I’m amazed at how little the annual appeal process has changed in the churches and dioceses I’m familiar with. Here’s how the typical process works…
About this time of year parishioners (sometimes just past donors to save on mailing costs), receive a letter from their church and later a separate letter from their diocese. The letter from the church is looking for an annual pledge or commitment whereas the diocese is asking parishioners to participate in their annual appeal to support diocesan-wide ministries. A pledge card typically accompanies this letter. Too few churches may reference last year’s donation, while most, even though they have the data, are silent on this. They will then follow-up with usually 2-3 additional mailings, but probably not often enough a thank you note when a pledge or donation is actually made.
This year I encountered a church in my neighborhood, that in order to save money opted not to send out pledge cards this year. Instead, a letter was distributed after a December mass instructing the parishioners to call the church if they wanted to adjust their pledge from last year. Now I’m sure that this church saved a few hundred dollars on mailing costs, but at what price? Did the only occasional mass attendee get the message? And what about the content of the message? If they want to adjust their pledge? Should an employee contact their employer if they want an annual raise/increase? Should a retiree contact the Social Security Administration if they want this year’s cost of living adjustment. Taking a look at any secular charity organization and you’d immediately realize that they just don’t do it that way. They send out multiple mailings, they know exactly how much you gave last year, and they always, I repeat always, ask for more.
The other stark difference is sometime last decade, they began to leverage the Internet and then later Social Media. It can cost close to a dollar to mail a letter, but sending an email is free or nearly free in comparison. Putting your pledge form on your church’s website is also free, and communicating your progress toward your goal and sending out reminders are, you guessed it, free as well. If you’re church has an entirely paper commitment process, here’s a few things you can do to integrate a little electronic communication into that process.
Use Your Email Addresses
I’m always amazed that we’ve managed to put an email address box on our pledge cards, but yet we never use them. Too often, I hear churches lament that they don’t have email addresses for their parishioners or can’t keep them updated. They key here is you actually need to use them. Marketers know that a full 25% of all emails change every year. It takes constant communication with your membership to keep these updated.
What information are you distributing via email? How much do you communicate with your parishioners via email? The more you use email to communicate, the greater and faster your list will grow. I recommend using an email marketing service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. MailChimp is free for mailing lists under 2500 in size and then begins to have a nominal cost like Constant Contact. Using an email marketing service, provides you an easy, simple way to manage an email list, allows for opt-ins on your website, as well as to let people opt-out if they no longer wish to receive your emails. Plus with these tools, you can create a very nice looking HTML email branded to your church’s style. They even do mail merges simply and easily. No more “Dear Parishioner(s)” email. Now, you can personalize the message right to each parishioner.
Emails as part of an Annual Appeal Campaign allow for two very important things: You can increase your communication touch points. Marketers say you need to reach out to people 6-7 times to get a message through. With a combination of email and print, you can get up to that volume. It also allows you send out more customized and timely communication. Working with a mailing house can often require a few weeks of coordination. As events or deadlines get close or as milestones are reached you can send timely communication for how the appeal is going right now, not where you thought it was going to be 2-4 weeks ago. Plus you can reach everyone who you have an email address for. You don’t need to limit it just to last year’s donors to save money on postage and mailing costs.
Many churches struggle with enough content to put on their church Facebook page. How about updates on your Annual Appeal and progress toward your goal? Knowing that we’re 50% toward the annual goal or 25% of my fellow parishioners have already turned in their Pledge Card, may just prompt the slow-to-commit parishioner to make their pledge.
With a little work, Facebook can also serve as a reference point for encouraging email list signups or better yet, making their commitments right then and there. Liturgical Publication’s online donation tool, WeShare, integrates directly into Facebook allowing parishioners to commit and donate right from their church’s Facebook page.
And Lastly, Your Website
Stewardship is not just about money, but it is indeed a critical component that makes a stewardship driven church run. Almost all church websites have pages that describe their ministries, but not all have content on their annual appeal. Your website should be a repository for your pledge commitment cards, have the same calls to action as in the letters, and have frequent updates as your appeal progresses towards its goal. This time a year, there should be a call to action right on the home page of your website for every parishioner to make their annual commitment.
Connect With Your Community In Print and Online
The next generation of parishioners is growing up online. They’re more comfortable texting than writing in cursive. They don’t write letters and they don’t write checks either. They communicate via email and text and they do almost all their banking online. You need to reach all your parishioners where they’re spending more and more of their time, on the Internet. Your next annual appeal campaign should have both a print and a communication component to it. Email and Social Media can help get your message out, help repeat that message so it gets through, and do so at a very effective cost.