According to the Los Angeles Times, Roman Catholic Archbishop José H. Gomez is worried about money. Says the paper, “The archdiocese has hired a New York company, Guidance In Giving Inc., to study the feasibility of a large-scale fundraiser that would shore up a bottom line hit hard by costly abuse litigation.” How large is large-scale? The Times puts the size of the proposed campaign at $200 million.
A couple of thoughts: First, if you pay a consultant to help you decide whether you should engage in a bigger project that would bring the consultant even more money . . . well, the words “conflict of interest” come to mind. But that’s a minor point. They know they need to raise the money, so the question they really are asking is how.
Which brings me to the second point: In my experience, there are two — and only two — times when a church organization undertakes a capital campaign like this.
One is when there is such excitement and energy that the time is right to take a bold step forward around a particular well-agreed-upon program. “We’re bursting at the seams, and we need to build a new building,” a parish might say, or “many of our parishes are growing dramatically, and we have to divide them, build new sanctuaries, and bring in new clergy to minister to them” says a bishop.
The other is when there is such a dire crisis that the energy of the community needs to be harnessed to address the crisis. “The creek behind the church overflowed its banks, flooded the basement, and caused a fire — and because it was all traced back to a flood, it is not covered by insurance because we don’t have flood insurance.”
Sadly, Archbishop Gomez and his archdiocese are not looking at the first set of circumstances here. Even more sadly, they are simultaneously trying not to admit it is a terrible crisis. According to NBC News, the archdiocese “is exploring a campaign to raise $200 million for the diocese to meet ‘a variety of needs,’ including ‘priests’ retirement, seminarian education, Catholic schools, Catholic Charities and parish needs.’”
Sorry, but exploring a capital campaign with such a diffuse set of goals and needs is an exercise of dubious worth. It makes it look like the archdiocese is still trying to downplay the horrendous abuse scandal that has unfolded in their midst. Potential donors will see this, shake their heads, and ask “why should be trust what you are saying about why you are asking for money, when you try so hard not to say what is driving all this?” Only if the campaign is honestly and clearly focused does it have a hope of success.
So let me offer a little advice to Archbishop Gomez. It’s free, from one pastor to another, and maybe it will help.
The campaign starts with a simple letter that goes something like this: Read the rest of this entry →