All parishioner data is good parishioner data … unless it’s not. Sound complicated? Not really. Keeping track of parishioner data is essential to moving your parish forward rather than standing still. All you need is to figure out what kind of data would be helpful for growth, how to attain it, and most importantly, how to use it to your advantage.
Here are ways in which your data “blind spots” might be hurting donor growth within your parish.
The Problem: You Have the Same Data Stored in Multiple Systems
If you’re like most parishes, you don’t have a data management system that “talks” to all departments. For example, you have a platform that houses all your parishioner contact information, a platform that keeps track of all religious education participants, and of course, a massive amount of paper sacramental certificates.
Unless you have multiple people willing to spend lots of time going through and managing them all, this type of system is bound to have some inaccurate or missed information.
The Solution: Decide on one intuitive platform to hold all parish data — financials, parishioner contact information, sacramental record keeping, and religious education class scheduling — and then make sure all the people involved in these areas have access to add and update information.
The Problem: Your Data is Outdated
You might have a great habit of entering all new parishioner contact information into your system, but is there a process in place to remove them if they find a new parish or move away? What about changes to their address, email or phone number? While it might not seem like a big deal, this information counts!
When planning a physical mailing for your annual appeal, or just a letter from the pastor boasting about what the parish has done so far, are you truly being good stewards of your resources if half the mailings come back due to incomplete or wrong addresses?
The Solution: Ask your parishioners twice a year to confirm or update their contact information and have a dedicated person (parish administrator or dedicated volunteer) go into the system to make all changes. Something simple like “connection cards” handed-out at Mass for parishioners to fill out and return is usually all you need to make sure your records are accurate and complete.
Pro-tip: Connect with any registered members who don’t respond to your request to make sure they are still attending members.
The Problem: Most of Your Data Lives in Someone’s Head
Maybe it’s the secretary that’s been working at the parish for more than 30 years, or a long-time parishioner who’s been involved with the parish since he or she was baptized in the early 1960s. Basically, it’s a few key people in the parish who know the process of something, or remember how certain things were gathered at one time, and you’d be hard-pressed to ever find anyone with the same amount of knowledge.
The Solution: Whether it be the data itself or the process used to gather it, be sure to document everything so all parties — from the parish administrator to the pastor to the business administrator — could step in if the situation ever called for it.
All parishes should have a “how to” guide of processes. From logging into the email account to how to submit the annual Status Animarum report to the diocese, you never know what the next day will bring. Be sure to keep your bases covered by making sure that anyone could step in temporarily to get an important task done.
The Problem: Your Data Isn’t Accurate
Are you sure your parishioner data truly reflects life at the parish? Gathering easily collectable data multiple times per year is a good way to find out.
The Solution: Once per month, have your ushers take Mass attendance (be sure it’s on different Sundays of the month, and not during special times such as Christmas or Easter), keep track of people who come for confession, and be sure to keep a running tally on who receives his or her First Communion and the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Now that you have it, you need to do something with it. If you find that some Masses are fuller than others, it’s important to figure out why. Is the 10:30 a.m. Mass the full because that’s when the choir attends? Are there two different pastors who speak to different types of audiences? If parishioners are baptizing their children, but not bringing them to religious education years later, you need to ask yourselves why. Are they just not coming back to Mass? Are they going to a more family-friendly parish?
As a parish or parish leader, it might be hard to really look at reasons why people attend or don’t attend your parish. But the most important thing to remember is that all data and information you collect can be used for the ultimate goal of bringing people closer to Jesus. The Amazing Parish Conference recently published a free e-book, “The Better Pastor,” that might be helpful in these types of situations.
Interested in beginning a plan of data gathering in your parish? Check out “Gathering Data to Engage,” and “Leveraging Your Data,” to begin the conversation. Want to dive deeper? Connect with us for a parish consultation.