NEW ORLEANS — An innovative form of Catholic crowdfunding on Giving Tuesday has gone national this year, as the iGiveCatholic campaign spreads to 17 dioceses and archdioceses in various regions of the U.S.

The #iGiveCatholic campaign is a 24-hour online crowdfunding effort, hosted at iGiveCatholic.org, on Giving Tuesday, a global day inviting people on Nov. 28, the Tuesday following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events, to give to charity.

This is the third iGiveCatholic campaign since it was started by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2015, which crowdfunded a record $1.36 million online in 24 hours for Catholic parishes, schools and ministries. Last year’s campaign saw five additional dioceses participate and raise $1.9 million gifts for more than 300 ministries.

“It’s kind of nuts how this thing is exploding,” Cory Howat, executive director of The Catholic Foundation for the archdiocese. “It has grown so fast.”

This year’s goal aims to raise at least $3.5 million to support the ministries of more than 600 schools, parishes, and other affiliated organizations in 17 participating dioceses and archdioceses.

The #iGiveCatholic website also has a “leaderboard” that allows Catholics to check the donation “stats” for their favorite Catholic parish, school or ministry.

The archdioceses and dioceses that have joined onto this year’s #iGiveCatholic campaign by the July 1 cutoff date represent Catholics in 11 states, situated in the West, the Midwest, the South and Northeast. They include the Archdiocese of Atlanta; Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas; Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama; Archdiocese of New Orleans; Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania; Diocese of Austin, Texas; Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi; Diocese of Helena, Montana; Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana; Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi; Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee; Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky; Diocese of Lubbock, Texas; Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee; Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky; and the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey.

Howat explained that digital technology has expanded even further since they began #iGiveCatholic, allowing them to scale up the campaign to a national level. They have been able to build separate diocesan leaderboards for the #iGiveCatholic campaign to complement the national leaderboard, and they have the technology to embed a giving portal on local parish and school webpages.

 

Dioceses on Board

Timothy Potter, director of development for the Diocese of Paterson, told the Register that he was initially skeptical of the concept until he learned that the #iGiveCatholic campaign would benefit directly the ministries, parishes, schools and Catholic charitable organizations in the diocese, and give them an opportunity to tell their stories.

“Right when I knew that, I was totally on board with the method and the mission,” he said.

The diocese has 21 Catholic entities participating this year. The two biggest questions from participants were how they could use the #iGiveCatholic program to be in touch with certain donors, and how could they develop effective videos and integrate them into their social media #iGiveCatholic campaigns.

Potter said that while raising money was a great goal, they are placing a priority on participation, and hope they can translate that into greater Catholic involvement in community events and volunteer activities.

“That is what we’re looking for,” he said.

Andrea Bizzanelli, the #iGiveCatholic coordinator for the Diocese of Austin, said the day of Catholic giving was “a good experience for our parishes and our schools.” This year they have 11 schools, 20 parishes and 3 nonprofits participating.

Bizzanelli explained that the diocese learned that the training sessions to market the program are essential to success for participating parishes and schools. She said the diocese was enormously grateful for the marketing toolkits that the Archdiocese of New Orleans’s Catholic Foundation developed in order to help parishes, schools, and ministries learn how to build up support and excitement in advance of Giving Tuesday.

“I think this [campaign] will grow as people continue to do it, and more people get to know about it,” Bizzanelli said.

 

A Dedicated Non-Profit

The Catholic Foundation also decided this year, with a mandate from New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, to transition #iGiveCatholic into a fully staffed separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit, registered with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in order to grow the initiative even further as a ministry for the Church.

Howat said they realized they needed to make the transition after last year’s successful campaign, and do more to share it with the entire country, realizing “there is something here the Lord is calling us to.”

Approximately 30 other dioceses have expressed interest in joining #iGiveCatholic next year, as well as two dioceses outside the U.S. — one in the Philippines and the other in the United Kingdom.

The non-profit will be overseen by Josephine Everly, chief operating officer of the Catholic Foundation. She told the Register that participants reported the #iGiveCatholic campaign has been a “fun and exciting way to talk about our mission,” that has helped parishes, schools, and organizations engage more volunteers, tap their creativity, and learn how to build up excitement by getting the word out through traditional and social media.

“It is really about generating that excitement that gets people to go online and give,” she said.

 

Challenging the Conventions

A study by the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life called “Unleashing Catholic Generosity: Explaining the Catholic Giving Gap in the United States,” found that Catholics gave the least compared to members of other faiths in the U.S. It found 15% of Catholics reported tithing, and little more than one out of five give to the Church (or religious causes) at all.

The study concluded U.S. Catholics lacked “spiritual engagement with money,” particularly in parishes with a “pay-the-bills culture.” The study, however, found that when parishes invited people to be part of the planning and vision, discussed the need for money in that context, and communicated the good things that their donations would accomplish, they saw “more generous giving” from the faithful.

Everly, however, said the #iGiveCatholic campaign has gathered new data with positive findings that challenge some of the conventional wisdom about Catholic philanthropy. Most studies, she said, look at Catholic philanthropy in terms of obligatory tithing, but are missing the bigger picture of Catholic “voluntary giving,” which includes generous donations of time and talent, in addition to treasure.

She noted the minimum sacrificial gift for participating in the #iGiveCatholic campaign was $25. But the Catholic Foundation found the average donation this year (in the advance giving stage) was $186.

Approximately 40% of donors they surveyed from last year said they were first time online givers, which Everly said showed the conventional wisdom that Catholic donors are “resistant to online giving” was not correct.

Everly said they will have a case study published soon on their findings.

“The takeaway for me is when you invite Catholic donors to give to their passion, to their faith, and not out of obligation, but because it is their desire, they give,” she said. “And compared to donors in general, they’re more generous.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.