Monsignor Thomas McGread, a priest in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, is well known for his work across the United States in fundraising. He developed an approach called The Stewardship Model, which has helped parishes, dioceses, and national organizations (such as the United States Bishops Conference) raise millions of dollars. You could say he’s the #1 ranked priest in the United States when it comes to how to fundraise for the Catholic Church.
He’s been successful because he’s developed concepts and practices that make being good stewards a tangible reality. Thankfully for you and me, Deacon Donald R. McArdle, CEO of Catholic Stewardship Consultants, documented his approach in the book, Grateful and Giving. This book was written in conjunction with
This book showcases parishes, dioceses, and national organizations that have been changed through strong and faithful stewardship programs.
I’d like to highlight for you some of the key steps in his program that can serve your fundraising, whatever its level, too.
Recently I discovered a beautiful church in the South of France that is being renovated. The church is Saint John of Malta in Aix en Provence, and over $700,000 in a capital campaign was raised to restore the facade.
What is ironic is that $0 is coming from the parish itself. Local and state sources provided all of the funds.
Now you may not have access to that much money in your area; however, this campaign can provide you insight into how large sums of money can be raised, especially outside of your parish community.
As you can see from the photo, the church has an incredible historical gothic facade that just screams Catholicism. It makes you just sing the praises of God.
Three lessons for raising significant amounts for a capital campaign.
1. Historical importance – You obviously cannot make up history if you are building a new parish; however, it is important to consider what your historical significance will be in the future. In the case of this church, it was the first Catholic church built in the area.
2. Beauty – I often see churches being built at the lowest cost possible, thinking they will make it beautiful later. What often happens is if a church is built ugly, it stays ugly. Then, it’s very hard to find funds because no one wants to give money to something ugly. Therefore, start small, and think beautiful. Build a chapel first. Then when it fills up to maximum capacity, people will recognize the need for something bigger.
3. Sustainability – We live in a society where we consume and throw things away regularly. This mentality, unfortunately, hinders our capacity for building churches that last for less than 30 years. When building a church, think long term. Think longer than everyone else.
These are the three lessons that this beautiful church from the South of France taught me. We know that these lessons work because the state (which is 100% secular) is paying for the renovation of this Catholic church.
Focus on these three lessons whether you are starting out, expanding, or renovating, and you will see similar results.
I recently visited Fr. Marcus Holden, rector of the shrine of St Augustine of Canterbury in Ramsgate, England to learn how he restored the church and reclaimed its prominence as both a historical and religious shrine.
When Fr Marcus arrived in 2010, he found the church in poor condition. Many Catholics in Ramsgate, including local members of the Pugin Society, had kept an eye on it, yet the years of not being actively maintained brought the church to the verge of closure.
Fast forward to today, Fr. Marcus and John Coverdale, the shrine’s Centre Manager, have transformed the site. Augustus Pugin’s church of St Augustine in Ramsgate, a shrine since 2012 (Pugin’s 200th birthday), is now the official landmark for celebrating the arrival of St Augustine of Canterbury from Rome to bring the Gospel to the Anglo-Saxons.
Note: Yes, this is Augustus Pugin. The famous English architect who designed the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben, and many churches across England.
Inspired by all that Fr Marcus had done, I asked, ‘how did you accomplish all of this?’ I’m a fundraiser who helps Catholic organizations fundraise, and I wanted to learn the steps he took to restore not only the shrine’s infrastructure, but also how he renewed its historical, cultural, and artistic appeal.
Fr Marcus identified five steps in particular.
Step 1: Define the vision
Fr. Marcus highlighted the importance of having a clear mission before starting a major project.
His vision was not simply to restore the church and build a shrine. Rather, the focus was much more than rebuilding bricks and mortar. He wanted to bring Saint Augustine, Augustus Pugin, and Catholicism prominently back into the limelight of the Ramsgate community and, more widely, England.
Fr Marcus thinks that if he had started with the physical restoration, he would not have achieved all that he did in such a short amount of time.
And by focusing on the bigger picture, he inspired others around him to help make the project reality, thereby fast-tracking the restoration of the infrastructure.
Fr. Marcus knew that big projects are not accomplished alone. To bring his vision into reality, he sought the involvement of the local Catholic community. Their involvement would inspire them to see their church restored as a place of religious, architectural and historic importance.
