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Finding fundraising success during a crisis

By September 8, 2021Steier Wire

In addition to our diocesan partners, the Steier Group helped churches, schools, Newman Centers and Catholic Charities across North America weather the pandemic storm.

Many of these organizations stayed the course even as lockdowns occurred. Thanks to nimble adjustments, changes in strategy and tailoring fundraising goals to the new state of the world, each found fundraising success.

Here are a few campaigns that were successful in 2020:

ST. ANNE CATHOLIC COMMUNITY IN HOUSTON
In late 2019, St. Anne engaged the Steier Group to direct the final wave of their Generations of Faith Capital Campaign. At that point, the campaign had been underway for nearly two years. Fr. David Zapalac, CSB, pastor of St. Anne, and other parish leaders knew they needed a reliable, experienced partner to re-energize the stalled campaign, guide them through the public phase and close the funding gap for the project.

Several key factors led to a successful public phase, including strong campaign leadership, a commitment to donor cultivation, personalized outreach and tailored messaging for different audiences.

“During the height of the pandemic, under the Steier Group’s leadership, we shifted focus from active fundraising to supporting our parishioners,” Fr. Zapalac said. “It was the right thing to do, and it meant a lot to our families. The Steier Group trained our volunteers and coordinated outreach calls to more than 2,200 parishioners.”

After nearly six months of active fundraising, St. Anne received more than $3 million in additional gifts and pledges – even while the parish was closed.

“The parish will never be the same,” Fr. Zapalac said. “Our new community center, gymnasium, parking facility and athletic fields will meet the needs of our growing parish – now and for many years to come. I could not be happier with the service the Steier Group provided and the results we were able to achieve together.”

ST. JOHN PAUL II NEWMAN CENTER IN OMAHA, NEBRASKA
Faced with construction debt, director of advancement Susan Gnann readied for a campaign by conducting a planning study with the Steier Group. However, as the review neared its end, she faced an unexpected obstacle when the country moved into COVID-19 lockdown.

JPII stayed the course, communicated honestly about the state of the Newman Center’s finances and kept fundraising.

“Donors appreciate honesty,” Gnann said. “And we were straight forward with our issues. I created a new pro forma and when I shared that new spreadsheet with our top donors, they really appreciated what our finances might look like in 10 years if we raise $9 million.”

Supporters expressed their pleasure with JPII’s new direction through some major gifts, including a $1 million gift and five additional six-figure donations. This support encouraged others to give and help drive the campaign over the planning study projection.

RICE MEMORIAL HIGH SCHOOL IN BURLINGTON, VERMONT
A week after COVID-19 was officially deemed a pandemic, on March 18, the leadership at Rice Memorial High School in Burlington, Vermont decided to continue their fundraising campaign.

“We had done so well leading up to that point and we had confidence in the case we were making to our donors,” said Christy Bahrenburg, Director of Advancement and Communications at Rice. “We didn’t want to assume how people would respond. We simply continued to demonstrate the need.”

To meet its needs while adjusting for the pandemic, Rice dovetailed the Annual Fund goal of $625,000 with the campaign. Additionally, leadership took a new look at the campaign goals, choosing to focus on the most pressing needs – debt reduction, tuition assistance endowment and renovating the kitchen.

Recalibrating the goals gave the campaign nuance that addressed a new reality while also making the fundraising effort donor centric. In total, the campaign raised $4.2 million, 140 percent of the Steier Group’s low-end projection.