Integral ecology

Pilar AriasRead more : "A campaign to attract subscribers must be accompanied by less 'aggressiveness' when passing the basket".

We interviewed Pilar Arias, responsible for managing the direct debit subscriptions to make donations to the parishes in Madrid. She tells us the ins and outs of this way of obtaining income, which is becoming increasingly important for the support of parishes.

Diego Zalbidea-October 7, 2022-Reading time: 9 minutes
Pilar Arias

Photo: Pilar Arias

Born in Madrid 37 years ago, married and mother of three children aged 9, 6 and 4. Graduated in Law and Business Administration from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. From 2009 to 2011 she worked in the financial planning and analysis department of Kraft Foods, today Mondelez International Inc, company that produces Chips Ahoy, Oreo or Trident chewing gum. From then until 2016 she did so in the Economic-Financial Analysis and Budgetary Control Department of CLH (today's Exolum). In that year she was appointed to the position she currently holds, Deputy Director of Diocesan Administration of the Archbishopric of Madrid.

How many families prefer periodical subscriptions to help the Church in Madrid?

Many. More than 23,000 families have a subscription in favor of their parish in Madrid. However, we still have a large part of the population that is not aware of the advantages that this form of collaboration has, both for them and for the parish with which they collaborate. 

We detect that many people, when talking about accounts at the parish level, about resources needed or used, about deductions, of income tax returnsThey are disconnected because the topics are difficult to understand. We have to generate a very simple language for this group.

There is also a percentage of people who "have always put cash in the collection basket at Mass" and are not willing to change this custom. In addition, they do not know how to manage the moment when the basket is passed if they subscribe. They feel violent if they don't throw in something, and watched by their neighbors, who don't know that they already collaborate with a subscription. This is why we think that a campaign to attract subscriptions should be accompanied by less "aggressiveness" when passing the basket.

Does the approach have to be the same for all audiences?

We have to reach each segment of the population with a different message, depending on their age, their economic situation, their place of residence, etc. And that is the challenge. In changing the message to reach everyone.

We encounter another difficulty in communicating with parishioners: we currently have a highly digitized population and one that is not digitized at all. When we know their age, we consider them digitized up to the age of 60. We cannot know the degree of digitization of those over 60. Many are not digitized at all, but others, even those over 90, are digitized. The pandemic has helped us in this regard.

In any case, it is necessary to detect in the parishes what type of communication is more adapted to the parishioners, and to reach each one in the way he prefers. The challenge is to reach them with the right message and through the right channel.

What are the advantages of this type of collaboration?

In Spain, the Church has had no allocation in the general state budget since 2007. It is supported mainly by the voluntary contributions of all the faithful, each according to his or her means. The 0.7% of personal income tax that taxpayers freely decide to give to the Church covers in Madrid only 18.14% of the total expenses. 

Contributing through a regular subscription, rather than in the basket, benefits both the parish and the donor. The parish can forecast income to meet expenses and saves on cash handling costs. In addition, the donor benefits from significant tax deductions in the event that he or she has to file a tax return. This is why subscriptions are so important.

How much can the donor deduct?

Of the first 150 euros donated to a parish, the donor who must file a tax return can deduct 80%, if it is his only donation, and of what exceeds that amount, 35% (in certain cases, 40%). If the donor has several donations, the 80% percentage is applied to one of them, and to the rest, the 35% or the 40%, depending on whether it is a recurring donation or not.

Therefore, if we calculate what we would put into the basket annually, and we consider doing it through a subscription, we can make a larger donation, since we will deduct a significant amount and the parish will receive more money. It is a win-win situation.

As an example, it is interesting to take a look at the following table:

(your economic effort) IF YOU WANT TO DONATE PER YEAR: (what the parish will receive) YOU CAN MAKE A CONTRIBUTION OF: BECAUSE YOU WILL BE DEDUCTED:
30 €150 €120 €
95 €250 €155 €
160 €350 €190 €
225 €450 €225 €

Does the management, promotion and maintenance of the subscription system require a lot of work for the diocese?

In the Archbishopric of Madrid we have a department with three people, all women, who help most of the 479 parishes in the Archdiocese of Madrid with the administrative work generated by the subscriptions, and develop campaigns to promote them. 

We serve more than 18,000 donors. This frees the parishes from a lot of administrative work so that they can focus on more pastoral, welfare and charitable work. In addition, by being able to negotiate with banks with higher figures, we get lower fees for direct debit and return of receipts. The parishes have lower costs, and therefore receive more money.

Remittances are made to the bank, the monthly income of each parish and donor is accounted for, the 182 donation declaration form is generated for the Treasury, and parishes are advised on their needs. In this regard, we can be contacted by both pastors and members of the parish financial councils.

So, is it really worth it

It requires work, but in overall hours, less than what would be spent in each parish, and with the security that comes from dedicating ourselves professionally to this, knowing and applying all the regulations that affect us, such as the organic law and data protection regulations, law 49/2002, on the tax regime of non-profit organizations and tax incentives for patronage, etcetera.

The donor can subscribe by filling out a form, which is what "non-digitized" donors usually do. When this form arrives at the department, the data is entered into the system, processed and from that moment on it is managed.

Are there other forms of collaboration?

There is another way to make a subscription, which is the donation portal of the Bishops' Conference "Dono a mi Iglesia" (Donate to my Church) (, from which donations can be made to any parish in Spain. This database is also managed from this department, and the parishes are fully informed of the subscriptions they receive through this channel.

We keep parishes informed of all developments via email, and we make arrangements for the recovery of returned donations. The parish never disassociates itself from the donor. For example, if we detect that a subscription needs to be cancelled because a family is having financial difficulties, we inform the parish priest so that he can take care of them.

