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December 20, 2009

Parishes learn asking leads to more giving But requests must respect the culture within their own communities

By Alicja Pozywio


Ask and you shall receive, the Gospels say, and many parishes that have used the archdiocese’s planned offering program, have found that to be true. But how you ask needs to be tailored to the culture of the community, according to stewardship professionals.

The planned offering program — which aims to increase regularly Sunday offertory giving — began in the Archdiocese of Chicago 1992 and has been recently introduced to the ethnic Spanish and Polish parishes.

Easy to follow program

“The program is easy to follow as we provide the parishes with everything they need to know,” said Lea Dacanay, coordinator of vicariate stewardship in the Office of Stewardship and Development. Parishes can adopt the program at any time, but Dacanay said the best time is from September to November, just before Thanksgiving.

“It is a good time for people to reflect on their giving because the kids have gone to school, it is still before Thanksgiving and people just started thinking about Christmas,” Dacanay said.

Parishes conduct the program over a three-week period. The first week is an introduction, starting with a general presentation done by the pastor.

Most pastors use it to emphasize the importance of stewardship, focusing on gratitude, sharing and accountability. In the homily, pastors present the financial condition of the parish and the correlation between the weekly offertory collection and the parish’s operating costs.

“This is an opportunity to call parishioners to a greater understanding of the parish’s needs,” said Dacanay.

Personal letters

The introduction is followed by a personalized letter from the pastor reaffirming the theme of the homily and the financial and stewardship reports.

“We usually recommend segmenting the parish into specific groups. The letter will be a little different to the regular donors, to those who are not registered and those who are registered but there is no record of giving at all,” said Dacanay.

In the second week, parishioners listen to a lay witness talk about the impact the parish had on his or her life.

“We had some witnesses who spoke about how the spiritual and financial support they got from the parish helped them to survive in difficult moments like losing jobs,” said Dacanay.

During the second week parishioners receive another letter from the pastor with a report of the past week, repeating ideas and problems previously addressed. This letter ends with the pastor’s request to make a commitment and includes a commitment card and a return envelope.

“The pledge cards are more like declaration of intentions and are not legally binding and contributions are tax deductible. They are different from the annual appeal cards. They say how much one wants to give weekly and monthly and it is used for budget purposes,” said Dacanay.

The third week is a wrap-up week. There is another homily repeating the themes that were given to people. It is also a commitment weekend during which people are asked to turn in their pledge cards.

Different cultures

The program is conducted a little differently for parishes with Polish- and Spanish-speaking parishioners.

The word stewardship doesn’t exist in either Polish or Spanish languages, so we didn’t use it, but rather we talked about the concept of stewardship,” said Father Radoslaw Jaszczuk, the pas tor of St. Mary of Czestochowa in Cicero, a trilingual parish.

Last October the parish finished its second time through the program. “It helps to awaken awareness and responsibilities, but it has to be done with a concern about each specific group’s mentality,” said Jaszczuk.

Polish people like to see an exact improvement made thanks to their contribution, he said. “In my homily directed to them I emphasized the accomplishments from past years like getting a new parking lot, which cost us $200,000,” said Jaszczuk.

Latinos understand the parish as their house and place to meet and spend time with family members. “This parish is our home. If you want to keep it on going and operating we need your help, I told the Spanishspeaking members of our parish,” said Jaszczuk.

The ethnic parishes are a little different also because the parishioners don’t always sign up as members of the parish where they worship.

“They say they are temporary in the United States, so they don’t want to become officially members of any parish,” said Dacanay. This is why instead of mailing the letters, Jaszczuk asked parish staff members to hand out copies of it.

Money aids parishes

The money collected through the planned offering stays with the parish and is used for operating expenses. Dacanay said parishes have seen increases from 6 percent to 15 percent, depending on many factors.

Money is a sensitive topic, especially in a difficult economy, she acknowledged. But, she said, even though it might be difficult to ask, when you ask, parishes might be surprised at how people respond.

For more information on the planned offering program, contact Dacanay at (312) 534-7713 or e-mail [email protected].