He did this by hosting two major events at the shrine which celebrated its two main characters: Saint Augustine and Augustus Pugin.
Augustine Week would celebrate the saint’s life, the traditions of the Church and the historical importance of Catholicism in England. The second major event was Pugin Week which would celebrate Augustus Pugin’s life, his influence on English architecture, art, and design.
Each year, attendance at these two events increased, allowing Fr Marcus to gradually gain more and more of people’s attention and financial support to restore the shrine. With the people now participating again in the life of the shrine, Fr. Marcus could then move forward with his next phase.
Understanding that the work was too ambitious to complete all at once, Fr. Marcus devised a three-step plan for restoring the shrine’s original luster. This would allow the shrine to remain open throughout the work.
His plan at hand, Fr Marcus applied for a grant from the English Heritage. Instead of highlighting the need to restore a shrine of tremendous value to the Catholic heritage of English, he focused his request on the English Heritage’s funding priorities; restoring the shrine both structurally and architecturally to preserve it for future generations. Because his application matched their grant-making ethos, he was awarded £700,000.
This grant was another tremendous win for Fr. Marcus. He now had a vision, a growing community of supporters, a plan for restoring the shrine and money to undergo the restoration.
With the restoration of the shrine nearly complete, Fr Marcus and John set out to attract an even bigger audience. This would make Fr Marcus’s dream of sharing the story of the shrine across England a reality.
To accomplish this, an Education, Research and Visitor Centre would be erected. It would be a place where visitors from all across the country, both Catholic and non-Catholic, can experience the heritage, architecture, traditions and art of the shrine.
They applied for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Knowing that the trustees liked projects which focused on community as much as heritage, Fr Marcus and John structured their grant into three parts; the heritage of both St. Augustine and Augustus Pugin, the local community and volunteers, and the wider, national community. The Heritage Lottery Fund liked their approach and approved their proposal with a grant of £800,000. Additionally, they received another grant from the English Heritage for £1m.
Fr. Marcus reiterated the importance of considering the grantmaker’s objectives when writing a grant. While his focus was to share the Catholic heritage of the shrine with more people, he understood this perspective likely wouldn’t make for a successful grant. He, therefore, shared his vision and plan in words they would understand.
Fr. Marcus is currently in the final phase of his restoration project, looking to sustain the shrine for the long-term so future generations may enjoy it. To do so, he stays focused on the same steps: clarity of vision, form a community of followers, plan a feasible restoration timeline and then execute each day.
He is already off to a great start as he increases the number of Catholic pilgrims to the shrine each year.
At present, he welcomes more than 10,000 visitors, and this number also increases each year. Fr Marcus aims to welcome more than 20,000 visitors annually by 2020.
He also wants to increase the number of non-Catholic visitors by partnering with prominent museums across England and organizing exhibits at the shrine. By collaborating with museums, he can use leverage their large audiences to attract even more people to the shrine. As more people visit, he hopes to continue sharing with people how the shrine and Catholicism have inspired English culture.
Conclusion – How can you apply this to your fundraising goals
Fr Marcus has been successful in fundraising because he focused on his vision and attracted people to all the different elements of St Augustine’s Shrine. By not focusing on the money or the physical restoration, he could bring people along in helping him to achieve his goals.
More so, he has demonstrated how beauty and holiness are important evangelists. His passion and perseverance to share the story of the shrine and proclaim Britain’s Roman Catholic roots are bearing fruit, as Christ explains to us the meaning of the parable of the sower.
I hope that Fr. Marcus’s success will inspire and guide you, whether you are a Catholic parish, religious order, or lay organization, as you seek to accomplish your mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
The following letter was written by a Catholic Priest
Dear Fellow Catholic,
I would like to share my experience in fundraising. I may not have fresh ideas that you haven’t come across before, but I think it may be helpful to hear a priest’s experience on the matter. Also, we can all learn from each other because that’s what being Church is all about.
I’m currently a parish priest in Ireland. When I arrived at the church two years ago, we were ‘in the red’ and finances were certainly not in great shape. A lot of time and effort went into discovering how the parish had reached this stage and what could be done to reverse the trend. The church had run at an annual operating loss for a consecutive 17 years.
