Individual charitable giving may be down, but one local professional is getting businesses to fill the gap by connecting them with vital archdiocesan outreaches.
“I always tell my colleagues, ‘If not us, then who, and if not now, then when?’” said Linda McDonough, a member of Visitation B.V.M. Parish in Norristown. “I meet people who say, ‘I’m homeless today. I’m hungry today.’”
McDonough currently serves as president of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities Appeal’s (CCA) board of directors, leveraging her extensive experience in marketing and public relations within the financial and professional services sectors.
As the managing director of the communications firm 50 Words, LLC, McDonough collaborates closely with regional and national companies. Drawing on these connections, and working closely with current and former CCA board members (and other colleagues including John Buck of St. Norbert Parish in Paoli), she’s organized a local group of professionals to meet the new challenges faced by Catholic fundraisers.
A recent report by Giving USA indicated that individual giving declined by 1.1% from 2017 to 2018. The drop may reflect a “donation disincentive” created by the 2017 doubling of the standard tax deduction, which has made itemized charitable deductions less profitable for tax filers.
In addition, waves of clerical sexual abuse scandals haven’t made faith-based fundraising easier, said McDonough, who stressed the importance of honesty and transparency in handling objections to supporting Catholic causes.
Yet she remains determined to keep the spotlight on those served by the CCA, the largest fundraising effort in support of archdiocesan ministries in education, social services, food security, evangelization, parish life and missionary activities. The CCA also supports seminarians as well as retired and infirm clergy; however, no appeal funds are applied to independent reconciliation and reparations programs or their associated expenses. The Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, an independent non-profit, manages the CCA’s fundraising and development strategies.
“People should take great pride in what these beneficiary organizations are accomplishing in their communities,” said McDonough. “They’re doing incredible work to with regard to homelessness, hunger, addiction, seniors and veterans.”
Such social service needs “aren’t going away any time soon,” she added, noting that archdiocesan Catholic agencies diligently continue their outreach despite the fallout from the abuse scandals.
To highlight these efforts, McDonough even relocated several CCA board meetings (normally held at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood) to beneficiary sites.
“We met at Catholic Social Service centers in Chester and in Norristown,” said McDonough, who admitted the accommodations were somewhat atypical.
“A lot of times, we were sitting around tables with little chairs,” she said. “But this way the members could see the work of these outreaches – see the children, see the homeless they help.”
In particular, CCA board members are cultivating corporate donations, which actually saw a 5.4% increase from 2017 to 2018, according to Giving USA. Companies themselves benefit from charitable giving, said McDonough – and not just through tax breaks.
“By making the surrounding community healthier, the company itself becomes healthier and more ingrained in the community,” said McDonough.
Through the CCA’s Project Magis, McDonough and her colleagues have rallied the area’s legal and financial services professionals to raise funds for issues of “universal concern,” such as hunger, homelessness and addiction.
Modeled after Catholic Renewal, which supports Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, the networking group has raised almost $250,000 for the CCA at annual events held in the last two years. Most of the contributions range from $2,500 to $10,000, a modest amount for a given corporation, but one that can quickly add up when a number of businesses follow suit.
Corporate giving can also help to engage employees who are unaffiliated with the Catholic Church and its ministries, said McDonough.
“When we get companies to give, their employees learn about us,” she said. “We can connect with people we may not otherwise be able to reach, since we have less attendance at church.”
Creating those connections is essential to the CCA’s mission, said McDonough, who is looking to further expand and diversify the membership of the CCA board.
Ultimately, she said, charitable giving is a matter of fostering relationships among organizations and, more importantly, individuals – regardless of their beliefs.
“If someone’s hungry, I don’t ask them, ‘What’s your faith?’” said McDonough. “I say, ‘What’s your need?’”
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