Funding a new spiritual home in East Tennessee


Diocese of Wichita

Diocesan capital campaigns are challenging even when the goals have widespread support. When you’re raising money for a cathedral, the challenges can seem insurmountable.

The Diocese of Knoxville, a young, vibrant and growing diocese, faced a major challenge: It lacked a true cathedral to call home. The need was obvious, but the benefits of a cathedral can be a difficult sell to those outside the cathedral parish.

So how did 51 parishes dispersed across East Tennessee come together and raise more than $44 million?

By listening to their pastors and parishioners, adjusting their plan, securing gifts from outside the diocese and providing parishes with flexibility in their goals.

“From the earliest stages of the Home campaign, the Steier Group showed great understanding, flexibility and attentiveness to the specific needs of our parishes and pastors,” said Most Reverend Richard F. Stika, the Bishop of Knoxville. “The Steier Group appreciated the unique qualities of our young church and of the people of East Tennessee. Their counsel was not simply a model taken off the shelf, but rather a customized approach, integrating pastoral priorities and local sensibilities.”

A pilot wave of churches and the major gift program were key to the capital campaign’s success. Both provided the campaign with momentum heading into the main parish waves.

In the pilot wave, the Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish set a strong example by raising more than $9 million – more than five times its annual offertory. Additionally, a robust major gift program secured many donations through the careful identification, cultivation and solicitation of prospects from inside the diocese and across the country.

In order to keep momentum going, the Steier Group used the knowledge gained during the pilot wave to improve the campaign plan and communications moving forward.

“Throughout the planning and pilot waves, the Steier Group adjusted – listening to feedback and customizing our approach,” said John Deinhart, director of stewardship and strategic planning for the Diocese of Knoxville. “This early engagement, while at times difficult, was instrumental in setting us on the right path for our campaign and proved to be the key to our success.”

In order to raise more than twice its annual offertory, the diocese needed to present a compelling case for both its new cathedral and the other important projects: strengthening its parishes, increasing its commitment to charity, providing dignified retirement for priests and growing its commitment to Catholic education.

The Home Capital Campaign communication materials not only presented the case for the cathedral but also showed how the capital campaign would benefit each parish individually. Instead of forcing a one-size-fits-all campaign on each parish, the diocese and Steier Group worked with each parish to tailor the campaign to that faith community.

This customization was key to the diocese reaching its goal. It allowed a parish to have ownership over its campaign. And the benefit was obvious. The funds raised would be split 50/50 with the parish and the diocese. After reaching goal, a parish received an even bigger percentage of the funds.

Still, it was important for the cathedral not to be lost in the shuffle. Having a beautiful church home is a point of pride for the Catholic faithful, and the building serves as the spiritual home for the diocese.

“As Catholic Christians, everything we do begins in worship. It is our worship that leads us to action as we are sent out into the world. It is for this reason that the building of a new cathedral is important,” Bishop Stika said. “A new cathedral will also act as a means for evangelization as others are called toward this strong statement of our Catholic faith and our centering on worship.”

From the Steier Group’s perspective, the most important step in assuring the success of the campaign was listening to parishioners and, based on their feedback, scaling back plans for the cathedral.

As is often the case with a cathedral campaign, the planning study revealed concern among many parishioners that the building plans were too ambitious, given other needs facing the diocese. By listening to those concerns and scaling back the cathedral plans, the campaign was able to garner extraordinary support from parishioners across every community in East Tennessee.

Over time, the campaign produced an unexpected but equally welcome result: It helped to unify the Diocese of Knoxville.

“The Steier Group not only helped us reach our financial goals, but helped us accomplish something even more important through our campaign – they helped us come together as a diocese,” Deinhart said. “Expressing great leadership, coaching and encouragement, the Steier Group helped us to rise to this challenge and achieve great things together. This accomplishment will live on in this young and growing diocese.”

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