Better storytelling helped 2016 CSA reach goal

| February 9, 2017 | 0 Comments

From left, Deacons Nicholas Froehle, Matthew Shireman, Paul Baker and Brandon Theisen talk between classes at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in May 2016. SPS is one of 17 ministry areas funded by the annual Catholic Services Appeal. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

The Catholic Services Appeal is kicking off its 2017 campaign with a new initiative seeking a broad impact: $1,000 scholarships for eligible students attending Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The appeal will continue to support 11 of the archdiocese’s neediest Catholic elementary schools, as it has in the past, but this allows the appeal’s education dollars to touch more people and parishes, said Jennifer Beaudry, Catholic Services Appeal Foundation executive director.

“It’s important for us to spread out the reach of the CSA to all of the schools,” she said, adding that the CSAF plans to award 400 of the new scholarships.

The scholarships join an array of other ways the CSA supports 17 ministry areas in the archdiocese. Like recent years, it aims to raise $9.3 million. Those funds support 16 ministries within the archdiocese, plus rebates granted back to parishes that meet 90 percent of their appeal goals.

Last year, Catholics pledged $9,393,800, according to the Plymouth-based CSAF’s unaudited preliminary campaign numbers. The foundation has collected more than $9,070,000 of those funds, and expects only to receive 25 percent of the remaining uncollected pledges. It will fund some of its ministries at 100 percent, while others will receive 95 percent of their goal funding.

Last year’s appeal also saw 350 more people donate than in 2015, which is the first time donors have increased in years. That stemmed a trend that required fewer people to give more to meet goal. The uptick in donors is a welcome sign of change, and CSAF leaders hope it’s a harbinger for future appeals.

“We feel like our message is really resonating with pastors and parishioners that we are a separate organization [from the archdiocese] and that we’re helping thousands and thousands of people within this archdiocese,” said CSAF Board President Tim Healy.

After the 2015 CSA fell short of its goal, Healy attributes the 2016 appeal’s success to the foundation’s efforts to better tell the stories of the difference appeal dollars make. The CSAF has boosted its presence on social media, launched a regular newsletter and provided individualized updates for parishes to monitor progress toward their goals. The foundation’s website CSAFspm.org includes photos and testimonies from people who have benefited from appeal-funded ministries.

The foundation has also made a point of visiting the ministries the appeal funds, which has also made an impression on CSAF leaders.

“Our job … is to tell the stories of these 17 ministries that can’t raise this money on their own,” said CSAF Board Member Greg Pulles. “Every week we’re pumping out Facebook posts, every month we’re pumping out an e-mail, and we’re gathering more and more and more testimonials from the folks that receive this money about how they’re using it and how it’s needed.”

They’re also finding that potential donors understand that the CSAF is a separate organization from the archdiocese, and they are no longer expressing concerns that CSA funds might be entangled in the archdiocese’s bankruptcy. The bigger challenge is now updating donor lists and connecting with Catholics who aren’t members of parishes or who don’t write checks, including millennials.

That’s why it’s turned greater attention to online giving, including its participation in Minnesota’s annual Give to the Max Day in November. They first raised funds through the online giving day in 2015, garnering $7,000. In 2016, they brought in more than $30,000.

They’re also working to help parishes meet individual goals. Last year, 124 of the 187 parishes in the archdiocese met their goal, and the CSAF plans to pay out $1,818,886 to parishes.

Beaudry attributes the success to parish leaders and Catholics’ sense of charity.

“Personally, I did not think we were going to hit the [overall] goal in pledged amount this year — I thought we were going to get close — so it’s amazing to me that we did hit the goal,” she said. “It’s just really a testament to how hard the people in the parishes, the pastors and the business administrators worked to make this happen … and the real generous spirit of the people in the archdiocese.”

The CSAF aims to increase the $9.3 million overall goal within the next few years and eventually fund more ministries. Ultimately, Beaudry said, it’s about service and supporting the archdiocese, nodding to the 2017 theme, “support.”

“People are hearing the stories, and they’re responding, and we just need to continue to get the message out on all the good that we as a collective archdiocese are doing together, and it’s exciting,” Healy added. “And our hope is that we can do more.”

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