Cardinal’s Appeal Staff Finds Best Pitch Can Be Compassionate Ear

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The Cardinal’s Annual Stewardship Appeal is a fundraising operation that supports many of the Church ministries here in the Archdiocese of New York, and that much hasn’t changed about the 2020 campaign.

The coronavirus pandemic, especially in New York, calls for a difference in how this year’s campaign is conducted, and in some cases has offered an opportunity for campaign managers across the archdiocese to expand the scope of their work.

Because the virus hit New York swiftly and hard just before in-pew solicitations were planned in parishes, a different tack had to be taken. Parishioners have not been able to attend Masses in their churches since mid-March.

Juliette Picciano, the director of the Cardinal’s Annual Stewardship Appeal (CASA), told CNY that campaign managers and other members of the archdiocesan development department underwent training to directly call donors who had previously contributed to the Appeal.

The first step, Ms. Picciano said, is “to engage them as human beings,” with questions to ascertain how they and their family are faring at this time.

Shannon McPhee, who is serving as a development consultant to CASA, said last week that the campaign managers and development staff have made 5,000 calls so far. They relay information about the assistance the Church is providing through food pantries, shelters and spiritual guidance.

Callers also tell parishioners that they will be faithfully remembered in the prayer intentions of Cardinal Dolan.

Ms. McPhee said campaign managers and other staff have shared “many emotional stories” that they have heard from parishioners “at a wide array” of churches that have been personally impacted “very differently” during the health crisis.

The response from parishioners has been “so positive,” Ms. McPhee said. She said the Appeal staff is “realistic about our expectations,” especially since many people they contact are now without jobs and have pressing concerns about paying their mortgages and rents and feeding their families.

In some cases, parishioners are meeting these “unprecedented times” by giving generously. “People want to give back,” said Ms. McPhee, who is executive director of CCS Fundraising.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 CASA campaign will be extended into the summer and fall, said Bettina Alonso, the executive director of development for the archdiocese, in an interview with CNY. In-pew solicitations in churches will be held in the fall, “God willing,” Ms. Alonso said.

Cardinal Dolan is scheduled to host four regional events for donors in support of CASA in the fall.

At this stage, the 2020 CASA campaign has raised $8 million in cash on pledges of nearly $10 million, Ms. Alonso said. Those numbers, understandably, are down from this time last year.

The phone calls, to the previous donors in the Appeal’s database, “are really making a difference,” Ms. Alonso said. The first thing that comes through from parishioners is “the love” they have for their pastor and parish. “Almost every other call mentions the pastor,” she said.

A major priority at this time is “being present to the pastors and parishes,” said Ms. Alonso, noting that some parishes have been hit by the coronavirus “more severely than others.” Some have asked the development office for assistance in setting up increased offertory campaigns. Mostly, the pastors have expressed their desire to welcome parishioners back to their churches, she said.

Tailoring this year’s CASA campaign has meant that campaign managers must work from home when normally they would be spending three or four days each week in assigned parishes.

Training staff working from home to handle phone conversations instead of in-person interactions was a “very intense” process that involved role-playing situations and encouraging them “not to rush” and to stay on the phone for an extended period, if warranted, Ms. Alonso said.

For Ms. Alonso, the adjustment to working remotely for the first time in her professional career was a significant one. “I was completely disoriented” at the beginning, she said.

“I am now listening more actively,” said Ms. Alonso, adding that skill to others more commonly associated with fundraising such as an ability to ask for money and comfort in social and business gatherings.

The campaign managers have shared success stories, and failures, in weekly calls for the past four weeks.

One of Ms. Alonso’s favorites was about a 93-year-old parishioner who quickly told the campaign manager that he was aware of the reason for the call but also shared another detail. “I know you want money,” he said. “I want you to know that you are the first human voice I’ve spoken to in two weeks.”

Ms. Alonso said the relative youth of campaign managers and other staff means they are good candidates to assist parishes with social media and electronic giving initiatives.

The expertise that campaign manager Robert Jurman, 27, has applied at parishes on Staten Island and in the Bronx offers a good case in point.

At St. Ann’s parish on Staten Island, where Jurman has led the parish’s CASA campaign since January, he has helped Father Joy Mampilly to introduce livestreamed Masses on Facebook and YouTube. Masses were livestreamed on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter Sunday, along with the Good Friday Passion service, and each weekend since.

Not only does Jurman facilitate the technical requirements, thanks to his iPhone and MacBook, he also assists Father Mampilly by serving many of the Masses. The Staten Island native is a parishioner of Holy Child.

“I want to help Father Joy connect with his parishioners and bring the liturgy to them as much as I could in this crisis,” Jurman said. “I do my best to be the best Catholic I can be. It was a chance to help fellow Catholics on Staten Island.”

At Holy Cross parish in the Bronx, Jurman recently assisted Father John Higgins, the pastor, in setting up the WeShare electronic giving program, which has already signed up 80 parishioners. “It’s a great way to expand our online giving outreach,” Jurman said.

At St. Ann’s, Father Mampilly told CNY that the response from parishioners to the livestreamed Masses has been “very positive,” and he is very grateful for Jurman’s efforts. “Robert worked hard to make this happen and go forward,” he said.

“The people can see the inside of their church and make a spiritual connection to their spiritual home, where they have been, and participate in a sublime way,” the pastor said.

The interconnectivity knows no bounds, as Father Mampilly can happily attest. Family members in his native Kerala, India, now watch his livestreamed Mass each week.

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