How can we ask for money at a time like this?
That has been a common question from nonprofits since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020. For the Diocese of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, the question arose as it was halfway through its $35 million One Heart, One Soul Campaign. After a brief pause, the diocese restarted its campaign in fall 2020, despite strict limits on Mass attendance and other COVID-related restrictions.
The diocese has no regrets.
“When you look at this through the lens of stewardship, through the lens of faith, it became clear that the option to pack up and go home wasn’t the right one,” said Francis Doyle, the diocese’s stewardship and development director. Moving forward with the campaign “allowed the people’s generosity to shine through even more.”
“You can’t only do the whole stewardship thing when everything is going great,” Doyle said. “It’s more important to have that view when things are difficult, because then you know you are making decisions as the Lord would want you to make them and not just in a cold, calculating fashion. I’m so happy that we went forward.”
The diocese had raised $15 million in the first two waves. It has raised more than $20 million during the pandemic and surpassed its $35 million goal. And that’s with the final four of 118 parishes kicking off in the fall of 2021.
The COVID restrictions forced the diocese and its Steier Group campaign managers to adjust campaign processes and priorities. Training sessions for volunteers were handled on Zoom, personal visits to prospective donors became phone calls, and parishes re-evaluated the projects the campaign would fund.
“The response for the campaign was extraordinary, especially given the pandemic,” said Jim Long, the diocese’s chancellor (temporal affairs). “I wasn’t sure it was the right advice” to move forward, “but in the end it sure was.”
Even before the pandemic, there were questions – even from priests – about whether a campaign was a good idea.
“Pastors came to realize this was a good thing, and that this could be successful and helpful to their parishes. From the priests’ perspective, we saw a huge shift in attitude,” said Auxiliary Bishop Wayne Lobsinger, who served as chairman of the campaign’s Clergy Committee.
Most of the money for the campaign went to parishes for projects of their choosing, with parishes in need eligible for expanded aid. A number of diocesan priorities also benefited: campus ministry, prison ministry, hospital ministry and the ministry for migrant workers.
Doyle said, “People took the time to reach out and say, ‘I really want to thank you for giving us this avenue of generosity,’ and credited the campaign for blessings in their life. It drove home to me what’s possible when you radically live out the stewardship vision. I found it inspiring.”
For Bishop Douglas Crosby, a key moment came prior to the kickoff of the Pilot Wave, when he visited St. Mary Parish in Kitchener, Ontario, for an event with potential donors.
“It was such a positive thing. People came in with questions and left encouraged and ready to give.”
The One Heart, One Soul Campaign is leaving a significant mark on the diocese and its parishes:
“The impact that I anticipated were the projects and ministries, which are a huge blessing,” Doyle said. “What I didn’t anticipate is seeing that parishes will have less fear to take on these big, bold projects that require them to ask people for help. They’ll now see how willing people are to help, how much they love their parish.”
Bishop Crosby said, “I think about priests who are in parishes where they roll around in bed wondering, ‘How am I going to pay for this, how am I going to manage this?’ And I think the campaign will take away a lot of that stress. I want the priests to know that the money isn’t going only in one direction, that we are there to support the evangelizing efforts of the parish, the life of the parish and the good works of the priest. Overall, that’s what the benefit of the campaign has been. I think it has worked magic.”
And what of the question of asking for money in a pandemic?
“Our parishes are so well-positioned to emerge from this,” Doyle said, ‘rather than just limping out of it and picking up the pieces. There were a lot of questions. Now there is a renewed sense of optimism.”