For those who work closely with the Catholic Church, it is no surprise to learn that a substantial number of parishioners hail from other countries. According to the Pew Research Center, 27% of all U.S. Catholics were born outside of this country (compared with 15% of the overall population). The Catholic Church in the U.S. has always been an immigrant church. Thus, successful fundraising efforts involving congregations and pastors from other countries must start with first principles.

Why is this Important?

It cannot be assumed that parishioners or priests understand what a fundraising campaign is, or even why they need to conduct one. In some cultures, a small number of wealthy patrons are relied upon to fund the workings of the Church. In others, the state funds the works of the Church through tax revenues. Depending on the cultures represented in your diocese or parish you may need to begin with an explanation of the proposed campaign that focuses on the “why” even more than the “what.”

Carefully Include Dominant Languages in the Campaign Process

In engaging priests and parish leadership in this educational effort, care should be taken to ensure that a presentation respects the dominant language(s) of those who are the audience. For larger dioceses with multiple ethnic groups, this might mean conducting language-specific workshops for priests and councils and language-specific campaign kick-off events. Fundraisers are encouraged to work with skilled translators with Catholic backgrounds.

Develop core campaign materials that are either bi-lingual or language-specific. Make sure that those who are translating the materials know both languages well enough to ensure translations are both grammatically sound and theologically appropriate. It is also a good idea to have a second translator review the translated piece and render it back into English to confirm consistency.

Help Parishioners Understand the Meaning of a Pledge

An emphasis also should be made on discussing what a pledge is and what it is not. Explain how spreading a commitment over multiple years allows the Church to raise the needed funds in a way that gives families an opportunity to budget their gift. This can make a gift more palatable for the parishioner and promote gifts that would be beyond a family’s ability to give as a single payment. It’s helpful to point out that pledges are treated as a promise made under a particular set of circumstances and that donors can amend a pledge should those circumstances change.

Utilize Alternative Methods of Prospect Research

Another important consideration relates to the practice of reviewing parish rosters to identify potential major gift prospects. Some communities are predominantly unbanked and give to the offertory in cash that is untraceable to the donor. As such, the traditional reliance on past offertory support as a guide to suggested request amounts is not available. In that circumstance, campaign planning should involve confidential conversations with leaders from the community who are positioned to have a sense of which members are financially capable of making leadership gifts. Look to those whose leadership in the Church is exhibited through membership on the council or through participation in the Mass as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, cantors, etc. Just as with any group invited into this critical early work of preparing for a campaign, assure them of the confidentiality of the discussion and explain the purpose and rationale of the use of specific requests.

Working with Foreign-Born Pastors

One significant change in the past 20 years has been the Church’s growing reliance on foreign-born priests to lead congregations that are often not from the same country or culture as the pastor.

Even in dioceses that publish regular financial reports, it is likely that many pastors, including native-born priests, do not fully understand the source of funds the diocese requires to meet the multiplicity of costs it faces. An audience-appropriate educational effort to increase awareness of why the diocese looks to parishioners across all parishes for extraordinary financial support, whether in an annual appeal or through a capital campaign, should occur before the discussion can move on to the campaign case elements.

A second opportunity arises when a pastor from a different culture is unfamiliar with the potential incomes or stock holdings of certain professions in the U.S. A conversation of who in the parish could consider the types of leadership gifts successful parish campaigns require can be intimidating to a pastor who may have little or no experience with the range of compensation afforded to U.S. corporate executives, business owners, and specialists in the legal and medical fields. Helping educate pastors about the occupational income ranges of their top prospects can increase their comfort level about approaching those families for leadership gifts.

Invite the Entire Church Family to Express their Stewardship

Our European ancestors who brought the Catholic faith to America had to learn how the Church in their new home relied upon the entire parish for financial support, especially when major projects needed to be financed. Our new brothers and sisters in the Church share our same love for Jesus and His Church and will be equally generous in providing support if we take the time to invite them to participate in ways that respect their traditions and language.

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About the Author

Timothy J. Dockery, CFRE is a Vice President with CCS. He has led successful campaigns for several (arch)dioceses as well as numerous parish campaigns. Tim has presented on stewardship and fundraising topics to the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC), the International Catholic Stewardship Conference (ICSC), the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference (DFMC), and numerous regional meetings of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).