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Greensburg diocese tops fundraising goal

| Sunday, Aug. 1, 2010

When Dan Galbraith's parish priest asked him to help raise $1.2 million, he admits he was skeptical.

"I was thinking they were nuts," said Galbraith, 45, of Hempfield, a parishioner at Our Lady of Grace. "No way were we going to hit the (goal). I really thought it was out of reach."

His Hempfield parish was one of the first five to participate in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg's $45 million capital and endowment campaign, which began in January 2009 in the midst of the recession.

Despite Galbraith's misgivings, his parish exceeded its goal by about $200,000.

So far, the diocese has raised $46.6 million in the Today's Challenge — Tomorrow's Hope campaign from about 21,000 one-time gifts and five-year pledges.

"Starting (a fundraising campaign) in January 2009, that's an ambitious goal. Hat's off to them for being able to reach that, because that was a difficult time," said Michael Nilsen, spokesman for the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Arlington, Va.

Overall giving was down in 2009 across the country, one of about four years of flat or reduced giving, Nilsen said.

Pastors and diocesan officials say the diocese's success is a testament to the faith and commitment of parishioners, who sacrificed for their church and diocese.

"In the end, it's people who have made the pledges, made the gifts," said Jerry Zufelt, diocesan spokesman. "They want to see their church continue to provide the ministries, be there for their children, be there for their grandchildren."

The roots of the campaign go back to 2005, when the diocese started a strategic planning process, Zufelt said. Based on recommendations gleaned from the process, Bishop Lawrence Brandt implemented major changes -- including a 2008 restructuring through closures and mergers of 100 parishes -- and called for new initiatives to keep the diocese viable.

To fund various initiatives, the diocese decided to start a capital and endowment campaign to benefit both the diocese and individual parishes.

"The needs weren't disappearing because the economy had gone bad," Zufelt said." If anything, that made the needs even greater."

Parishes were given goals based on past giving by members. Each church will receive 40 percent of what it raises up to the goal amount, and 60 percent of money raised over that amount.

Zufelt said parishes might receive more than $18 million, because most have exceeded their goals. Final numbers are not expected until September.

The diocese will use its share for new and existing endowments -- evangelization, diocesan school tuition assistance and maintenance, and Catholic Charities, among others.

Parishes will use their shares in many ways -- from building renovations to paying down debt.

Overall, Galbraith said, pastors approached the task the same way: They looked for parishioners willing to approach other churchgoers about giving money. The volunteers sought to reach each parishioner with a face-to-face meeting or by telephone.

Parishioners were given a suggested donation amount, based on their past levels of giving, but it was only a suggestion, said Galbraith of Our Lady of Grace.

"If somebody donated $5, that's more than we had before we made the call," he said. "We're as much appreciative of that as we are if somebody donated thousands of dollars."

The Rev. Daniel Blount, who leads Armstrong County parishes St. Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Kittanning and St. Mary in Yatesboro, said each parishioner was asked to make an equal sacrifice, not necessarily an equal gift.

The Yatesboro parish of 325 families raised $327,000 -- well above its $250,000 goal. In Kittanning, parishioners donated $753,000 toward a $500,000 goal.

Both will use their shares to do church renovations.

"To reach a goal of that nature you can't just say, 'Give what you can.' You pretty much have to ask for a specific amount," Blount said. "We never presumed to know someone's financial situation, and if someone said they couldn't give at this time, we respected that."

Blount said the ability to pay the pledge over five years helped.

"The amounts sounded almost insurmountable in the beginning, but when you break it down by year and then by month, it became more and more realistic," he said.

Galbraith, who has a background in sales, said fundraising is unlike anything he's done.

"It's a totally different ball game when you have nothing tangible to hand somebody something," he said. "They hand you a check, and you have nothing to hand them back but a promise."

But that promise -- to hire a youth minister at the parish and to expand its parking lot -- was enough to raise $1.4 million.

Nilsen, of the fundraising association, said he's seen many charities delay such campaigns waiting for the economy to improve. He believes the diocese was helped by accepting pledges over time, and said most people will fulfill that pledge.

He said people are willing to give to big projects that create excitement and connect them to something larger.

"People's interest in giving remains the same," Nilsen said. "It really depends on the fundraiser and a charity to be able to make their case in an inspiriting way. (A church campaign is) real emotional. That's exactly the kind of connection that's important. People want to give to things they believe in."

Monsignor Michael Begolly, pastor of Mt. St. Peter Parish in New Kensington, said the fundraising effort coming on the heels of parish closings and mergers gave his parishioners incentive to raise more than $1 million -- even though the goal was $875,000.

Parishioners witnessed the closure of All Saints Parish in Arnold, which had been partnered with their church, and the merger of two other parishes in New Kensington.

"Our parishioners will do whatever they can to sacrifice for the good of their parish and to see it continues in the future," Begolly said.

The parish will use the money to build a handicapped accessible restroom and an auxiliary kitchen, renovate the convent building for meeting and office space and install a new console for the organ.

At some churches that raised money early in the process, work already has begun.

Roofers were at work this week at St. John Baptist de La Salle in Delmont, where a church organ has been installed from campaign proceeds.

Pastor Michael Sikon, who also leads St. Mary's Parish in Export, said parishioners at both small churches exceeded their goals and are seeing the fruits of their labor. He said the campaign was successful for one simple reason -- good people.

"As a pastor hearing many of the struggles people are facing, there was reason for concern of whether this campaign could be successful," he said. "It was humbling at times to hear the personal struggles people were having and yet hear their willingness to help."

Additional Information:

By the numbers

162,000: Number of parishioners in the Diocese of Greensburg

$45 million: Goal of the capital and endowment campaign

$46.6 million: Amount raised so far in donations and pledges

$18 million: The amount parishes were set to receive for their projects

$27 million: Earmarked for capital projects and endowments at the diocesan level

85: Number of parishes in the diocese

58: Number of parishes that met or exceeded their goal

Source: Jerry Zufelt, diocesan spokesman

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