Renewed Focus on Faith
It would be hard to imagine a fundraising challenge more daunting than the one faced by the Archdiocese of Boston in January 2002, when the nationwide sexual-abuse scandal was at its height. The task was to win back the support of area Catholics dismayed by reports that the head of the archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, had kept on dozens of priests who had sexually abused children and adolescents.
“We were, for lack of a better term, at ground zero of the scandal,” says Damien DeVasto, director of the annual Catholic Appeal for the archdiocese.
DeVasto worked with a development team, lay leadership and clergy on a rebranding campaign in an effort to convince parishioners that the church deserved their trust and financial support.
It was a crucial campaign, because the Catholic Appeal is the lifeblood of archdiocesan works. It underwrites, in part or in whole, all of the services, programs, agencies and ministries that the church operates throughout eastern Massachusetts.
The Appeal raised $15.8 million in 2001, but only $8.8 million in 2002, by which time 2 million Catholics in the archdiocese had fully absorbed the extent of the scandal. Part of the problem was that the Appeal had always been called the Cardinal’s Appeal.
A shift in focus
The rebranding strategy involved changing the name of the funding drive to the Catholic Appeal and introducing a yearly theme. In 2003 the theme was “One Church, Many Works,” emphasizing shared responsibility — a key to raising money and healing divisiveness.
“The Appeal raised $10.3 million in 2003, exceeding by $1.3 million the goal we had set,” says DeVasto, adding that none of the money raised by the Appeal is ever used to help pay legal costs related to the sexual abuse cases.
The improvement in 2003 was dramatic, but the Appeal had other problems. Because it has a miniscule endowment, the archdiocese had initiated an ongoing capital and endowment campaign in 2001, which cut into the Appeal’s donor base. The base was further threatened in 2004 as the archdiocese approached reconfiguration, a term for the closing of under-attended parish schools and churches.
The development office settled on “Together in Faith” as the theme for 2004. “It spoke implicitly to our sense of shared mission and to the recognition that reconfiguration was an issue that was confronting all parishioners,” DeVasto says.
The 2004 Appeal raised $11 million and was successful not only because of the monetary increase but also because it sparked a dramatic increase in the number of donors. The improvement in the effectiveness of the Appeal from 2002 to 2004 was amazing, given the seriousness of the obstacles.
“We saw an increase of over 20 percent in funds raised and over 30 percent in donor participation from 2002 to 2004,” DeVasto says.
The 2005 Catholic Appeal, named “Our Faith At Work,” is another step toward making the campaign more forward thinking and responsive. The Appeal’s messaging is revamped yearly. Through the assistance of clergy and laity, the role of pastors and lay leaders is being made more prominent. Parishioners are being encouraged to reflect on the meaning and need of the Appeal.
“Our challenge at this time as Catholics is to take a hard look at how we relate to our faith and to be even more involved,” DeVasto says. “It’s not simply about raising funds, although that’s critical. It’s about participating in our mission as a community.”
David McKenna is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.