It is more important than ever to recognize the different communities and cultures who make up our Catholic Family. Communicating your vision and creating unity among these communities can be a challenge and oftentimes daunting. So how can a fundraiser help guide a parish through these cultural differences and nuances to create an effective stewardship plan that connects to each demographic making up a parish? Successful strategies have been deployed by using three basic, but important principles: Listen, Learn, and Link. Listen to interests and challenges, learn about philanthropy in other countries and cultures, and link the two together to form a tailored and customized stewardship plan.
The most effective fundraisers are the best listeners. Before designing any stewardship plan, crafting any messaging, or even interviewing any parishioners, it is necessary to listen to and observe each diverse community. The first step is to simply attend a parish council or town hall meeting to hear the challenges, interests, and top-of-mind issues being discussed. This helps you gain a better understanding of their priorities so that your messaging reflects their specific needs.
As one example of what can be gleaned from listening, at a recent town hall meeting at a predominately Hispanic parish, each presenter—one diocesan employee and one campaign team member—would pause after every sentence to hand the microphone to the Hispanic pastor for translation. By observing these interactions and listening to how the pastor communicated in Spanish, it became apparent how much trust the group of parishioners placed in the pastor because of his sensitivity to their needs.
Observing this interaction also revealed how the group reacted to specific parish topics and communication preferences. Having this knowledge helped greatly when designing the campaign plan around its different elements. It also gave the case depth and credibility because it considered the challenges and top-level issues of the community. In the end, this uniquely tailored fundraising plan went on to serve as the baseline plan for each Hispanic parish in the surrounding area.
Another way to listen is to schedule one-on-one meetings with pastors, asking how different ethnicities within the parish typically contribute. For example, a Vietnamese pastor once mentioned how his community is a very generous and loyal parishioner group, but they tend to give collectively; rarely as individuals. Another priest mentioned that his Hispanic parishioners typically host events—such as their annual fiesta—to raise money collectively and then donate those proceeds to church causes. Listening and interacting on the ground prior to any campaign planning is most beneficial to understanding what communities are accustomed to and what strategies have been successful in the past.
Philanthropy and stewardship is understood and practiced differently across the globe; however, by identifying particular methods and habits, and educating everyone on both the differences and similarities, common ground can be achieved. After listening to and observing a community, the next step is to conduct thorough research. Learn how Colombians support their church in their home country versus how Mexicans support their church. Learn how European priests are accustomed to parishioners making key business or managerial decisions for the parish as opposed to American priests who typically guide these decisions. Find out if parishioners are willing to sign pledges or prefer to give directly. Find out how to connect unique ways of giving to include each community in your campaign.
It is also important to note that each community has its own nuances in language and culture. Recognizing that these variations exist can help accelerate collaborative efforts in a campaign plan. Beyond dialect nuances, cultural differences exist as well. For example, a fundraiser must stay informed regarding immigration and what role the local church should play. Due to the current climate, some immigrants may not want to sign a three-year pledge or even use their real name; however, hosting a “Giving Sunday” once a month for the next three years where parishioners are asked to donate one-hour’s pay may resonate in a relatable and realistic way.
Once you have listened and learned about the parishioners’ home-country philanthropy, then it’s time to link the two by discussing with your parish leaders all ideas for reaching
these diverse communities. By having meetings where you connect research with reality, pastors can see firsthand that their parish is valued and that their parishioners’ best interests are being acknowledged and incorporated, generating a mutual respect. As with any fundraising effort, a pastor’s support will make or break any campaign. Having their insight also adds credibility to your campaign plan and opens the door for future collaboration and discussion with other pastors.
For example, when a diverse parish has achieved campaign success through a tailored approach built from listening to the people in the pews, this parish becomes a beacon of hope and a strong example for others with diverse histories and backgrounds to trust the fundraising process. Additionally, clergy can visit the listening and learning sessions of other parishes to build off each other, not only linking a strategy in one parish, but multiple parishes to build better-informed strategies throughout a Diocese.
A bi-product of a comprehensive strategy to reach diverse audiences is a stronger community within an organization. Recognizing that a “one size fits all” approach to fundraising will not work indicates to all stakeholders that cultural differences are recognized, incorporated, and embraced in parish fundraising.
In the end, reaching diverse communities starts with respecting differences. Through this respect, trust can be built and a collaborative plan developed.
Finally, when executing this plan, based on your listening, learning, and linking, you must be open to adapting. With the credibility built and knowledge gained of different cultures, this adaptation or pivoting to find the right approach will only enhance your original fundraising strategy and lead to a more informed design.
And whenever you are stuck, just listen.
CCS is a fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and globally, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.
About the Author
Vann Ellen Mitchell is an Assistant Vice President at CCS Fundraising. She has experience with healthcare institutions, associations, and religious and human service organizations. Vann has significant knowledge in capital campaigns, major gift fundraising, prospect management, and research. She holds a B.S. from UNC – Chapel Hill and an M.A. from Carnegie Mellon University.