the annual diocesan stewardship campaign is so successful there.
- A lack of a sense of connection between individual Catholics and the diocese.
- Too much competition for money with other Catholic entities, including colleges, schools and parishes.
- Lack of a sense of stewardship among Catholics in the diocese.
- Confusion between Together We Can, the annual appeal, and the 1999 "Gift of Faith" diocesan capital improvements campaign, and between Together We Can and its predecessors, including the United Catholic Stewardship Appeal.
- Lack of motivation among some pastors to promote Together We Can from the pulpit.
The first, he said, is that all parishes are required to meet a predetermined goal.
"If they don't, they get a bill from us in June for the difference," he said.
The second, Kelley said, is that the Charlotte diocesan newspaper, The Catholic News & Herald, is mailed directly to every Catholic home in the diocese.
"The primary reason people give is to make a positive difference in someone's life," Kelley said.
"We tell those stories in our diocesan newspaper and every single Catholic household in the diocese gets the newspaper 44 times a year. That is really effective."
Kelley said the idea of "mandated goals" came from the diocese's priests.
"Probably 18 or 19 years ago, we had goals that weren't mandated," he said. "We had about half of our priests working their tails off and making their goals, and the other half wasn't. It was the priests who were working at it who asked that the goals be mandatory."
Kelley said that the goals are based on a formula that was designed by a team of pastors and is based, in large part, on regular weekly offertory collections within each parish.
"We have not seen a parish that has had its pastor's involvement in the campaign that has not met its goal," he said.
Pat Signs, director of stewardship and development for the Diocese of Savannah, said the annual appeal in Savannah has been growing since it was revamped a few years ago into the "Bishop's Annual Appeal."
Signs said the new name allowed the campaign to connect directly with it's greatest asset - the popularity and name recognition of Bishop J. Kevin Boland, who has been a priest, pastor, and diocesan official of the Diocese of Savannah since 1969. Bishop J. Kevin Boland is a brother of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Raymond J. Boland.
"It had been called the 'Diocesan Development Appeal.' It didn't have any relevance to people," Signs said.
When the campaign was revamped, a committee also recommended that parish goals be made mandatory. Signs said that Savannah's Bishop Boland turned down that idea.
"He did not want to go to mandatory goals," Signs said. "His reasoning was that we are trying to teach stewardship and (mandatory goals) could be seen as just another tax."
Both development directors say they use a variety of means to communicate throughout the year with Catholics in their dioceses, and not just during the appeal campaign.
"The key thing is how you communicate, what you are communicating, and how often you communicate it," Kelley said.
Kelley said that when direct-mail solicitations are sent to all parishioners during the February launch of the campaign, each letter also includes a card in which Catholics can request special prayers.
"Last year, we got 8,000 prayer requests," Kelley said.
In addition, donors who gave at least $300 receive a more personalized letter from Bishop William G. Curlin thanking them for their past support and asking them to make a specific increase.
On "Appeal Sunday," lay witnesses are sent to each of the diocese's 68 parishes and 23 missions to tell the story of how the annual appeal affected their lives.
"The lay witnesses talk from the pulpit, typically after the homily or at the end of Mass," Kelley said.
In addition, both directors said their bishops record video and audio tapes to be played in each parish.
"He can't be at all the parishes," Kelley said. "We found the video to be one of the best things we ever did."
In addition, the Charlotte Diocesan Office of Development offers a stewardship program to any parish that has difficulty meeting its goal. "No one who has taken advantage of this program has not met his goal the next year," Kelley said.
Looking at the size of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, Kelley, who has served 16 years in Charlotte, discounted the notion that the annual appeal here has reached its potential.
"Your people aren't even close to being tapped out," he said.
At the end of the day-long session in which participants brain-stormed strategies to improve Together We Can, Kansas City-Joseph Stewardship and Development Director Tom Minges said a final meeting is scheduled for May 2 for the panel to make specific recommendations to Bishop Boland.
Minges asked the members of the panel "to think of three larger issues." Those issues, he said, were the name of the campaign, mandatory versus voluntary goals, and the timing of the appeal, which now occurs in the fall.