Roadmap to recovery


To say that the events of 2020 flipped fundraising (and the world as a whole) on its head would be an understatement: millions sick, hundreds of thousands dead, cities and states locked down, churches and schools closed, economic struggles, millions more out of work.

Some Catholic communities are suffering too. Mass attendance is down as parishes grapple with local restrictions and safety concerns. Offertory income is declining. In some extreme cases, operational shortfalls are causing Catholic schools to shut their doors permanently. All the while, pastors wonder if parishioners will ultimately return in the same numbers they did before the pandemic.

But as we patiently pray for the end of the pandemic, there is reason to be optimistic. The flock has not lost its faith.

A Pew Research Center survey found that the pandemic had actually strengthened the faith of 24 percent of Americans. Only two percent said their faith had grown weaker. For Catholics, the numbers were even better – 27 percent said their faith had been strengthened compared to two percent saying their faith had weakened.

And while some Catholic schools have closed, others are seeing a surge in enrollment. News reports across the country trumpet enrollment increases and waitlists at Catholic schools as parents
pull their children out of public schools that are offering hybrid or online-only schooling plans. The smaller class sizes of many Catholic schools make for an environment that is safer during the pandemic and better for education.

There’s no denying that there is a hill to climb for Catholic parishes, schools and dioceses to return to pre-pandemic levels of participation. But there are signs of good news and, with God’s grace, a full return to normalcy on the horizon.

So what is the roadmap to recovery? How can Catholic churches, schools and dioceses set themselves up for success through the end of 2020 and into 2021? It starts with strong communication and a secure financial foundation.

STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOUR SUPPORTERS
As we’ve worked with churches, schools and dioceses across the country during the pandemic, we’ve found the ones that have weathered the storm have been able to effectively share their
missions and needs with their donors.

You do important work in your community – from spiritual fulfillment to helping those in need. It is vital to share your story, the work you do and the impact that donations have on this work. Sharing your story is always an important tool for Catholic organizations, but it grows in importance during such a turbulent year.

The churches that have maintained success have kept in touch with their parishioners, even without in-person Masses or smaller attendance. That can range from pandemic check-in calling trees to online Mass and Bible studies.

Now is the perfect time to grow the reach of your ministries. If 27 percent of Catholics have felt their faith grow in 2020, they are likely searching for ways to continue to nurture and strengthen their faith. Make sure to transition your ministries to safe ways of meeting – whether in small groups, outdoors or online. Engaged parishioners are more likely to stick around until things are back to normal and continue to offer financial support during that time.

You can also use this time to update your database and conduct a virtual census. Doing so will provide you with up-to-date information on your parishioners and donors, allowing you to better keep them informed about your faith community and the work that you do.

KEEP FUNDRAISING
Now is not the time to be shy. You have needs. Those that can donate will do so. Your mission is important to your donors and they are willing to support you.

While it can be intimidating to ask for support at such a trying time, it is important to realize that you are inviting your donors to participate more actively in their faith by being good stewards. So while it may feel uncomfortable to fundraise at this time, by not doing so you are potentially withholding an avenue of faith for your donors.

If you are struggling with the right message to share with your donors, here are a few options:

  • Jesus made this clear when he said, “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matt 6:21) When we return our time, talent and treasure to God through our church, not only does the church benefit but the giver benefits as well. When we give our treasure to God, our heart will follow and encounter God and that is the goal of all religious institutions. It is relatively easy to be a proper steward during the happier, successful times, but a true steward will support the church in tough times as well.
  • Every donation helps. As a faith family, if we all join together to make a sacrificial gift – no matter the size – the community will be better for it.
  • Share the benefits of donating in 2020. The CARES Act provided a charitable giving incentive. It established a new, above-the-line deduction (universal or non-itemized deduction that applies to all taxpayers) for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to contributions made in 2020 and would be claimed on tax forms next year. The bill also lifted the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent.

Another priority should be switching envelope givers to online or recurring donations. With weekly Mass attendance in flux, providing an online platform for recurring donations will help even your most loyal supporters become consistent givers. This way they don’t have to remember to send in a check each week – it happens automatically.

CONDUCT A SPECIAL APPEAL
If you don’t feel that a capital campaign is the perfect fit at the moment, a special appeal to recover lost offertory or other funds could be the way to go.

The Steier Group is offering a Parish Stabilization Appeal to help churches in need. This customized service helps our clients replenish lost offertory revenue due to declines in weekly giving during COVID and establishes or builds upon an emergency reserve of six months offertory to protect the church in the future.

In an effort to alleviate – not increase – your financial burden, the Steier Group does not charge our clients until the appeal is complete. The appeal will pay for itself many, many times over with expenses representing a small percentage of money raised and paid for with the cash flow raised through the appeal.

While 2020 has proved to be a challenging year, we are all in this together. At the Steier Group, we are spiritually and financially invested in supporting the Catholic Church through this pandemic. If you are interested in this special appeal, please contact me.

RUN A CAPITAL CAMPAIGN
A capital campaign may not be perfect for everyone at this time. But if you have big needs that are hindering your church or school’s ability to support your mission, then conducting a capital campaign is a necessity, even during a pandemic.

How do you know your parish, school or diocese is ready for a capital campaign? Start by identifying your needs. Are they pressing or something that can wait until 2021? If those needs are pressing, you should consider a capital campaign ASAP.

The Steier Group recommends conducting a comprehensive campaign planning study. This will tell you what your donors are thinking and provide you with detailed information on how best to proceed with the capital campaign.

Debt reduction is a perfect goal for a capital campaign at this time. Debt weighs down a church or school during normal times and that debt can cause even bigger problems for churches struggling during the pandemic. Best of all, any funds raised against your debt will help – even a smaller campaign will provide better financial freedom in the long run.

Obviously, a campaign looks a little different in the age of COVID. In-person gatherings are less likely. But that does not mean it isn’t possible. There are even some silver linings.

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