President Barack Obama’s proposed economic-stimulus package has been generating headlines across the nation in recent weeks, but in Auburn, more than 60 Catholics have already taken advantage of such a plan.
Although dubbed an economic-stimulus package, this deal was very different from the one being debated in Congress. For starters, it was just for members of St. Mary Parish in Auburn, and it was offered as an incentive for parishioners to contribute to the diocesan Catholic Ministries Appeal, said Father Frank Lioi, pastor.
Unveiled right before Christmas, this incentive was designed to stretch parishioners’ appeal contributions further, he said. For every new appeal contribution of $50 or more received by Jan. 31, Father Lioi added a $25 pledge of his own. Parishioners who already had contributed to the appeal weren’t left out of this incentive, however.
“If they already gave and (then) gave $25 more, I would add $10,” Father Lioi said.
All this, Father Lioi noted, was on top of the pledge he had already committed to the appeal.
Parishioners seemed to embrace the incentive, although it quickly became rather expensive for Father Lioi.
“I think we got about 30 new gifts of 50 (dollars) or more, and then about 35 gifts that were in addition to what they had given originally,” he said.
Several kind souls even took pity on the priest.
“In fact, a couple people even said, ‘I gave an additional $25, and I even added the $10 so you wouldn’t have to.’ They felt sorry for me,” he said with a chuckle.
The incentive was born of the stewardship committee’s desire for the parish to reach its 2008-09 appeal goal by the end of January, Father Lioi said.
Each appeal begins in October and concludes the next May.By mid-spring 2008 St. Mary still was approximately $3,500 away from reaching its 2007-08 goal, he said.
“We had to take up a couple second collections because we weren’t close to our goal. Taking up second collections is not the ideal way to meet your goal,” Father Lioi said.
One parishioner offered to match his pledge to the amount that was brought in through the second collections, so Father Lioi told parishioners they’d only need to raise about $1,700 through the collection.
“Knowing that, we got $2,700,” Father Lioi said. “I think people always feel good about matching donations. They think, ‘For every time I will give a little, it’s going to double, so let’s do it.'”
Building on that experience, Father Lioi and the stewardship committee decided to be proactive and not wait until spring to launch a renewed push to reach the goal for this year. Parishioners seem to like the fact that their money goes further with this new incentive, he observed, but that’s probably not the only reason they’ve supported the appeal.
“They are aware that it comes out of the regular collection if you don’t. They want the parish to make the goal,” Father Lioi said.
St. Mary is not alone in offering incentives for parishioners to contribute to the appeal, he noted. Father Steve Lape, pastor of St. Jerome Parish in East Rochester, told his parishioners that he’d add $600 to his own pledge if 60 parishioners each contributed $200 to the appeal. Eighty parishioners took him up on the challenge, Father Lioi said.
Father Michael Mahler, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca, also challenged his parishioners, and their acceptance cost him $1,100.
“I offered a match whereby I would contribute $25 for every gift of $50 or more that was either new or increased from last year,” he said.
Still, $1,100 is a relatively small price to pay, the priest said, noting that last year he contributed $50 for every new or increased gift of $50 or more. “It broke my bank,” he said, and ended up costing him between $4,000 and $5,000. That may be why some of Father Mahler’s parishioners took pity on him this year.
“There were several who increased their gift by $49 because they didn’t want to cost me any money,” he said.
Expressions of sympathy, however, are not the goal for most priests offering such challenges, Father Mahler said. Rather, it’s just an effective way to lead by example.
“It’s good leadership. Follow me, follow what I do,” he said.
Father Alex Bradshaw, pastor at Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece, also subscribes to that theory. For the past two years he’s volunteered to increase his own appeal contribution in return for an increased number of contributors from the parish. Parishioners have responded well to this incentive, he said.
“They thought that was a great expression of my own personal commitment,” Father Bradshaw said. “I really want them to understand that (the solicitation of pledges) is not just me speaking to them. We’re all involved in this together.”