There are continuous calls from subscribers notifying new current accounts, changes in amounts, etcetera. All calls are answered. In case all the phones are busy, or if the call is outside our working hours, the donor can leave a message, and even if they do not leave a message, their phone numbers will be registered and we will answer all missed calls. 

I assume that there will also be a drop in the number of donors

Yes, we are frequently called by family members to cancel subscriptions of donors who have passed away. Condolences are offered and the donor is commended at one of the masses that take place at our headquarters.

Third Wednesdays of the month The Mass celebrated in the Archbishopric of Madrid is offered for all our benefactors. Without them the evangelizing mission of the Church could not be carried out.

And with donors, what communication is there?

Periodically we also make campaigns to collect donor data, changes of address, e-mail if they now use it, age... We want to communicate digitally with all donors who are used to this means, because it is cheaper, and every euro counts, but for this we have to get their e-mail.

We also take care of constant communication with donors, because they are a fundamental part of the Church, and we want them to feel that way, and that they are informed of the activities of the Church that they help to support. We contact them on the occasion of the Income Tax campaign, when the Episcopal Conference prepares Annual Activities Reportfor the Diocesan Church Day and at Christmas. 

Finally, when time permits, since resources are limited, we develop materials to help parishes in the recruitment of subscriptions: brochures, posters, etcetera.

What positive experiences do you have from these years of operation of the system?

The most important thing about having an aggregated database with donors from all the parishes is that it allows us to have visibility of what is happening in the society. We can pull out multiple statistics. Big numbers don't lie. 

In addition to administrative management and donor service, it seems to us that what brings a lot of value is to collect from the department the "best practices" of parishes that tell us about interesting initiatives that have borne fruit, since we can export them to parishes with similar characteristics. Sometimes they do not contact us to tell us about it, but we can detect it because we can see how the subscriptions of each one of them evolve.

We continue to train in fundraising and in digital marketing, to be able to offer advice and training to parishes, parish priests and economic councils without whom none of this would be possible.

We are also aware of what is happening in the third sector. In a way, NGOs are our competitors, in the sense that each family has a limited amount of resources to help. If they collaborate with three NGOs that are ahead of us in fundraising campaigns, they may not have any money left to collaborate with us. That is why we have to be very attentive to what is happening in the sector, so that we can transmit that knowledge with practical touches to the parishes.

Administratively, we take great care of our databases, trying to keep them as up to date as possible. In all the communications that donors receive, our telephone number and e-mail appear, so that they can contact us and let us know if any of their data has changed, or if they want to modify their subscription. And donors appreciate having us close to them. 

Since we make arrangements with donors who have returned their receipts, in coordination with the parishes, many times donations are not lost due to returns, but we recover them. Often these are bank account changes that donors have not remembered to notify us of.

The same criteria are established for all the parishes, and by working with a greater number of donors we save costs in sending paper and digital documentation and in bank commissions. The parish priests appreciate this.

Does this way of supporting the Church have any "shadow"?

Today we do not see any shadow, and we have no doubt that in a few years it will be the majority way that parishioners will choose to collaborate economically, among other things because there is less and less cash circulating in society. If there are no coins, we cannot contribute to the basket. We are therefore left to do it by subscription or on lecterns with dataphones for bank card payments, which will have to be installed in the parishes that do not yet have them.

Could such a system be used for the commitment of time, qualities and prayer, in addition to the financial support of the Church?

While fundraising, to which we dedicate ourselves, is necessary for the support of parishes, it is not everything, nor is it the most important thing, for the purpose to which God has called his Church. Each member of the faithful must collaborate with what he or she can, and this does not always include money. Time, prayer and the qualities of each one are fundamental, and they are acts of love that God values and makes them bear fruit like the mustard seed, of this we are sure. The Archbishopric of Madrid supports the parishes in these aspects from the different Vicariates and Delegations. 

Have you encountered any special difficulties in getting it up and running?

Initially, donors were reluctant to have the Archbishopric of Madrid issue receipts for their donations, as they were suspicious that the amount donated would go entirely to the parishes, or they did not know us and this generated mistrust. But with time, the parish priests and economic councils have counted on us for the management of the subscriptions and have explained the reasons to the parishioners, among which is the free nature of our services and the transparency of the whole process, and this reluctance has been overcome. 

We are close, responsive and provide the service that is needed, and we believe that this has greatly helped the department to grow in just a few years.

What challenges do you face once the system is up and running?

We want to add more value by exporting experiences from one parish to another, promoting round tables with pastors, meetings with financial councils, and providing training related to communication and fundraising, among other things. 

We have many ideas, but we don't have enough time to materialize them. One thing we are working on is to recruit new subscribers. The first objective is to communicate with parishioners who are not yet subscribers. We have to find ways to get their data, find messages that are useful to establish relationships with them, and little by little, make them see the advantages that a subscription has for them and for the parish. 

Is there a donor profile that prefers subscription to other forms of collaboration?

We find that many parishioners start subscribing in their 30s and 40s. We believe that this is when they have enough economic stability. It helps the digitized population to have all their financial movements recorded in some way, and this is what they achieve. In addition, those donors who are obliged to file income tax returns, and who are aware of the tax advantages explained above, prefer to subscribe to anonymous donations, because they benefit from them. 

Is there a minimum amount to contribute in this way or are there also faithful who collaborate with "minuscule" subscriptions from a financial point of view? 

There is no minimum amount to make a subscription. Yes, there are many parishioners who make real juggling acts to collaborate, even if it is with very little, from a purely economic point of view, because they have no more. The Lord already explained it when he saw the widow depositing her coin in the treasury, those amounts are more valuable than the large donations given by those who live surrounded by wealth. That is why it is necessary to be very careful about how money is spent. Austerity must be the key.

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