2017 Catholic Charity Appeal finishes at $7.9 million

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PROVIDENCE — The 2017 Catholic Charity Appeal finished up at $7.9 million, coming within 99 percent of its $8 million goal and ensuring continued support to the dozens of ministries around the Diocese of Providence that depend on the generosity of donors to provide charitable services to those in greatest need.

“I am deeply grateful to all the members of our diocese who worked together to make this year’s appeal so successful once again,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. “Although we fell just short of last year’s record-setting pace, the results are nonetheless very impressive. The appeal will support the ongoing work of the Church and will enable us to reach out to many of our neighbors in need.”

While the $7,900,167 total represented a slight decrease from the $8,072,854 collected during the 2016 Catholic Charity Appeal, Robert Corcoran, director of the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Development, noted the decrease does not reflect a decline in the generosity of donors but a decrease in the number of donors, a trend repeated in dioceses throughout the country that reflects the overall demographic shift in the Church.

“We’re just not in a position to grow the parishes in the diocese,” said Corcoran. “That number that we raise, about $8 million, you’d think would come from a larger diocese.”

According to Corcoran, donors in the Diocese of Providence are exceptionally generous in their giving as compared with typical donations in other dioceses. The average gift size to the Catholic Charity Appeal has continued to increase for several years, rising from $223.70 in 2016 to $231.46 in 2017. Participation in the Bishop’s Partnership in Charity, intended for gifts of $1,000 or greater, has also increased, accounting for about $2.7 million of the total funds collected this year.

“You see in Catholic fundraising that you get more from fewer,” said Corcoran. “That accounts for why we can keep the number close to eight [million] even with less donors.”

Organizers attributed the success of this year’s appeal to the support of pastors, who collaborated with the Office of Stewardship and Development during both the in-pew and direct mailing portions of the appeal. About 80 percent of funds this year were raised through in-pew efforts, while 20 percent were donated in response to a direct mailing.

“All of this, of course, wouldn’t be possible without the outstanding leadership of our pastors,” said Robert Spirito, director of the Catholic Charity Appeal, who also noted the work of parish leadership teams in promoting the appeal among their parishioners.

While the Office of Stewardship and Development also offers an online giving option, Corcoran said this method does not account for a large portion of overall donations. He attributes this to the appeal’s donor base, which, at an average age of 80, tends to prefer traditional giving methods.

“Finding young people is a struggle. They’ve got to be, first, interested in the Church and all of its teaching,” he said. “Our general goal was to open up a few different ways in, a few different ways to reach people.”

Msgr. Jacques Plante serves as pastor at St. Aidan and St. Patrick Parishes, Cumberland, two of the 81 parishes that surpassed their goal for this year’s appeal. He finds his parishioners’ willingness to give to the appeal comes from their ability to see the programs they support at work in their own community and to learn about the ministries from their pastor and other sources.

“I’ve always found that the more information you can give to people about where their money is going, the more they respond,” he said. “I write a weekly column in the bulletin and the parishes get the same bulletin. I address this every week.”

Funds collected through the Catholic Charity Appeal support 39 ministries that offer services throughout the Diocese of Providence, including education, support for new mothers and their families, immigration services and the Emmanuel House homeless shelter. Among these ministries, the Special Religious Education (SPRED) program, organized through the diocesan Apostolate for People with Disabilities, offers sacramental preparation and ongoing catechesis to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We’re extremely grateful to these resources, these funds, because first, they allow us to train people to be able to serve and to work with people with disabilities,” said Irma Rodriguez, director of the Apostolate for People with Disabilities. “They develop skills, they learn more about the faith and [we] equip them to be able to share their faith with people with disabilities.”

In addition to training volunteers, Rodriguez said funds donated through the Catholic Charity Appeal allow the SPRED program to modify classrooms at parishes to better suit the needs of individuals with disabilities. The program follows a method first developed in the Archdiocese of Chicago that calls for a quiet, home-like atmosphere and one-on-one interaction with catechists.

“Those places that we prepare for them are places they can come learn about their faith and worship in a nurturing, appropriate space designed for them,” she said. “[The appeal] helps us to help people with disabilities feel like they’re called and they’re welcomed into our churches as one of our members of the body of Christ.”

As the Office of Stewardship and Development looks ahead to next year’s appeal, Corcoran said he hopes to increase the number of donors who offer pledge gifts, which currently account for about 25 percent of overall gifts. Pledge gifts, which tend to offer a larger donation over a period of time, are an essential component of the Catholic Charity Appeal, one that Corcoran said plays a large role in financing charitable outreach throughout the diocese.

“This giving is critical. There’s no assessment at the parish level that pays for those missions. This is what pays for those missions,” he said. “The key thing is the people, they recognize how important the work is.”