ROME – Facing a drop in contributions amid fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and a slew of other social factors, the Italian bishops have rolled out a new TV and radio ad campaign aimed at convincing taxpayers to allocate their charitable funds to the Catholic Church.

As part of the campaign, a series of 15-30 second videos have been released showing individuals performing routine acts of kindness and volunteers assisting the needy in various charitable projects.

The tagline for each video is, “If you do an act of love, it makes you feel good. Imagine doing thousands. By signing the 8 x 1000 for the Catholic Church, your signature will become thousands of acts of love.”

The “8×1000,” or the “eight per thousand,” refers to a feature of Italy’s tax system in which a small percentage of income tax payments – under the old currency, it was eight lire for every 1,000 – can be devoted to support a charitable entity, whether private or public.

Given that roughly 75 percent of Italians are Catholic, of those who do choose to allocate their tax funds to charity, around 70 percent select the Catholic Church. Funds the Church receives from the 8x1000 are managed by the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI).

For the taxpayers who make no selection, their 8×1000 funds are divided among the various approved recipients in proportion to the selections that were made, meaning the bulk of those funds benefit the Italian Catholic Church, providing it slightly in excess of $1 billion annually, which CEI allocates toward a variety of charitable initiatives as well as administration and overhead costs.

Despite the considerable sums CEI draws, the share of taxpayers choosing to allocate funds to the Catholic Church has steadily declined in recent years, dipping to an all-time low in 2020. The share dropped from 31.8 percent to 29.03 percent, according to a report from the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance.

While part of that decline was related to the economic strain of the coronavirus pandemic, it also reflects another trend in which Italians are increasingly choosing to allocate their funds to state causes, including disaster and hunger relief, refugee assistance, and maintenance of public-school buildings.

Last year CEI published an ad in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s newspaper of record, explaining what the 8×1000 was, how they use the funds, and encouraging taxpayers to select the Catholic Church as the recipient of their money, signaling an effort to draw in more contributions and to make up for recent losses.

This year’s new ad campaign appears to be yet another step in that direction and signals a bump in the effort the bishops are investing in advertising.

In an interview with the Archdiocese of Milan’s online news platform, Massimo Monzio Compagnoni, head of CEI’s Service for the Promotion of the Economic Support of the Catholic Church, said the new ad campaign aims to be both “immediate and intuitive.”

The idea, he said, is to show viewers how they can perform small acts of love for others on a daily basis, by helping someone up who has fallen down, by sharing an umbrella in the rain, or giving up one’s seat on the bus for the elderly.

Compagnoni said the commercials show “everyday gestures within everyone’s reach. Gestures that many people can repeat, amplified thousands and thousands of times thanks to the signatures of taxpayers who choose to allocate the 8x1000 to the Catholic Church.”

In terms of the new advertising strategy, Compagnoni said, “We felt the communicate the beauty that exists in taking care of others and how much each individual signature can exponentially multiply this beauty.”

“The Gospel has not changed for two thousand years, and the works of mercy, corporal and spiritual, are always the same. With this campaign we would like to try to make them more tailored to our current daily lives,” as well as the fact that “the Church’s commitment to the needs of the least does not stop,” he said.

He noted that CEI, in addition to using the 8x1000 funds to support charitable projects at home, has also provided financial support to charitable projects abroad, such as hospitals, schools, and migrant centers.

Last October CEI penned an agreement with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to provide support for safeguarding initiatives, with a special emphasis on the global south, where funds for these efforts are often lacking.

Both parties pledged to exchange information and updates on safeguarding initiatives at the national and global level, and to share skills and professional resources.

As part of that deal, CEI – despite criticism that they have not done enough to intervene in the abuse crisis on the home front – agreed to allocate resources from its 8×1000 fund over a 3-year period to support the commission’s work in building safeguarding mechanisms in the global south.

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Compagnoni in his interview said CEI has always sought to use the 8x1000 funds to support projects that “aim to reach the most disadvantaged and abandoned populations of the planet.”

He praised the role of volunteers who assist in various charitable initiatives around the world and thanked them for their generosity, saying, “the 8x1000 is a true multiplier of resources and services in the area, a concrete support for the most vulnerable, and a driving force for the promotion of career paths,” such as those who run soup kitchens, after-school programs for at-risk youth, and church restorations.

“Without the church and the extraordinary work done by the voluntary machine, I think there would be an enormous void,” he said, saying, “The 8x1000 supplies fuel to an immense charity machine.”

“Every community and every single Christian must feel responsible for it and must offer their own contribution so that people sign and have others sign, making use of the potential of a truly extraordinary instrument of fiscal democracy,” he said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen