Supporting the financial stability of parishes during COVID-19

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

An offertory basket can be seen in this right side of this photo at St. Genevieve and Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Dec. 5, 2020. COVID-19 protocols require people to place their donations in a basket or other container in the back of church instead of the traditional passing of baskets during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Catholic parishes around the country closed their doors in March last year because of COVID-19, many lost much of their offertory collections, which help them not just pay the bills but provide important ministries to the community.

While offertory collections took a hit at first in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the generosity of numerous Catholics has helped parishes bounce back to an average of 86% of what collections were at this time the prior year, even though Masses are not back at pre-COVID capacity, said Brendan Keating, chief development officer of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“There’s just a big story to tell about how generous our community members and donors have been through COVID-19 in a whole variety of ways,” Keating said. “When all of this first happened and the parishes closed down completely, we saw some really enormous drops in offertory week over week. Some parishes were collecting 20% of what they did that same weekend of the prior year.”

Archdiocesan teams, including staff from the Office for Stewardship and Development and Parish Operations, quickly mobilized to assess ways to help parishes increase their offertory collections while churches were closed. They surveyed parishes to determine how many had online giving available to parishioners.

“As best as we could tell, only about 10% of all offertory was coming in online,” Keating said. “Some parishes used it more than others.” So the archdiocese created a page on its website where people could donate to individual parishes.

“In less than a week, we put up an online giving system that is still going, where a donor can make a gift to any parish in the archdiocese,” he said. “Almost every parish in the archdiocese has received a gift through that site.”


So far about $1.1 million has been collected through that webpage.

While offertories are increasing, broader parish fundraising is a different story.

“The things that have been harder for the parishes to replace have been when they have different kinds of community-based fundraisers like church carnivals, church picnics, dinners, lunches, all of those kinds of smaller, event-based things,” Keating said.

Many parishes are doing better than archdiocesan staff anticipated in the early days of the pandemic, thanks to the loyalty and dedication of parishioners and hard work in the parishes, he said.

Still, “there are a good number of parishes that are in a lot of financial trouble,” he said. “A lot of that depends on the economic situation of parishioners. If their parishioner base has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 economically, they just don’t have the capacity to support their parish.”

The Annual Catholic Appeal is up for 2020 over 2019, Keating noted. And the 2021 campaign is gearing up. This year, instead of parishioners using in-pew cards for donations during Masses, they will be encouraged to make pledges on their phones.

In the meantime, the Office of Stewardship and Development continues to work with parishes to increase their ability to raise funds.

For example, the office’s three-person team of parish support managers works with parishes in two vicariates. Prior to the pandemic, they served as “in-house fundraising consultants” who helped parishes with initiatives like capital campaigns or increasing online giving, said Jose Piñones, director of giving for the Office of Stewardship and Development.

The team developed a five-step plan for parishes to address fundraising needs. Those steps include personal phone calls from pastors to parishioners, telling parishioners about the online universal offertory form, increasing access to online giving on parish websites, asking for donations by phone or text message and putting information about online giving in parish bulletins.

In April, the parish support team began working with cohorts of about 35 parishes.

“Everything we provide to them comes with templates and scripts. Our goal is not to give them more work but to just provide them with resources,” Piñones said.

“One of the most important steps is pastor communication, whether that is the pastor calling his individuals individually or we can suggest a robocall,” he continued. “That step was the one most well received.”

The pandemic gave Piñones and his team the opportunity to connect with parishes and learn their strengths and weakness. For example, they helped parishes begin the process of building websites, as well as assisting with online giving.

The parish support team has worked with 200 parishes and have about 100 left. They hope to conclude by the end of March.

“We’re finding that donors right now are very understanding that if you’re having financial challenges that it’s the current situation that we’re living in and that they’re very happy to help,” Keating said. “People have been very generous. Please encourage people to continue to support their parishes and other worthy causes because the funds are needed now more than ever.”


  • parishes
  • covid-19

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