Casting a wide net – Long-term view

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 1986, Jim Kelley launched a development office for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and raised $1.2 million combined for its first annual appeal and first capital campaign for a local parish.

Last year, the diocese raised more than $23 million.

“We are doubling in size every 15 years,” Kelley says of the diocese, which serves 47,000 households in 46 counties from Greensboro to western North Carolina.

Keeping pace with a surging population will require sophisticated fundraising, greater emphasis on long-term gifts and innovative use of technology, Kelley says.

It also will require changing the way the diocese’s expanding flock thinks about charity, he says.

“The biggest challenge we face and are in the process of meeting is to take people who live in a society that doesn’t support a stewardship lifestyle and take a different value system and way of life,” he says.

The diocese encourages parishioners to contribute an increasingly bigger share of their income until reaching the biblical tithe of 10 percent.

The diocese also asks members to increase weekly volunteering over time.

“Let’s look at a life that focuses on others and on giving back,” Kelley says. “That’s not the typical focus of society.”

And the focus of the diocese is changing as its population grows.

The region, for example, is home to the fastest-growing Hispanic population of any Catholic diocese in the United States, Kelley says.

Sixty churches throughout the diocese have built buildings in the past 12 years, and Kelley has overseen 88 capital campaigns for local parishes.

In Charlotte, for example, St. Matthew Catholic Church has grown to 4,200 households from 2,000 three years ago, while St. Mark in Huntersville has grown to 1,750 households from its startup in June 1997.

The number of households in the diocese’s Greensboro and High Point region grew to 7,452 last year from 4,360 in 1990, while households in the Winston-Salem region grew to 4,930 from 3,136.

Triad churches also posted big growth, including St. Leo in Winston-Salem, which grew to 1,602 households in 2000, up from 1,031 in 1990; Holy Family, Clemmons, to 1,376 from 736; Our Lady of Grace, Greensboro, to 2,142 from 1,336; St. Paul the #39tle, Greensboro, to 1,963 from 937; and Immaculate Heart of Mary, High Point, to 892 from 512. 

To keep up, the development office has expanded from its two initial fundraising programs – annual appeals and local parish capital campaigns – to 18.

The diocese also raises money through grant applications, gifts to its foundation and appeals for a broad range of programs that include annual funds and capital campaigns for Catholic schools; priests’ retirement funds; domestic and overseas missions; seminarians; campus ministries; and Catholic social services.

The development staff, which supports decentralized campaigns and drives run by individual parishes, mixes direct-mail appeals with phone-a-thons and personal visits, depending on the particular program or project in need of funds.

New initiatives include a planned-giving program, which hired its first staff member two years ago, that recently landed a gift of $1 million and another expected to total $500,000.

Email appeals, online giving and automatic drafts from checking and savings accounts also are in the works.

Ultimately, Kelley says, the development office aims to help parishioners understand that they help themselves by helping others.

“We give donors an opportunity to have their lives changed by investing in an activity or ministry that’s going to change people’s lives,” he says.   

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