WASHINGTON (CNS) — More U.S. dioceses are turning to foundations to help meet their financial and fundraising priorities. And foundation executives in the diocesan realm believe they’ve only begun to tap into the potential for these gifts.

Dan McKune, executive director of Catholic Community Foundation of Mid-Michigan, which covers the Diocese of Saginaw, said Catholic donors are used to giving to an annual diocesan appeal or a school fund. “They are getting used to it, but we still are not where we want to be,” he said. “Our donor base is about 1,000 people and they’ve been very, very good givers,” but he thinks the foundation could attract and retain 2,500 donors — and possibly twice that.

The way the Saginaw foundation is set up, it “deals more in perpetual-type funds,” McKune said. “Once the money goes (to the foundation), you don’t ask for it back.”


In Maine, a previous bishop authorized the establishment of the Catholic Foundation of Maine, covering the statewide Diocese of Portland, according to Elizabeth Badger, its executive director. The reasons to or establish the foundation, she said, was “to give people the opportunity to make planned gifts, to support Catholic ministries in Maine, primarily through endowments.”

“We maintain 113 endowments, and have $24 million in assets under management,” Badger added — just a bit under the $25 million being managed in Saginaw. Both foundations are about one decade old.

Walter Dillingham, managing director for endowments and foundations for the New York City-based Wilmington Trust, and himself a Catholic, had always wondered about the extent of diocesan foundations in the United States, but could not easily find the information he sought. So he made the subject the topic of his master’s thesis.

His paper, titled “The Advancement of Religious-Based Fundraising Foundations in the United States,” found that 122 of the 181 Latin-rite U.S. dioceses used a separate foundation, but that there were 143 Catholic foundations in all, including those dioceses that have more than one foundation. “There was a lot of growth in the area but very little information,” Dillingham told Catholic News Service. Now, Catholic foundation executives have their own professional conference.

His paper also showed that religion-based giving still accounts for the largest share of all charitable giving in the country, although the 32 percent recorded in 2014 is down from 36 percent in 2000 — perhaps an aftereffect of the clerical sexual abuse scandal.

Dillingham cited a 2012 Gallup poll showing that one in five Catholics stopped donating to their local parish as a result of the scandal, and those who continued to give feared their donations were being used to pay for legal fees and settlement costs. The poll also showed 79 percent wanted greater transparency in how their donations were being used.


Foundations, as separate federally chartered nonprofit corporations, can provide that clarity, which is important for a donor who wants to make a perpetual gift restricted to a particular use, be it schools, liturgical music or what have you.

Badger said the Catholic Foundation of Maine handles 113 separate gifts that supporting a range of efforts, from schools to seminarian education to sacred art and other ministries.

Rick Suchan, who heads the Catholic Foundation of Buffalo, New York, had been a banker for 30 years in wealth management before he came to the diocese six years ago. “Now I raise money for Jesus instead,” he joked.

“I use those 30 years of experience every single day because I spend a good chunk of the day with people talking about estate planning … remembering how influential the church was for them and their families,” Suchan said.

The foundation is responsible for the diocese’s $100 million capital campaign, which began in November 2015. “To help secure a lot of those large leadership gifts, I use my financial background,” he said. The foundation had “projected a 36-month duration,” Suchan added, but by mid-February the amount pledged was already at $85 million, and “by August of this year we should be done. We’re on target and we should exceed our goal by 5-10 percent.”

Not every foundation operates, or is governed, in exactly the same way. Most U.S. dioceses are organized as “corporation sole,” meaning its assets are held by the bishop appointed to head the diocese. But on foundation boards of directors, theirs is just one vote among many — and not all foundation charters give their bishop voting privileges.

In some cases, foundation employees are actually diocesan employees. Sometimes they wear two hats, one for the diocese and one for the foundation. McKune had been diocesan development director as well as foundation executive director until he declared, “I just can’t do this anymore,” and a consultant’s report agreed with him.

“Until Dec. 1, we had 0.94 employees” in the foundation, he told CNS. “We didn’t even have a full person.” However, since then, McKune is full time with the foundation, as is a volunteer who had been there on a quarter-time basis. He also had to decide whether gifts he was cultivating fit more properly in the diocese or the foundation, which he said caused some conflicts.


Tom Kissane, principal and managing director of CCS Fundraising, a New York-based independent consulting service that counts 125 dioceses among its clients, said that for Catholics like himself, “most giving is often rooted in stewardship principles, right? So it’s often a combination of one’s own way of life. They embrace stewardship, and there are major needs that a parish or diocese have: the need to expand ministry, sustain and advance Catholic schools, various ways to engage our youth, and capital projects are a part of it. Roman Catholic dioceses are extraordinarily responsive.”

Parishes have one distinct advantage. “The key difference is that parishes welcome worshippers every week,” Kissane said, with “an active Catholic offertory that is approached weekly. Colleges, they’re lucky if they (alumni) go back annually.”

Catholic foundations “are helping the church to build financial resources in a changing world,” Dillingham said.

“I’m getting a number of calls from dioceses all over the country,” he told CNS. “Foundations are starting to make some tremendous progress. Some are taking baby steps, but others are taking very big steps.”