WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amid worry that bad news about the Catholic Church and the clergy abuse scandal could impact Catholic giving, one financial expert just published a paper with a different story.
Walter Dillingham, a Catholic, who is managing director of endowments and foundations at a New York firm that helps nonprofits manage their finances, has released a study that shows Catholic foundations have been growing — and multiplying — at near-record rates over the past two years.
Dillingham told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview that his firm Wilmington Trust published the report — the second one of its kind so far — not only because “a lot of people read the first one” but also because “a lot of dioceses are small and don’t have much help,” so spreading both helpful strategies and an encouraging message of growth to Catholic foundations accomplished Wilmington Trust’s “goal to be a full-service firm.”
The paper, titled “Catholic Foundations Continue to Advance in the United States” indeed reveals an optimistic outlook for the country’s Catholic foundations. Some of its most notable findings include that, from 2011 to 2018, 23 percent of the total number of Catholic foundations in the United States were started — 41 of them.
On top of that, the total foundation assets for all surveyed Catholic foundations more than doubled since the last report in 2016, expanding from $4.6 billion to $9.5 billion in only two years.
Interestingly, the largest foundation surveyed — the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation — was commenced only in 2018 and already weighs in at $3.2 billion for its total long-term investments. All told, the study registered “42 foundations with over $50 million in assets.”
So what does Dillingham chalk up all this growth to?
As per his study, “the most successful foundations grow themselves most effectively by focusing on both their fundraising and investing strategies, hand-in-hand.”
Among those strategies is planned giving, which Dillingham reported is “separate from the (bishop’s) annual appeal” within a diocese and is often related to the estate plans of certain donors. Foundations that use this approach can provide more reliable sources of cash to their endowments and “focus on what their diocese needs,” according to Dillingham.
Falling under the planned giving tactic is the effective use of donor-restricted perpetual funds. Dillingham told CNS that perpetual funds are “long-term funding reserve(s) for the diocese” that carry “restrictions on what they can be used for” as dictated by donors. He related that foundations began using them so heavily because their connected dioceses realized the “need to build funds for the future.”
But financial prudence isn’t the only thing that perpetual funds have going for them. They “give donor(s) an opportunity to leave something to the diocese” with their own names on it, he said.
The aspirations of Catholic foundations, which usually deal with either education, health or community needs in the dioceses where they reside, are big and bold.
Angela Dimler, director of strategic communications at the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota, known as CCF-MN, told CNS the foundation supports a broad range of missions and ministries in the Twin Cities — both diocesan and non-diocesan.
CCF-MN has “three impact areas … spiritual, social, and educational,” where grants are directed toward goals as diverse as “engaging young adults” as part of its spiritual impact all the way to “building the capacity of urban Catholic schools” as part of its educational impact.
Of course, Catholic foundations are not without their struggles, one of which is the concern among donors and dioceses that foundation money is being invested in ways inconsistent with Catholic values.
In response to this, Dimler explained that CCF-MN’s investment experts vet the portfolio to ensure that its investments are prudent — both financially and morally.
“We screen our investment portfolio according to Catholic social teaching,” explained Dimler, adding that once Catholic foundations hold shares in companies, they can influence those businesses to pursue ethical principles.
Another obvious problem is willingness to donate amid revelations of clergy sex abuse.
When asked whether giving to Catholic foundations was growing in spite of the Catholic Church’s negative press, Dillingham claimed it was “(too) early to tell.”
The data in the report, he said, was collected during 2017-2018 “when markets were very strong,” and thus positive indicators among Catholic foundations could probably be attributed to the economic tides as well as the fundraising schemes mentioned above. Scandals also were not as prevalent in the news during the time frame Dillingham was studying.
Dillingham did express worries for what effect the abuse scandal might have in the future, stating that “Catholic donors might stay on the sidelines” as stories continue to unfold.