COVID-19 has changed the way we are congregating. While the lack of in-person Mass makes it challenging to connect with communities, the dioceses that have a plan for how to pivot into the digital space will be the most successful.

As discussed in a recent webinar held by CCS Fundraising leadership in partnership with the International Catholic Stewardship Council, COVID-19 has changed the way we are congregating. The lack of in-person Mass makes it challenging for pastors to connect with their faith communities. While weekly parish offertory and potentially the annual appeal can be affected negatively during this time of uncertainty, the dioceses who have a plan for how to pivot into the digital space will experience the greatest success with creating an online parish community and consequently a greater response to electronic giving. Dioceses across the country are already doing a stellar job providing information to parishes. As a next step, it’s important to find ways to partner with parishes to connect with families by utilizing the tools, training, and support you have provided pastors and staff in recent weeks. In every diocese, there are parishes that are incredibly adept at engaging their parishioners virtually. It’s uplifting to provide real-time and local examples of success to inspire greater engagement from all parishes.

Many parishes will not have the infrastructure (maybe not even a website) to create virtual communities or collect money online. Therefore, your diocese will need to assess how it can make sure that all parishioners have the ability to donate to their parish virtually, and that all parishes are driving activity toward this purpose. This is a significant undertaking, but under the current circumstances, it is well worth the effort and can lead to positive short and long-term benefits. Here are two things you can start doing right now.

When specifically asked to transition giving from the typical in-person methods to online giving, the faithful are responding generously. Creating an online offertory page will provide parishioners with an easy to use process to express their gratitude for their local parish, pastor, ministry, and staff members. When creating an offertory page, remember:

As examples of successful pages that make giving easier for parishioners, The Archdiocese of Detroit and The Archdiocese of Chicago, among others, have created universal online offertory pages where parishioners can make a donation to any parish within the Archdiocese (as opposed to or in addition to individual parishes having their own portal). In these two examples, note that a COVID-19 statement as well as quick access to make a donation is available right on the homepage. Moreover, several dioceses have enrolled in #iGiveCatholic Together to facilitate receiving donations for their parishes, schools, and ministries. Making it simple for your community to find giving information and make a donation is paramount.

A virtual Mass is an excellent way to stay connected to parishioners while adhering to state health and safety guidelines. Many dioceses have already been connecting with their communities this way since the COVID-19 crisis began. Virtual Mass offers parishioners the opportunity to give online during or following the service and provides pastors with the opportunity to express the importance of supporting parishes at this time. To support parishes as they engage their faith communities during this stressful time for everyone, diocesan leaders must become the “arms and legs” that help translate smart tools into ministry in action.

The first step is setting up virtual meetings with each parish to share common materials, messaging tips, as well as guidance on how to utilize technology to replicate the in-person Mass. Webinars should include all pastors, business managers, and key parish leaders in partnership with the diocese.

Examples from the Field

Messaging Around Facebook Live

Many dioceses are pivoting to Facebook Live Masses to keep momentum going and to provide a place for the community to continue to feel connected. CCS Fundraising is developing a strategy for nearly a dozen dioceses that will support every parish in the creation of Masses on Facebook Live, and share spiritually responsible messaging regarding the importance of supporting the Church at this time through letters, e-mail messages, phone call scripts, homemade videos, newsletters and bulletins, text chains, pre-recorded calls, social media posts, and webinar meetings with parish councils and ministries. Celebrating Mass in every parish on Facebook will allow pastors to minister to their parish family throughout the COVID-19 crisis in as personal and local a manner as possible during a time when people are hungry for connection.

Humanizing the Online Experience

Inspired by a parish in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, parishes throughout the country have begun to ask parishioners to email photos of themselves so the pastor can print out the photos and place them in the pews as he celebrates Mass. During the Facebook Live Mass, you can see everyone’s faces which creates an engaging and personal touch. Small but personal gestures can go a long way in keeping your parishioners engaged.

Congregating Consistently

St. Monica in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, a parish that serves over 1,100 families, provides a daily Mass on Facebook at 8 am. The priests also pray the rosary once a day on Facebook. With each narrowcast, the pastors remind all of the importance of the offertory and directly ask for offertory support. St. Monica has enjoyed gifts in the $2,000 and $3,000 range, and at present, the parish is at its offertory target. This parish is also leading the way when it comes to quality communications and consistent offertory at the parish level for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

These tools will help dioceses and parishes in the short-term while we all adapt to the challenges brought on by COVID-19. But they will also serve your institutions in the long-term by establishing new ways to connect our parish communities. With a digital strategy in place, dioceses can also look forward to planning for online giving days, which you can learn more about here.

During this challenging time, we are continuing to offer our perspectives and lessons learned from over seven decades of nonprofit advisory leadership. Click here to access our Strategies During COVID-19 page. Here you will find resources that provide best practices and optimal strategies to help your organization build a path through this crisis and beyond.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.