Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

 

When the impact of COVID-19 collided with the early weeks of the Annual Diocesan Appeal, including the critical in-pew weekends of solicitation, the latter suffered.

“The pew phase is the core of the appeal,” according to Alex Previtera, director of development and operations for the Catholic Community Foundation, who noted that COVID was on the minds of donors before those weekends — Feb. 29-March 1 and March 7-8.

Once the celebration of public Masses in the diocese was suspended on March 16, and with it the lack of offertory collections, CCF focused its attention and resources on helping parishes maintain support.

“We suspended the April and May appeal mailings in favor of helping parishes get online in order to receive donations from parishioners,” Previtera said. “We devoted all of our team to a parish-centered approach for getting offertory. That’s where we needed to be.”

To assist people in supporting their parishes, the CCF established offertory.richmonddiocese.org. At the time of its launch, fewer than half of the diocese’s 145 parishes offered an online giving option. Now, 98 parishes provide it.

With the help of Prenger Solutions Group, a consultant the diocese enlisted to help with development last November, CCF continues to work toward reaching the annual appeal’s $3.7 million goal. As The Catholic Virginian went to press, the appeal has raised $3,553,970.16 — 95.27% of the goal. That amount has come from 12,706 donors with an average gift of $279.71. Seventy parishes have met or surpassed their goals.

Previtera said CCF will do another annual appeal mailing in October, and he is confident that the response to it will get them to their goal.

“People of our diocese are very generous. The mailing by itself will help us,” he said. “We’re emphasizing that the need for their support is still there.”

Ashley Winans, a vice president at Prenger, concurred.

“We’re doing really well in light of the circumstances,” she said. “There’s still a need, and people understand that.”

If the goal is not met, less money would be returned to the parishes, and various diocesan ministries supported by the appeal would receive less funding, according to Previtera.

“This would also affect the 2021 goal and what we can return to people,” he said.

Challenges

Long before COVID’s impact, the diocese faced another challenge.

“We are having to raise more money from fewer donors,” Previtera said. “We started seeing that last year when we had fewer donors but saw the average gift was higher.”

Winans noted that this is not unique to the Richmond Diocese.

“We’ve been seeing the decrease in number of donors and the increase in gifts across the board. They’re trying to retain donors but also trying to find new donors as well,” she said of dioceses with which Prenger consults. “Our strategy is to try to move more gifts online, and in that way it’s more consistent across the board.”

Previtera said the diocese’s annual appeal has more than 500 people who are sustaining donors.

“That takes time to build. When you look at our pledge card, that’s a big focus,” he said. “We’re trying to get more people to do that, to go online and set up recurring gifts.”

Preparing for 2021

As they conclude the current appeal and look to 2021, Previtera and Winans are concerned about the in-pew aspect of the appeal.

“What we’re trying to figure out right now for in-pew weekend is: Are people really going to be in the pews then, and how are we going to address that?” she said. “Because in-pew is the one way you’re going to acquire new donors. That’s the overarching question right now in what we’re trying to make our way through, which we’ve never had to do before.”

Despite the challenges and unknowns, Previtera is upbeat about the appeal.

“I feel very optimistic about what is going to be happening in the future. I know our parishes are going to come together to support us,” he said. “Our pastors have been such great leaders on the appeal and our donors have shown they’re very generous even in tough times; they’re willing to support their parish as well as the larger Church.”

With planning for the 2021 appeal already underway, Previtera added, “Going into next year, hopefully we’ll be in a different place with COVID and everything will bounce back.”

Editor’s note: For further information about the Annual Diocesan Appeal, call Alex Previtera at 804-622-5127 or email aprevitera@richmonddiocese.org.