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Envelopes, bulletins still valuable in Church fundraising, communications

Participants at a parish fundraising course organized by the Catholic Foundation visit parish bulletin and offertory envelope vendors at the Pastoral Center in Braintree, Oct. 15. Pilot photo/George Martell, The Catholic Foundation

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BRAINTREE -- Even though society has been thrust into a digital age, with electronic communication and bill paying becoming commonplace, traditional offertory envelopes and paper bulletins still are the best ways to raise money and promote effective communication in parishes, says the chief fundraising official for the Archdiocese of Boston.

However, to be effective, fundraising and communication techniques must reflect societal changes that have been blooming over the last 30 years.

“Many of our parishes are challenged at earning as much contributed revenue as they need to either sustain their current mission or expand their mission to be who we are called to be as a Church,” said Secretary for Institutional Advancement and Chief Development Officer Scot Landry.

On Oct. 15, Landry and his team from the Catholic Foundation hosted a forum at the Pastoral Center which discussed stewardship and communication with parish officials. Attendees participated in a comprehensive parish fundraising course and met with current envelope and bulletin vendors from across the country to see how to enhance their fundraising and communication efforts.

The impetus for this event, according to Landry, came from attendees at previous seminars, who said that since offertory envelopes raise more money for a parish than any other fundraising strategy, parishes need to present a visually appealing envelope that is mailed on a schedule that keeps stewardship on the minds of parishioners.

“Parishes can reaffirm the choice they currently have or they say there is another provider that is offering a lot more,” Landry said. “Not all providers of offertory envelopes provide the same services. They’re not all created equal.”

Parishes need to be practical when selecting their envelopes, said Rick Donnelly, of the Ohio-based Church Budget Envelope and Mailing Company.

“Color is attractive and a lot of parishes love to use the color,” said Donnelly. “Most of my customers use black and white because it’s the least expensive. Quite honestly, color, as nice as it looks, doesn’t increase contributions.”

It is important, as well, to offer appropriate giving options on envelopes that reflect today’s economy, according to Chris Keiley, of Zartarian Publishing, Inc., because 80 to 90-percent of a parish’s weekly offertory comes from roughly 20-percent of its parishioners.

Further, the envelopes have become a means of communication with parishioners.

“It’s not just that envelope anymore,” said Kimberley Waltz, of Fred F. Waltz Company, Inc. “It’s a matter of the package you can do with the envelopes. We have a parish in Dorchester who does a half size letter to parishioners so (the pastor) has a means to communicate to (the parishioners) every two months what his thoughts are.”

Despite the importance of offertory envelopes in the life of the parish, according to Landry, electronic giving via automatic withdrawal from a bank account should be offered as well.

“Electronic giving needs to be part of every parish’s options in terms of how to contribute,” Landry said.

He said that some parishes may want to make it their primary giving option but others could make it available as one of many options to parishioners.

“You can marry the two together,” said Waltz. “Especially in New England, there is a tendency to like tradition. You will always have some of the core elements that will want a traditional envelope system so you can offer that.”

Waltz added that traditional envelopes, and envelopes for special collections, are well received because people like to feel they have something tangible to give.

Like the envelope, paper versions of parish bulletins still have value in our technological age, Landry said.

“Despite websites and all of these new communication vehicles propagating over the last 20 years, the bulletin is still the most read and most picked-up communication vehicle in the Church,” Landry said. “Half of our bulletins across the archdiocese look the same as they probably did 30 years ago.”

Instead, Landry suggests four-color bulletins, with covers changing every week. He also suggests that bulletins depart from the traditional two-page layout and instead expand to four pages. He also likes bulletins to be able to run messages from Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley or even articles from The Pilot.

Paul Blanchette, of Parish Communication Solutions, Inc., agrees.

“I think the first thing that we found in getting involved in the business nine years ago is when we discovered that the cover of every bulletin seemed to not change and it seemed to lend itself to not paying attention to what might be inside. We also noticed there wasn’t enough space seemingly in many cases, so churches were required to reduce the amount of information they could put into a bulletin,” Blanchette said.

“There isn’t a publication that we know of as far as a periodical or any kind of magazine that puts the same cover on their publication on a weekly basis,” he continued. “Time Magazine doesn’t run the same cover. If it did, you wouldn’t pick it up off the newsstand because you wouldn’t think there is anything inside that’s new.”

Landry pointed out that Catholics in the archdiocese still enjoy hard copies of the bulletin and The Pilot. As evidence, he said that Cardinal O’Malley’s weekly e-mail, an initiative begun in May 2008 that includes the Cardinal’s blog and links to news from the archdiocese, has not obtained the amount of subscriptions Landry had hoped it would by this time.

“After a year of promotion, we are only adding in the tens every week to that subscription,” Landry said. “I thought we’d have 50,000 or 100,000 names by now. It’s still in the low tens of thousands.”

However, electronic bulletins are also effective today, according to Sharon Cross, of J.S. Paluch Company, Inc. because they can be helpful in reaching the sick or homebound, and can allow the laity an easier access to ministry schedules.

She also said that the digital age can allow pictures to be placed in the bulletin, adding to their visual appeal.

“All of a sudden it’s a lot more alive than just text,” she said. “When we go to bind them at the end of the year in leather books, it’s an archive for the parish families.”

Landry hopes that traditional bulletins and electronic communication can coexist.

“My hope is over the next decade we’ll still have the printed bulletin, and be able to share all the bulletin’s content via the parish’s website and an e-mail blast to those who want to share their email address with the parish,” Landry said.

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