A different type of Catholic conversion Print
Trusting in the Spirit
Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

Part one of a two-part series.

You often see articles from Grant Emmel describing the Trusting in the Spirit process but this is the first time I've been asked to write a column for the Herald.

My function at the diocese is to fulfill Bishop Morlino's directive of all parishes converting to and using ParishSOFT and QuickBooks software. As a reminder, ParishSOFT is the program used for parish census data and offertory postings and QuickBooks is the complete financial software for all postings, tax reporting, payroll, and parish monetary activity.

Grant and I have been focusing our energy on creating successful processes and procedures to cover every stage of converting parishes from their current software to ParishSOFT and QuickBooks.

What's involved in parish software conversions? For all of you who've ever asked that question, today is your lucky day! Part One will discuss the conversion to ParishSOFT; a future Part Two will cover the QuickBooks conversion.

ParishSOFT

The directive given to the Office of Planning was to finish the software conversions of merging parishes first, so we are currently concentrating only on those 14 clusters involving 33 parishes.

We are also sensitive to parishes that are experiencing computer problems or own software programs from when dinosaurs roamed the earth -- we will convert you on an emergency basis.

If you are a non-merging parish who wishes to start the data software conversion process now, contact us and we will provide you with the checklists and instructions needed to begin working with your data. Parishes should begin using our Standard Operating Procedures which are located on the diocesan Web site here.

By moving to the diocesan census data standards now, there will be fewer changes you may need to make when we eventually schedule you for conversion. An added benefit is you can work at your own pace.

If you have specific questions about parish conversions or merging, you can read our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on the diocesan Web site which addresses items not covered in this article.

The Office of Planning contacts a converting parish many months in advance and provides written instructions and checklists to help make the process as smooth as possible. We are always available for questions and assistance by phone or e-mail before, during, and after conversion, and we schedule bimonthly telephone calls with all parish staff involved once the process is scheduled. Our end goal is to have parish staff be successful, confident, and at peace about using their software.

Data "cleaning"

We ask the parish to start the conversion process by "cleaning" the data in the census software program they are currently using. Cleaning data simply means making sure the parishioner information in the database is current, accurate, and as complete as possible. If it's been many years since a parish-wide registration occurred, this might be the time for one.

You as a parishioner can help the diocese and your parish by simply updating the parish office when you have any type of a life change (marriage, change of address, telephone number, e-mail, etc.). We provide the parish with a list of what the data fields need to look like so the conversion is predictable and accurate, thus reducing surprises and extra work afterwards.

Once the parish has reviewed and cleaned their data, it's converted from their current software into ParishSOFT. We provide teletraining and onsite diocesan training/support to parish staff so they are comfortable using the new program.

The parish then reviews their converted data and begins using it in ParishSOFT for a period of time before the data file is synchronized with the diocese. Merging parishes have their multiple parish files combined into one database before synchronizing.

Synchronizing

Synchronization means that parish data is connected to the diocese and other parishes. The parts that are shared with other parishes (only those in the Diocese of Madison) include data that is now duplicated and keyed multiple times by different parishes -- for example, addresses and sacramental information. Financial information, volunteering history, and student records stay confidentially with the parish directly involved with that activity and are not shared.

Before synchronization takes place, the parish also makes sure their parishioner information reflects diocesan standards so that once their database is added to the diocesan pool of information, there is consistency between parishes.

This may seem like a small issue but in fact it directly relates to a phrase most of us have heard before, "garbage in, garbage out" -- the diocese wants to make sure all parishes are speaking the same language when it comes to data and parishioner information. We also combine any duplicate records at this time.

We are happy to announce that we successfully completed our first synchronization in May and are preparing to synchronize the remaining pilot parishes.

Slow and steady

Merging parishes and software conversions are a slow process, made slower still by the fact that the Office of Planning consists of two people and I now spend part of my time assisting in the Office of Finance. Another reason is because we allow parishes the time needed to accomplish our requests regardless of how quickly we would like to see conversions completed. Some parishes have only one secretary who wears multiple hats and overwhelming the people involved in the process doesn't make for a successful conversion.

Grant and I compare our process to the turtle in the old fable, The Tortoise and the Hare -- "Slow and steady wins the race." Pressuring people also causes mistakes and a lot of unnecessary anxiety that nobody needs!

Thank you

The Office of Planning works hard at being good stewards of your donations and we respect your monetary sacrifice. Your generous financial gift to the Annual Catholic Appeal directly supports my work on software conversions, training, and friendly support to your parish, and you help the Office of Planning continue their task of providing organizational and administrative assistance to parishes.

Enjoy the summer -- how quickly it goes by! I appreciate and use parish feedback as a way to continually improve my service so feel free to contact me with your thoughts at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 608-821-3023.

Vicky Skilondz is the associate director of planning for the Diocese of Madison.