How do we strategically assess financial stewardship in our parishes?

Progressively bigger stacks of coins grow plant shoots.
 on February 1, 2022

Recently I’ve devoted considerable time to thinking about how we can better assess the generosity of donors in parishes. Part of this thinking is motivated by COVID-19, as it has revealed our vulnerabilities. Another part stems from curiosity. I want to know how averse we are to risk. “Risk? What risk?” you might ask. Well, it seems to me that we are all too familiar with the impact that a slow-down in the economy might have or how a lockdown impacts social interaction, but what might be the impact on the welfare of the immediate parish community if a renter moved out, or the daycare closed, or the top three donors all died in the same month?

Some of these predicaments are unavoidable, but the risk they present needs to be considered.

The diocesan Stewardship Development office addresses these considerations in a new resource, “A Comprehensive Parish Risk Assessment of Generosity.” You will find it on the diocesan website later this month. Here are some questions to consider when evaluating the overall health of financial stewardship in our parishes: 

1. What are your sources of revenue and what proportion is each in relation to total revenue? This question lays bare parish dependence on outside sources of revenue to support church operations. The rule of thumb is that parishes should strive to ensure that at least 70 per cent of funds received come from members of the congregation.

2. How many active stewards of treasure does the parish have? I have observed that about 30 per cent of our households identified on parish rolls are potential givers of their treasure to support the ministry of the church. This means that currently they haven’t fully embraced discipleship or feel incapable of doing so. They are an opportunity for engagement and invitation. Please don’t write them off. As is the case in fundraising, a “no” may simply mean “not now.”

3. What is the profile of donors in your parish? Consider ranking active givers in five tiers based on amount of offertory revenue (if the total offertory revenue is $150,000 for example, separate each tier into $30,000 brackets). Then ask a series of very important and telling questions: how many donors comprise each tier? What is the estimated age of donors in the upper two revenue tiers? What are the top three donor amounts in the parish? Would the parish face financial difficulty if it lost its top three donors?

4. If we were to segment donors based on the way they give, what would we observe? Is at least 50 per cent of your giving base coming from Pre-Authorized Giving (PAG)? This is a critical question for every parish in the diocese. We have found that those parishes that are best able to manage the turbulence of the pandemic have a greater number of givers using PAG over envelopes. Regrettably, as good as the intentions of envelope users may be, rarely do they make up for the times that they are not physically present at church. 

5. Does church leadership give? We assume our clergy, churchwardens and treasurers are givers. We certainly hope they are good givers. But are they? What if they didn’t give? Those who give to a cause are more committed and apt to engage in volunteer activities. Some mistakenly believe that time and talent alone are sufficient when it comes to giving. If we applied that principle to a great many causes, they would certainly lack the financial resources necessary to fulfil their mission.

There are a series of other questions in the resource. The exercise isn’t meant to be onerous or approached with dread. Rather it is designed to be an inciteful opportunity to evaluate those aspects of giving in the parish that require more attention than others. Perhaps your parish needs to focus on promoting PAG, while another really needs to look at the gifts of time and talent that members of the congregations must give. Still others might identify gaps in their public relations via the website.

This new tool, I believe, is the next step in how we introduce year-round stewardship education in our parishes. For the last few years, the stewardship office has employed a cookie-cutter approach without giving much consideration to those areas that need to be targeted in any one parish. This needs to change. By assessing the current state of generosity in your parish we can better concentrate our efforts on those areas that will have the greatest and most lasting impact.


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