More than 100 representatives of parishes, schools and Catholic nonprofit organizations from all over the eight-county Catholic Diocese of Cleveland participated recently in a series of informational and training sessions for this year’s #weGiveCatholic, Northeast Ohio’s annual day of online Catholic giving. The fifth annual event will take place on Dec. 1, which also is Giving Tuesday, a national online day of giving.
The training was facilitated by the Catholic Community Foundation, the fundraising organization of the diocese that supports #weGiveCatholic. Normally, the group would gather in person to share ideas and resources, pick up tips and plan their projects for this year’s event. However, that plan was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, so a three-day virtual training program – complete with giveaways and contests – took place during the lunch hour.
Speakers included representatives of fundraising organizations that work with the foundation and support #weGiveCatholic, as well as foundation staff members and participants from previous years who shared their experiences and answered questions.
Bob Hickey, who coordinates #weGiveCatholic for the Catholic Community Foundation, said last year’s event raised more than $1.8 million, an increase of more than 14% from 2018. He said 229 organizations participated. Although most gifts were made online, organizations also accepted some offline donations during the one-day event. #weGiveCatholic has grown from 157 organizations in its first year to 229 last year. Participants run the gamut in size and mission.
Last year’s average donation was $192, Hickey said.
Participants learned that the trend for online giving has been growing steadily with even more people embracing it during the pandemic.
Ed Vittardi, principal of St. Albert the Great School in North Royalton and head of school at St. Albert the Great at Assumption Academy in Broadview Heights, shared his schools’ success stories. At Assumption, he said more than $140,000 was raised to bolster the school’s finances.
“It was a big success story,” Vittardi said. St. Albert the Great raised about $50,000 last year – including prize money.
Participants got tips on finding a project, telling their stories, the importance of matching gifts and peer-to-peer fundraising.
During the second training day, Cory Howat, president of iGiveCatholic in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Louisiana, shared his experiences. iGiveCatholic was the first online Catholic day of giving. It debuted a year before #weGiveCatholic.
“You’ve set the standard for dioceses,” Cory Howat told the group, congratulating #weGiveCatholic and pointing out it led the nation in funds raised. “When you’re generous, you reflect God’s grace,” Howat added.
“I’m not a professional fundraiser – my background is in journalism,” Webb said. She credited the many resources provided by the Catholic Community Foundation with the success of St. Francis’ project. St. Francis has raised funds to replace its water fountains with more efficient ones that allow students to refill water bottles. “I see God’s hand in these projects,” Webb said, noting that the new water fountains are helpful during the pandemic since traditional drinking fountains can’t be used, but students can use the new function to refill their personal water containers. St. Francis also purchased new Clever Boards, boosting technology for the school and parish programs.
At St. Joseph School in Cuyahoga Falls, Rodgers shared how they pursued matching donors and realized a tremendous increase in donations. She suggested asking consistent donors, vendors and alumni in addition to parents and parishioners.
When selecting a project, Webb suggested brainstorming about your needs, considering your audience and selecting a project with broad appeal. “Be sure to get the pastor’s approval,” she added. And when telling your story, consider all resources, tell the story early and often and be specific. Friendly competition and frequent updates throughout the day are helpful and she reminded the group about one important thing: “Be sure to thank your donors.”
Webb offered this advice for #weGiveCatholic day: “Drink water, ask for help and get some sleep.”
Brianna David from St. Mark School in Cleveland said they set a goal of $50,000 to renovate the old convent for a STREAM lab. A student video, incentives and involving the parish were key to reaching their goal. David said they hosted a thank-you event for donors.
Developing and setting fundraising goals were discussed on the third training day. Linda Corcoran of the Catholic Community Foundation recommended that participants add some “sizzle” to their online events to keep potential donors engaged. #weGiveCatholic participants can use a variety of online platforms to help push their messages, Corcoran said. Interviews with people impacted by the project, leaders and supporters, virtual coffee hours, trivia contests, various challenges, virtual tours, etc. were some suggestions for online events.
Corcoran suggested giving people something to do while waiting for the event to begin, promoting the event, adding fun, adding an element of surprise, moving things along by creating a sense of urgency and remembering “to laugh, pray, breathe, drink water and have fun” on event day.
Communications from the foundation to participants will begin in October and Corcoran said. A variety of resources are available, including individual sessions with experts. She encouraged #weGiveCatholic participants to watch for details on an upcoming video challenge with cash prizes before the event.
“This is a labor of love,” Hickey said of #weGiveCatholic. “I think this will be our best year ever.”