By Jennifer Damiano, CCS Alumna
We are ever grateful to the visionaries who started our nation’s first diocesan foundation in 1955 in Dallas, Texas. These leaders envisioned that the Church would benefit substantially from a then unique institution that could hold, grow and protect donors’ gifts. They believed that these endowments would be instrumental in ensuring that the needs of those less fortunate in their community could be met now and long into the future.
In the generations since, approximately 40% of American arch/dioceses have established foundations to inspire philanthropy to benefit parishes, schools, vocations and social services. Research has been conducted by the International Catholic Stewardship Council (ICSC) on diocesan foundations, revealing that their combined assets exceed $1 billion, enabling an impact nearing $50 million annually.
Endowments are playing a larger role in diocesan fiscal planning than ever before. These funds are held permanently with only their earnings or a small portion (4% to 5%) of their value spent annually for restricted or unrestricted purposes. Their impact will be perpetual and is often directed to capital repairs in parishes, tuition assistance for families, offsetting the costs of priestly formation and retirement, and increasing funds available to serve the poor and needy. Diocesan foundations share endowment as a key mission component. Some foundations also inspire other kinds of diocesan philanthropy, like annual giving, parish stewardship and capital needs.
Many bishops and arch/diocesan professionals responsible for inspiring stewardship and philanthropy are considering foundations as an element in their strategic planning. Key considerations for these arch/dioceses and for those considering further investments in what they have:
- A strong diocesan vision – A foundation can be the backbone of any arch/diocesan strategic plan. The identification of current and long-term needs forms a strong case for endowment. A foundation with a unique focus on endowments and planned giving enables an arch/diocese to devote attention to funding long-term needs, while concurrently raising funds for operating and capital needs. If establishing perpetual sources of income for long-term needs is a priority, then a foundation is a natural choice for an arch/diocese.
- Governance – Foundations present a unique opportunity for expressing leadership. Parishes, schools, agencies and arch/dioceses already engage clergy, religious and lay leaders, and foundations are no different. Governance is a key issue for each diocesan foundation and is influenced by canonical and state and federal civil laws. These issues should be studied carefully with an eye toward inspiring giving, and the other toward carefully stewarding assets entrusted to the foundation’s care. Studying existing diocesan foundations illustrates the great diversity in options that any arch/diocese can adopt.
- Partners – Potential prospects for endowment giving are frequent and consistent donors. Catholic parishes are filled with donors who give in predictable ways. Alumni and parents consistently support Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Catholic organizations inspire regular giving, and studies show that these individuals are predisposed to be interested in endowment opportunities. A foundation can be the spark to ignite a current or end-of-life gift for long-term needs.
The impact that today’s diocesan foundations would not have been possible without the trailblazing leaders in Dallas two generations ago, nor the thousands of clergy, religious and lay leaders who have followed their example since.
Imagine the effect that these foundations will have in this and ensuing generations. Our ancestors built the churches in which we worship and the schools in which we pass forward our faith; the endowments formed by our sacrificial gifts will be our legacy to our children and their children.
Join the conversation about diocesan foundations by posting questions or comments right here on this blog. Want to discuss options for your arch/diocese? I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.