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Despite challenges of pandemic, parishioners propelled dioceses to campaign success

By September 8, 2021January 12th, 2022Steier Wire

Strong parishes, strong diocese.

This mantra, from the Most Reverend Douglas Crosby, Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, during its capital campaign, sums up the benefit of a diocesan-wide capital campaign. When the Catholic faithful of a diocese comes together to support one another and the Church as a whole, a rising tide truly lifts all boats.

Never was this truer than during the pandemic. In addition to the usual challenges of a diocesan campaign, dioceses faced navigating the rough waters of lockdowns, virtual Mass, social distancing and economic hardship.

By following capital campaign best practices and adjusting to pandemic challenges, our diocesan partners still found success. In addition to Hamilton, the Diocese of Grand Rapids wrapped up a successful fundraising effort and the Dioceses of Nashville and Des Moines kicked off campaigns. Each diocese trusted the process and adjusted with the changing landscape.

Initially diocesan leadership in Hamilton considered postponing the campaign in deference to the struggles of the pandemic. Instead, with guidance from the Steier Group, the Diocese of Hamilton adjusted the campaign timeline and, during the first pandemic lockdown, focused on communication and outreach efforts before launching into the next wave of the campaign.

This included an appeal letter from Bishop Crosby to parishioners asking them to continue supporting their parish, even during lockdown. It was a successful effort and helped parishes navigate the early days of the pandemic.

At the Steier Group, we adjusted as well. The firm embraced virtual volunteer trainings and solicitations. For the Diocese of Hamilton, our campaign managers spent many consecutive months on site in Canada, including a quarantine period, to ensure the success of the effort.

“You’re not suits. You may wear suits, of course, but you’re not suits. You’re not coming in here as the big Wall Street professionals, you are brothers,” said Bishop Crosby about working with the Steier Group. “You’re Catholic, you understand the culture. You understand parishes, how they work. You understand priests. … It makes you credible and it helps the whole process to succeed.”

The Diocese of Hamilton’s One Heart, One Soul Capital Campaign took a unique approach to the parish share of a diocesan campaign. Seventy-five percent of funds raised were returned to parishes, with an additional 10% designated to assist parishes that had greater needs. The final 15% funded shared ministries like campus ministry and ministry to migrant workers. This unique approach helped inspire buy-in and support from pastors and parishioners across the diocese.

“The response for the campaign was extraordinary,” said Jim Long, Chancellor of Temporal Affairs for the Diocese of Hamilton. “Especially given the pandemic. You gave us the advice to continue during the pandemic and you were 100% right. Considering all of the obstacles we had to overcome, the amount that we raised was really extraordinary.”

The campaign, which has raised more than $34.6 million, also showed the power in the greater Church to parishioners across the diocese.

“Many parishes think they’re islands and independent operators. No sense that they are part of a bigger church,” said Msgr. Murray Kroetsch, Vicar General and Chancellor of the Diocese of Hamilton. “The whole campaign has raised the level of awareness that parishioners are part of a diocese. It’s a bigger family than just their local building they go to on Sunday and the people they see on Sunday. The Church is much bigger.”

For Francis Doyle, the Director of Stewardship and Development, the campaign also shone a bright light on the importance of stewardship as a way of life. He received multiple letters from donors who were initially skeptical of the campaign but, ultimately, ended up not only supporting the effort but growing in their faith and in the Church through their involvement.

“It really drove home to me what’s possible when you radically live out the stewardship vision,” Doyle said. “At a fundamental level, saying ‘what I have, God has given to me and I’ll use it’ and encouraging others to do that. I think when you see the fruits of that, and we have seen that in so many different, small ways, I find it really inspiring. It shows what is possible in all of our own lives, in the lives of our parish communities.”

The Diocese of Grand Rapids’ Our Shepherds Our Future Capital Campaign raised more than $35 million. This effort focused on taking care of and supporting the priests of the diocese. The goals of the campaign are to fund seminarian education and to support priest retirement.

“Although the campaign initially seemed like a tremendous amount of work and a very daunting task, our campaign manager helped me understand that it is a process that can be broken down into a series of components and rolled out progressively,” said Rev. William Vander Werff, pastor of St. Luke University Parish in the Diocese of Grand Rapids. “The Steier Group has a system in place for conducting campaigns that seems to have been honed over time and is designed for success.”

Despite concerns of starting a campaign during the pandemic, the Dioceses of Des Moines and Nashville are both off to strong starts to their multi-year fundraising efforts. Leadership recognized the importance of a campaign, even during a challenging time. Both campaigns are underway and on track to reach their goals.

While the pandemic presented many challenges to fundraisers around the world, the success of these diocesan campaigns drove home the vitality of the Catholic Church, even during times of struggle.

“I think one of the lasting benefits of the campaign will be the sense that the church is alive,” said Bishop Wayne Lobsinger, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton. “Sometimes we have the idea that the church is dying out. We’re the last vestiges. We’re just surviving. But the campaign has allowed parishes to accomplish things they’ve always wanted to do. Not just physical things – outreach, youth ministry, catechisms, ministry to seniors. Many parishes are in a better place than they were before and that allows people to think ‘this parish is alive.’”