NEW ORLEANS — When the sex-abuse scandals hit the Church afresh in 2018, the Catholic students at Nicholls State University (NSU) in Thibodaux, Louisiana, decided with their priests to take direct action. They wanted to build a perpetual adoration chapel on their campus as a permanent place of intercession for the sanctification and protection of their university, their families and Catholic priests.

So the “Colonel Catholics” of NSU turned to the #iGiveCatholic campaign to raise the funds on Giving Tuesday, a global day of philanthropy on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events.

They raised $230,000 on Giving Tuesday, and nearly one year later, on Oct. 13, 2019, the Two Hearts Perpetual Adoration Chapel at NSU opened its doors.

“IGiveCatholic was right behind that, and I had no idea we would raise that much money,” Father Mitchell Semar, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Student Center at NSU, told the Register. St. Thomas Aquinas parishioners, he said, then felt motivated by the success of the campaign to donate their time, construction talent and materials to help keep costs within what they raised by iGiveCatholic.

“Now, every hour on the hour, someone is there praying that prayer,” he said.

This year marks the fifth #iGiveCatholic campaign of Catholic philanthropy on Giving Tuesday, which will be held Dec. 3 this year. The opening day for advanced giving is Nov. 18. The #iGiveCatholic campaign was started by the Archdiocese of New Orleans’s Catholic Foundation in 2015, which crowdfunded a record $1.36 million online in 24 hours for Catholic parishes, schools and ministries. The #iGiveCatholic campaign spread regionally with its success and has now become fully national.

This year’s Giving Tuesday, 39 dioceses and approximately 3,700 Catholic parishes, schools and ministries are participating in #iGiveCatholic.

“They’re saying, ‘Hey, we really want to do this. We want to participate in something Catholic on Giving Tuesday. Our donors are giving Catholic; they’re giving on Giving Tuesday. We want them to give Catholic, which is an awesome thing,” Julie Kenny, national program director of #iGiveCatholic, which is now a separate nonprofit, told the Register.

A Giving USA 2019 annual report on philanthropy revealed $11.4 million for religion-related causes was raised on Giving Tuesday in 2018, the year #iGiveCatholic nationally raised more than $5.6 million.

Salvador Perez, director of advancement for the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, told the Register that this is the second year the military archdiocese is joining the #iGiveCatholic campaign. The campaign will help the archdiocese with its operating budget and help its bishops travel to spend time with the troops, particularly around Christmastime, and support its vocations program.

The program is a partnership with territorial dioceses, where the military archdiocese splits the costs of seminary formation. Perez explained that the new priest serves five years with his home diocese and then joins the military as a chaplain and commissioned officer.

But the social-media promotions also help generate awareness about the archdiocese, which relies on contributions, not parish assessments, in order to carry out its ministry.

“It’s a great way for everyone to know there is an archdiocese for the military,” Perez said.

Perez said the funds raised on Giving Tuesday will help the archdiocese’s priests, lay leaders and youth and young-adult ministers provide pastoral care to military personnel and families stationed all over the world. The funds will also help their religious-education programming, which is online to help families keep up religious education even though they have to move.

“That way their religious education continues as if they never left.”


Empowering the Peripheries

Kenny said that while donations are important, the #iGiveCatholic campaign also helps parishes, schools and ministries build community and also a database, by “teaching them basic development practices.” It also provides participating groups a way to do “peer-to-peer fundraising.”

“It creates that healthy competition to raise money for their organization,” she said.

Kenny explained that 29% of nearly 14,000 online donors self-identified as new donors to an organization participating in #iGiveCatholic.

 “Every year, we also see a significant number of new people giving to their favorite Catholic nonprofit through #iGiveCatholic,” she said. Kenny said their 2018 donor survey taken post-giving day showed 54% of 1,500 survey respondents said “this was their first year donating to a parish, school or ministry through #iGiveCatholic.”

Cory Howat, president of #iGiveCatholic and executive director of the Catholic Community Foundation of New Orleans, told the Register that Catholic Extension, which supports 87 mission dioceses in the U.S., has also recognized the potential of a platform like #iGiveCatholic to help parishes, schools and ministries create a development infrastructure that they normally could not create to do their own fundraising.

“We’re here only for one reason: It’s just to propel the Gospel,” he said.

Howat said Catholic Extension last year sponsored 11 dioceses, which raised a total of $900,000 on Giving Tuesday in 2018. This year, Catholic extension is sponsoring 25 dioceses.

“That’s how we’ve had great success reaching into Montana and Idaho,” he said.

New Mexico is one of the new places where dioceses are now participating. “So we’re able to bring the giving day to areas that are sometimes the last in the Church to get the resources.”


Trust Is Key

While conventional wisdom would suggest that the sex-abuse scandals have hurt Catholic giving, Howat said they saw another record year of direct giving in 2018. The lesson, he explained, is that people want to give to parishes, schools and ministries that have their trust and will be accountable to them.

“I think it validates some of the thought that what we do [at #iGiveCatholic] is we provide direct funding to the impact of the ministry that you love,” he said. “And so, if anything, I think people have gravitated to this.”

Howat said the biggest participation growth he’s seen is from parishes and Catholic elementary schools, which are finding that #iGiveCatholic on Giving Tuesday can serve also as “built-in annual appeal” to supporters who may be outside traditional giving approaches.

Julie Robinson, the development director at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Boise, Idaho, told the Register that this is the school’s first official year doing the #iGiveCatholic campaign. She said the #iGiveCatholic campaign is complementary in certain ways to the school’s traditional fundraising campaigns, particularly in how it appeals to a younger generation of alumni who prefer online giving.

Robinson, a St. Joseph’s alumna herself who sent her children to the school, is coordinating the social-media campaign. She said the gifts help support St. Joseph’s general operations, although there are ways people can give specifically.

“Tuition assistance is very popular with this sort of giving,” she said.

The school has 384 students in grades K-8, with two classes for each grade, and has been in operation since 1900.

“We’re the oldest Catholic school in Idaho,” she said. “Catholic schools are such a blessing and gift in our community … so I think, for many people, just to be able to support Catholic parishes and schools is a wonderful thing to do on Giving Tuesday.”


Springboard to Mission

At St. Thomas Aquinas in Thibodaux, now that the Two Hearts adoration chapel is built, Father Semar said this year’s campaign will go to fundraise for the parish’s operating costs. The parish spends about $150,000 annually to support its campus ministry program at Nicholls State University.

“This year, we’re going to invest in people,” he said.

“And iGiveCatholic was the springboard to make it happen.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.