Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


New Annual Appeal Method Yields Significant Pledges

By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published June 23, 2011

As the 2011 Archbishop’s Annual Appeal continues to move forward, the archdiocesan Stewardship Office reports that more than 70 parishes in North Georgia already have met or exceeded their parish goal with pledges.

This is pleasantly surprising news for many involved with the Appeal, from the Stewardship Office to pastors and parishioners. A few significant changes this year made giving easier and more convenient, and both Steve Siler, executive director of the Stewardship Office, and Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Dalton, felt the adjustments breathed new life into the Appeal.

“This year’s Archbishop’s Annual Appeal was very exciting here at St. Joseph’s,” wrote Father Williams by e-mail. “Not only did we meet our goal, but we exceeded it with enthusiasm. With the new method, even the families at our small mission in Crandall participated generously. The numbers of participants in Dalton soared when people saw how easy it was to pledge.”

Siler noted two major changes made to the format and delivery to encourage parishioners to donate. The first was the timing. Previously, the Annual Appeal would kick off in October and then continue through the next calendar year, sometimes overlapping with the initiation of the following year’s Appeal.

“Crossing over the calendar years, what you had was this confusion in everybody’s mind, from parishioner to pastor, parish administrator, Stewardship Office,” said Siler. “It was clear to me that we needed to shift to a calendar year Appeal.”

He said the calendar year timing is used successfully in other dioceses around the country.

In addition, the Stewardship Office thought that some new methods that make it easier for people to give would benefit the Appeal. Again looking to proven methods being employed in other dioceses, the office decided to implement a short, concentrated in-parish appeal, allowing parishioners to make pledges in their pews at Mass, in addition to direct mailings.

The method was recently used in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2009, which saw an increase of more than 15,000 pledges and more than

$2 million in contributions over the previous year.

Several training sessions were set up in the Atlanta Archdiocese to inform pastors and parish personnel about the purpose and the details of the new method, as well as how to implement it. Prayers, bulletin announcements and distinct responsibilities for members of the parish staff are listed in a training manual that was distributed to all parishes in order to help them highlight the importance of the Appeal and get their parishioners excited about participating. Training was also provided in Spanish in several locations so parishes with concentrated Spanish-speaking populations could also reach their members.

“The Appeal provides an opportunity to reflect upon the fact that every Catholic is part of a local Church and of the larger Universal Church. Each of us is responsible not only for his or her parish, but also for the wellbeing of the Church throughout our Archdiocese and throughout the world. Since we are one community of believers, members of all parish communities throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta are asked to give to this campaign,” the training manual states.

The main thrust was a three-weekend “in-pew” appeal commencing near the beginning of the year and leading up to Ash Wednesday, where pastors would explain the Appeal and how one could give.

The first weekend was the announcement weekend. Parish leaders took time to talk about the Appeal and preach on its importance. The following weekend was commitment weekend, which featured a video of Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory speaking about the Appeal. During this time pastors also presented parishioners with the pledge forms and walked them through the steps. The final weekend was used to reiterate the importance of the Appeal and again walk parishioners through the pledge form.

“For pastors, the new method was the key,” said Father Williams. “With simple, straightforward, proven methods, it freed pastors from being salesmen and allowed them to be promoters of the Appeal. In my own more than a decade as a pastor, I found that I had fallen into some bad habits with the Appeal. I would say things like ‘well, we have to pay it either way’ or ‘giving to the Appeal is like giving tax-free money to the parish’—hardly motivational. But now I have new effective tools that have renewed my enthusiasm. I’m a believer now and the results are the proof it works.”

Mary Ellen Cenzalli, associate director of development, said that giving pastors the tools was a huge part of the new method. Giving pastors the motive, the method and the necessary tools has really been successful, she said.

Parish goals for the 2011 Archbishop’s Annual Appeal were determined by calculating eight percent of the parish offertory income for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. Once the parish’s goal is met, each parish is able to keep 100 percent of all additional funds to be used however the parish sees fit.

“With the archdiocese returning every dollar pledged above our goal, this frees up our budget for unexpected expenses and debt reduction, and keeps us from having to pay the shortfall, which was always a burden,” said Father Williams.

As of June 21, 72 parishes are at or above their Appeal goal with pledges. It should be noted that these are pledges and the goals will ultimately not be met unless parishioners continue to fulfill those pledges by honoring their commitment.

Transfiguration Church in Marietta currently leads with the most pledges—over 1,300. Most parishes have already started to receive payments. St. Catherine Laboure Church, Jefferson, has received payments adding up to nearly $1,400 over its goal.

Overall, it has been a successful effort thus far, both for the Stewardship Office and most of the parishes in the North Georgia Church. More than $8.7 million has been pledged across the Archdiocese of Atlanta for the 2011 Archbishop’s Annual Appeal. The archdiocesan goal is $7 million. Nearly $3.9 million has been paid thus far.

“For St. Joseph’s and our mission, San Toribio Romo in Crandall, I believe the success of the Appeal was seen in its emphasis on the Universality of the Church and our participation in it,” Father Williams commented. “Ninety percent of our parishioners are Hispanic and most are bilingual, and the Appeal has shown to them how they are part of the archdiocese and the larger Church in the United States and the world.”