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Fundraising in a Church in Crisis

By Tara Doyon, Director of Stewardship and Development at St. Paul Catholic Newman Center and Parish at Indiana University and Fr. Patrick Hyde, OP Campus Minister

When I tell people about my job, the response is almost always a bemused look followed by the statement, “I could never ask people for money.” Awkward as it is, this provides a wonderful opportunity to tell the person that fundraising for the Church is not about asking people for money. Rather, it is about forming relationships and sharing a mission, a vital mission.  I love my job.  I love connecting people to projects. I love sharing a vision with a community working hard to realize a goal. I love talking about my own faith and my duty in building the Kingdom of God.  As a byproduct of these relationships and collaborative projects, I help to find the resources to make hopes and dreams come true.  By no means is it without challenges or roadblocks, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

On August 14th, I was attending a fundraising workshop for religious institutions at a Roman Catholic seminary in southern Indiana.  As the afternoon of the second day progressed, we stopped for a much needed break. Suddenly a dull whisper and chatter cut the silence.  News was read in haste from Twitter and Facebook accounts. Clergy and laity were stunned to hear the breaking headlines and stories from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.


As our class commenced and we tried to refocus on the presentation, I could not stop thinking about this bombshell.  Once again, the Catholic Church was embroiled in a public scandal. I became angry, sad, disappointed, upset, and worried.  How did this happen? How are the victims coping? What have we changed so this does not happen again?  How will the church recover? How can we go on? And lastly, as a development director, how will we regain the trust of so many, particularly of our donors?


As days passed I began to process all the negative press combined with my personal sense of loss and sadness related to Church scandal.  Through prayer and speaking with my colleagues and few of my donors, I began to see light amid the darkness.  I came to the realization that I alone can neither change the past nor solve the problem.  However, I can make a difference in those relationships I already have and in the ones I will make. These relationships are and must continue to be formed from prayer and laughter and the shared desire to glorify Christ. 


In Church fundraising, it is always good to remember: Development is a ministry. Now, in the midst of all of the pain, anger, and frustration, is the time we, as development professionals, must reach out to our constituents; hear their frustrations and questions; acknowledge and calm their fears in the direction of the institutional church; and, most importantly, we must remind them of the hope and salvation found in our Savior as well as the good work still being done in His name.

“Now more than ever we need religious institutions to instill leadership skills, integrity, and faith to the young men and women of our communities.” 


This, indeed, is a challenging season for our Church.  We will lose members and donors.  However, this challenge creates the opportunity for each of us to develop greater relationships especially with those who are struggling.  Moreover, this is a great time to return to our fundamentals, our missions. Though the circumstances have changed, our missions have not and, in fact, they are all the more necessary to share. Now more than ever we need religious institutions to instill leadership skills, integrity, and faith to the young men and women of our communities.  We need to encourage programs that grow Christian disciples in a society that promotes the opposite.  We need to cultivate a love of our Catholic faith and a love for Christ.


In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul, writing to a hurting church, marked by division, infighting, and scandal, says, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”  (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)


At a time in which we too experience division, infighting, and scandal, the Cross of Jesus Christ calls to all of us.  This is the source and cause of our hope. This is the source of all grace and blessing. This is our mission. When we choose to fix our eyes and hearts upon the sacrificial love of Christ on the Cross, we start to see how we are closest to God and most closely conformed to His will in times of pain and difficulty embraced not with shame but with love and hope.


Ultimately we must rely on grace and faith to move through this challenging time.  This is a time for increased prayer, for reflection, but, also, a time for moving forward.  Do not be discouraged or dismayed as, “There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)


Tara Doyon is a Consultant for Petrus Development as well as the Director of Stewardship and Development at St. Paul Catholic Newman Center and Parish at Indiana University. Tara excels at leading organizations in mission and vision exercises as well as building development programs from scratch.


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