Parishes have always relied on the generosity of parishioners to grow and develop. However, with needs at an all-time high, it is clear that most parish fundraising has not kept up with that of other non-profit organisations and churches often struggle to meet their growing demands. Projects deferred during challenging economic times, now more than ever, need to be addressed. Factors such as capital investment, an aging clergy population, and support for the recent ‘spike’ in vocations are stretching finances considerably. Further still, at a time when the Church should be playing a more visible role in society, programmes aimed at social outreach, evangelisation and youth are not materialising with the pace and breadth demanded.

Trends in Ireland and the United Kingdom:

  • Most donors give by cash, and in an unplanned way (a recent Charities Aid Foundation report suggests 50% of UK givers choose cash, but these figures can be significantly higher in Catholic parishes)
  • Participation levels are low – with many relying on a small number of committed supporters
  • There is a reliance on pulpit appeals, rather than specific gift requests
  • Many parishes are the recipients of sporadic grants for specific purposes and infrequent legacies

What’s holding parishes back?

It is often their reluctance to ‘ask’ rather than a parishioner’s willingness or readiness to ‘give’. Catholic parishes are slowly realising that parishioners want to support them. Priests are appreciating that parishioners are as invested in having a vibrant parish as they are. We are seeing a renewed confidence in many places, but the speed of change is slow.

Diocesan development teams in Europe, if they exist, are small, with fundraising commonly reactive to large falls in income or to meet major capital needs. For example, after a look at all twenty-two UK dioceses, only four of their websites gave you the option to donate online and only three had specific fundraising pages.

The facts:

  • Parishioners are already accustomed to giving to a multitude of charities, and in a variety of ways from TV and newspaper ads, to online payments. Most are familiar with the tax benefits that exist to supplement their giving.
  • About one fifth of all Charity Commission-registered organisations in England and Wales are religion-based, according to a recent report from NPC. The same report flagged that the number of registered faith charities in the UK is up by nearly 9,000 since 2006. Many of these are actively fundraising from the same pool of donors that support your parish. Why then, are parishes so reluctant to put themselves forward? CCS suggests that over the last five years those who had the confidence to look to the future, with a clear ‘ask’, saw parishioners respond generously.
  • Charities Aid Foundation reported that religious respondents to their 2013 survey annually gave on average £576 when compared with £235 from those who had ‘no religion’. However, only 31% had given to a religious charity. Here then, lies the challenge. Parishioners are giving, but not always to their parish.

How can parishes respond?

  • Leadership from clergy and laity, who are excited by plans to see their parish grow and develop
  • Specific requests – supporters appreciate guidance on the level of support needed. Is it £5 you need, or £50,000?
  • Ask for support – a recent CCS survey showed parishioners are willing to volunteer in new and exciting ways. Often, if parishioners have not given or volunteered, it is because they have never been asked
  • Deliver your project within the agreed timeframe and budget
  • Transparency and accountability are key – keep your donors updated on progress, and how monies are being used

Why now is a good time:

  • Giving to charity is up: 2013 saw growth of £1.1 billion to £10.4 billion in the UK
  • The UK and Ireland score at the top of the World Giving Index –
  • Confidence is restored to the wider market, job security has stabilised and economic growth is visible
  • If you don’t ask for support, someone else will

How will your parish respond?

  • Have you identified your needs?
  • Are your supporters engaged with your plan?
  • What’s holding you back?

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