Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginan

When one has a highly successful annual fundraising campaign such as the 2018 Annual Diocesan Appeal, which raised just under $5 million from 20,000 donors, the challenge becomes, “How do you top that?”

Alex Previtera, director of development and operations for the Catholic Community Foundation, and Veronica Scholle, the CCF’s relationship manager, are optimistic the 2019 appeal will reach its $3,262,690 target.

“We’re at 81 percent of our goal and continuing to climb every day,” Previtera said, referring to the $2,638,450 raised as of Monday, April 1. “Hitting our goal is imminent.”

Given the Church crisis caused by revelations of clergy sexual abuse of children, Previtera and Scholle acknowledged raising money in that environment is challenging.

“We are having a little bit of pushback from some folks who maybe are just not really open and listening to what the appeal supports, and they feel that this is their only way that they can be heard,” she said. “And I think some of the anger is really directed toward the Vatican.”

Nonetheless, they’re encouraged by what they have seen.

“People realize that their Church and the ministries of the Church are bigger than any one person and that we still have a call — no matter what happens — to support the Church. And people are stepping up in a way,” Previtera said.

He noted that last year 1,200 people gave $1,000 or more to the appeal. This year, more than 700 have given at that level, and the number is growing.

Scholle said the average gift is “higher than it’s ever been.”

“A lot of people that are giving understand what the appeal supports,” she said. “They’re 100 percent behind it and they’re increasing their gifts.”

More social ministry

While the appeal supports areas that have been mainstays, e.g., seminarian education, campus ministries, retired priests, this year, under the umbrella of “Advancing Social Justice,” it includes new support for Prison Ministry, Migrant Ministry and St. Francis Home, as well as for previously supported entities: Fuel and Hunger Fund; Segura Educational Initiative for Children and Migrant Ministry. 

“We have more social ministry in the case than we’ve ever had,” said Previtera. “People kept saying, ‘We want more of this in the case.’ So we did.”

He and Scholle noted that when Deacon Bob Griffin, who oversees the Fuel and Hunger Fund, came before the Pastors’ Advisory Committee, which works in conjunction with Bishop Barry C. Knestout to determine the case for support and the goal for the appeal, he asked for $275,000, but added, “I’m not sure if I have enough even with this request.”

According to Previtera, when the bishop and the committee members heard that, they didn’t hesitate committing $325,000.

“It was a no-brainer, so we earmarked it,” he said, recalling the response was “you need to have this money.” 

While noting the value that each of the funded ministries has for the people of the diocese, Previtera termed the Fuel and Hunger Fund “key to this appeal.” 

“There are a lot of great ministries, but that has been a real cornerstone for us. They distribute grants to parishes and Catholic organizations that help people with utility assistance, rent assistance, food — it’s an essential part of what we do,” he said, adding that parish sharing and education of seminarians are attractive to donors.

Grateful for those who make it happen

While Previtera and Scholle oversee the day-to-day operation of the appeal, they say the credit for its success belongs to others. 

“It really is the pastors, the lay leadership. It’s the people that get up and actually do this in the pews that make the difference; the credit goes to them for all their great support,” Previtera said. “Their support every year is what makes this appeal what it is. We couldn’t do this without them.”

Scholle added, “The parishes are really engaged. We communicate weekly with donor reports for the parishes, and it lets them see who’s pledged, how much they’ve paid, recurring gifts, one-time gifts. And there’s a goal, and they’re excited. They’re excited to see that.” (As The Catholic Virginian went to press, 42 parishes had met their goals).

They also credited Bishop Knestout for engaging people at the seven leadership receptions that were held prior to the start of the appeal. 

“Picture 50 people in a room there to attend a reception. Bishop will just walk up to them and start having a really authentic conversation with them and spend time with them,” Previtera said. “He won’t start the presentation until he’s actually talked with everyone. He’s there, he’s present, and I think that leadership is fantastic. We can’t do this without the bishop.”

Easier to give

While the “pew appeal” involves a brochure and envelope, Previtera and Scholle are emphasizing different ways that can make giving easier, e.g., pledging instead of making a one-time gift.

“There’s definitely an increase in people that are pledging,” Scholle said. “Every year there are more people that are pledging than the previous year — pledging and paying in installments (over 12 months).”

Other options include a sustaining contribution that is automatically drawn from one’s account, e-giving, stock donations and text-to-give.

While confident the appeal will hit its goal, Previtera doesn’t know if it will reach last year’s amount.

“I just think it’s going to be a tough year to say we’re going to get to that number. Right now, we’re over 8,900 people who have made a gift,” he said. “Every year someone will come and say, ‘The appeal’s not going to do great this year because of …’ — whatever reason it happens to be. But every year people pull together, they support the Church, and it’s always pretty inspirational.”

Editor’s note: For further information about the Annual Diocesan Appeal, please call the Catholic Community Foundation at 804-359-5661. 

How your parish benefits

While it is the Annual Diocesan Appeal, money raised through it also goes directly to parishes, according to Alex Previtera, director of development and operations for the Catholic Community Foundation.

“Most parishes are considered non-mission parishes, which means that they get 20 percent up to their goal — regardless of any goal,” he said. “They get 20 percent from dollar one.”

After a non-mission parish meets its goal, it receives 50 percent of anything collected over its goal. 

Mission parishes — those that are home mission grant recipients — get 50 percent from dollar one. 

Previtera said some dioceses don’t have a “parish-sharing formula” for their appeals; instead, 100 percent of the money collected goes to the diocese. By comparison, he noted that since 2010 the Diocese of Richmond’s appeal has returned “well over $11 million to our parishes.”

“Because we return a nice percentage of funds collected every year back to the parishes, a lot of them are seeing benefits,” Previtera said. “They’re paying off debt, they’re enhancing ministry, they’re adding into the maintenance fund. They’re doing important things with that money.”

– Brian T. Olszewski