#iGiveCatholic Together: New Online Tool Aids Donations in Light of Coronavirus

Cory Howat, president of the #iGiveCatholic campaign, tells the Register that they have a stopgap solution for dioceses, parishes and ministries that need online giving now.

(photo: Courtesy of the Clarion Herald)

NEW ORLEANS — The #iGiveCatholic campaign started five years ago as a way to get parishes, dioceses, schools and ministries connected to Catholics who wished to donate to worthy causes on Giving Tuesday.

But with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down Sunday collections and fundraisers from coast to coast, the #iGiveCatholic campaign is now being activated to provide those same Catholic organizations with a stopgap solution to keep funds flowing while they work on permanent digital-giving solutions.

The original campaign started in the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a single 24-hour period on Giving Tuesday following the Black Friday sales events and raised $1.3 million to 112 churches, schools and other nonprofit ministries in the archdiocese. Since 2015, #iGiveCatholic has grown into a national campaign, with 39 dioceses joining and raising together $7.6 million last year through nearly 34,000 individual donations.

In this interview with the Register, #iGiveCatholic president Cory Howat discusses the “I Give Catholic Together” initiative that launched on March 26 and how dioceses can take advantage of it to withstand the existential threat to their parishes, schools and nonprofit ministries’ financial lifelines and be in a stronger position to carry on their Gospel mission after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

 

Cory, what is #iGiveCatholic doing to provide a way for dioceses, parishes, schools and ministries to keep their financial lifelines going now that Sunday collections and cash giving are no longer feasible with the coronavirus pandemic?

We’re offering them an immediate way that somebody that wants to be able to give to them, and obviously can’t use cash, and wants to be able to find them and be a part of their ministry [to do so].

The reality behind this is millions of Catholics that have dropped the $5 or $10 bill inside of the basket on the weekend, where have they gone overnight? If you imagine they disappeared overnight, and an ingrained part of their life is going to church, and part of their spiritual nature is the need to give, they need to be able to find the parish that has impacted them and help it continue that work now more than ever.

 

So this is not only for parishes, but also for schools and other ministries?

Many Catholic grammar schools have no online giving. That’s the neat part of #iGiveCatholic here: We’re now taking small ministries, provincial offices that don’t have an online giving, and we’re turning on the switch for them immediately. So it’s the wider swath of the Church. That’s the beauty of #iGiveCatholic: It’s not just parish-centric. It’s parish, school and nonprofit ministry driven.

 

#iGiveCatholic was designed for Giving Tuesday. What changes have you made to open this up so Catholics can directly support Catholic parishes, schools and other organizations?

We know that being able to flip the switch on immediately [is key so], we’re offering them an immediate way that somebody that wants to be able to give to them, and obviously can’t use cash, can find them and be a part of their ministry.

The biggest change [from Giving Tuesday] is that it’s not focused on project philanthropy or project giving. You’re not going to push for [like on Giving Tuesday] a project or piece, the outward-facing work that your ministry does in one area.

We’re not repurposing #iGiveCatholic to be able to reach a certain total or to be able to even bring in new donors. We’re doing this so that the faithful can connect back to their parishes and share their gift.

 

For people for whom this is the first time that they’re approaching online giving, how easy is it to use #iGiveCatholic to donate to their parish, school or ministry?

That’s the reason why it’s so attractive. It’s completely intuitive. It’s within three clicks — you can find the ministry that you love. It has a U.S. map as its landing page. The map allows you to easily drill down, in two-three clicks, to your parish.

 

What steps need to happen for Catholic, parishes, schools and ministries and other organizations to sign on board?

For dioceses that participated in the past, there’s nothing that they have to do. It’ll all be live.

For dioceses that haven’t participated in #iGiveCatholic, we’re creating a special page for them similar to the Archdiocese of Newark’s page, where there will be one landing spot with all the ministries as a drop-down for them to be able to find their parish, so that the funds can go directly to them.

And one of the biggest things that we’re pushing — and this is a fascinating part — is the platform has peer-to-peer giving.

 

Let’s talk about that. What does peer-to-peer giving mean for a parish?

Basically what it means is that inside of #iGiveCatholic, each parish will get a page. Say it’s my parish, St. Clement of Rome. Each parish — name whatever parish is on #iGiveCatholic — they would get a subpage under that that would allow you to be able to share the opportunity to give from person to person. What happens is we know that one of Catholic churches’ weaknesses right now is we don’t have everybody’s email address. But we know that people know each other. A peer-to-peer page allows somebody to be able to get a page and share it with their friends personally as part of a way to support their individual parish. So I would have a subpage under St. Clement of Rome that’s Cory Howat’s St. Clement of Rome giving page and then invite parishioners that I know aren’t on St. Clement of Rome’s radar that I think would be willing to help St. Clement of Rome.

 

So you’re envisioning this as a stopgap measure?

A stopgap measure, but also a communications extension. We know that the parishes can’t reach everybody, and this peer-to-peer platform can really help remedy the weakness of the Church [in online giving]. The weakness of a lot of these parishes is they don’t have communication with everybody. But this allows two things: the social media overlay, and then the peer-to-peer option, which is when people start doing the work of the Church, with the Church’s leaders, to reach out to those that are missing.


Online giving has been around for Catholic parishes for a decade. How many do you feel were prepared for this crisis, where Sunday collections are no longer possible?

I really feel like half of the parishes that were prepared are prepared. We still have half of the Church that’s kind of felt like they’re left behind.

So it’s shortening the innovation curve at the back end of online giving in the churches, which is already 10 years old. Normally, it would have lasted for another 10 years, but I’m thinking that the [late adopters] are coming in here in the next six months.

 

So what you provide at #iGiveCatholic is kind of an opportunity for dioceses and parishes to get some breathing room to set up more permanent online giving solutions?

Correct.

 

What’s the plan for #iGiveCatholic when we’re beyond this crisis?

Our goal, really, is to be in that space [ongoing], as the U.S. Catholic Church’s “Giving Day.” So our hope is that once somebody gives through this stopgap measure, that they’ll be able to go buy the parishes time to be able to properly formulate an online presence that’s much greater than just giving. So their website really transitions from this linear approach that just pushes out information to this relational approach that allows the parish and the parishioners to really have interaction.

We’re proposing this as a stopgap measure, so that they see that there’s a full digital stewardship relationship. For example, instead of canceling CCD classes, a full digital stewardship approach is transitioning to Zoom CCD classes, so that you almost don’t miss a beat. You could do that for confirmation or adult faith formation. And that’s a full digital approach to our faith.

This interview has been edited for length and content.

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.

INFORMATION

For more information on how dioceses can participate in “I Give Catholic Together,” contact Julie Kenny, national program director, at [email protected]