By making some minor changes, we turned around our parish financial situation, and, in a short amount of time, we have even succeeded in completing various capital projects to restore buildings. People may find it interesting to hear how I, with my parishioners and volunteers, achieved these results.
Step 1 – I didn’t ask anyone for more money
When appointed to the parish, I was advised to ask the parishioners at Mass to contribute more. I decided to not do so for two reasons. Firstly, I believe that people already give what they can. They don’t have as much extra money as we think they do. Plus, I think that it looks bad to keep asking for more.
Secondly, putting myself in their position, I asked the bigger question, “why would I contribute more if I had the sense that nothing more was being done?” So I decided not to ask.
Step 2 – Remove the non-essentials
Instead, my immediate focus was to use more efficiently what parishioners were already giving. I took a hard look at the finances, staffing hours, expenditure, and I saw a lot of waste. We were paying for things that we didn’t need, and some things were costing us more than they should have. Liaising with the finance committee, I made the tough decision to reduce staffing costs and cut out non-essential spending.
[Tweet “I focused on using more efficiently what parishioners were already giving.”]
Within a short time span, we increased the amount of available cash. With the extra funds, I made visual improvements like re-painting worn areas, allowing people to experience how their current donations renewed their church. They were inspired and pleased with the changes. Things were happening, and no fundraising had even happened.
Step 3 – I encouraged parishioners with the little things
As we entered the Advent season, I decided that my parishioners could experience the benefits of the extra cash in another visual way. I bought decorations and a new tree to replace the coat-hanger that they had been using for 20 years.
Again, parishioners greatly appreciated these changes, seeing how they were renewing the life of the church without having to give anything extra. They felt as if they were receiving back.
Step 4 – I gave regular updates on how things were going
Almost every week, I gave parishioners an update on what work had been done and how much it cost. By doing so, they felt included in the decisions and could see that I was running a transparent operation. Also, I spoke about the finances at each Mass one weekend, explicitly stating that I was not asking them to contribute more.
Instead, my key message was how changes had been made to ensure every penny they donated was used honestly and utilised for the upkeep of their parish. I mentioned that I had stopped using some of our traditional suppliers and had searched for competitive rates for everything the parish purchases. I also explained that I buy most things online to achieve the best deal. Ah, the joys of the internet!
The result: 30% increase in donations (without even asking)
As a result, in one year, the weekly collection increased by 30%. If you include the reduced expenditure on non-essentials, you will notice how even bigger the transformation was at the parish.
[Tweet “As a result, in one year, the weekly collection increased by 30%.”]
“How did this happen”, you ask. I think this is because I have been wise with what parishioners already give me and visibly show them how their money is already transforming the parish. My parishioners have appreciated my approach to giving. By not asking for money and seeing the changes themselves, they were inspired to give more because they knew more would be achieved with additional money.
People say that the church constantly asks them for money. Add all the planned giving drives and special collections, this observation appears to be true. There quite quickly can be one appeal after another on Sundays.
I’ve rarely done this with my parish, and this I think has been the reason for my success in fundraising. By stewarding my parishioners’ donations, rather than continually asking them for money, they have increased their stewardship to their parish. And together, we have been able to turn around the finances without the parish being accused of having an obsession with money.
In conclusion, when it comes to parish fundraising and stewardship, I think there are four essentials to remember:
1. Limit (or eradicate) non-essential spending so that people can see you’re making every effort to use their money more efficiently. People contribute if they feel their donations are being spent wisely.
2. Focus on using contributions in ways that mark visible progress, even if it’s something simple like new Christmas decorations or vestments.
3. Being transparent seems evident but is also vital, especially these days. If people feel included in the decision-making process, they will be more inclined to be generous. Rather than ask for donations, ask parishioners for their opinions. You will benefit from their ideas and experience. Also, keep them informed of all that is happening on a regular and frequent basis.
[Tweet “If included in the decision-making process, parishioners will be more inclined to be generous.”]
4. Remember that you are responsible for stewarding the resources of the parish which belong to the people. Often those who contribute are not wealthy and are already making a sacrifice to donate. Those who administer the parish resources, therefore, have an incredible responsibility to ensure that the money is used honestly and efficiently for the good of everyone.
I hope you have found my experience helpful.
Discussion Question: How have you been successful in increasing parish donations? Leave your comment below.
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