[Editor’s Note: Andrew Robison is the owner and president of Petrus Development, which helps Catholic ministries build sustainable development programs. Over the past 15 years, the company has worked with over 125 Catholic ministries and raised over $500 million for campus ministries, high schools, universities, pro-life causes and more. He spoke to Charles Camosy about how the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic lockdown is affecting Catholic organizations, and what can be done to help.]

Camosy: I’m sure one can guess the struggles that many Catholic dioceses, parishes, and other non-profits are experiencing at this time. Could you give us some specifics? What are these institutions facing after the novel coronavirus outbreak in the US?

Robinson: Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the Catholic nonprofit world to its core. Virtually every diocese and parish in the U.S. is now closed and unsure when they will be reopening. Regular ministry is being canceled, postponed, or moved online. Operational work is being done from home.

For parishes, this means that your average parish collection will be down 50-70 percent per week until churches reopen. When parishes can reopen and celebrate Mass and the sacraments, as many as 40 percent of their parishioners will be out of work, temporarily furloughed, or trying to figure out life on half a paycheck. This also means that fundraising galas and big events that typically provide 25 percent of the annual revenue for a charity/ministry just aren’t happening this year. The reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause long-term damage to our economy that will become a much longer-lasting problem for Catholic institutions.

Could you explain how the “Phase Three” legislation to help struggling Americans during this outbreak gives direct aid to Catholic institutions?

The CARES Act was signed into law by President Trump on March 27. Early indications were that faith-based nonprofits would be eligible for some relief, and the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) announced on Monday that faith-based organizations are eligible and will face no additional scrutiny. With this in mind, CARES actually offers both direct and indirect relief for Catholic nonprofits. The Paycheck Protection Program Loans and the Deferred Payment of Payroll Taxes will allow charities with fewer than 500 employees to apply for up to $10 million to protect employees’ pay and reduce their immediate payroll tax liabilities. This could be a great way for parishes and nonprofits to keep their staff employed during shutdown and, in some cases, even protect their strategic reserves.

Indirectly, the Charitable Giving Incentive allows donors to deduct more of their charitable giving and lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent. For corporations, the law raises the annual limit from 10 percent to 25 percent. We know that charitable deductions are a significant motivator for high net worth donors, so these changes could lead to increased giving by many.

Petrus recently hosted a Virtual Summit to help parishes and ministries deal with change in fundraising during COVID-19. Could you tell us what the Virtual Summit was and how it continues to help Catholic institutions fearing financial loss?

When it became apparent that COVID-19 was becoming a pandemic and churches and ministries would be closing, our Petrus team knew we needed to do something to assist. As an organization built on inspiring, educating, and informing those in the Catholic fundraising community, hosting the Virtual Summit allowed us to bring together top industry experts to share their best advice and guidance as a free service to those struggling to maintain their funding operations.

Andrew Robinson. (Credit: Cheryl Robison/Courtesy to Crux.)

From March 17 – April 3, we hosted daily sessions over Zoom Video where we shared best practices, peer-to-peer stories and recommendations, and listened to industry-leading experts such as Kerry Robinson of the Leadership Roundtable, Matt Regitz of Divine Renovation, and even Bishop Michael J. Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo, who offered solutions and encouragement. Topics covered included “Bridging the Gap between Ministry & Finance,” “Strategic Planning,” “Leadership in a Crisis,” “Online and Monthly Giving Programs,” “How the Business Community is Adapting,” “Crisis Budgeting,” and more.

As a sign of encouragement, I asked participants to share stories of hope and generosity. One participant reported that she had taken our advice to reach out to her donors using our free online templates. Immediately, the organization received a $5,000 gift from one of their long-time supporters. In addition, through that communication, they were able to connect with another long-time supporter who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was in hospice. Their priest was able to visit and offered Mass for her and others in that care facility.

A fundraiser from Kansas spoke about receiving a $100,000 check in the mail from a donor who made the gift now because she “knew this crisis would affect their fundraising.” Another from Louisiana told about receiving a $5,000 online gift after the donor opened an email with a link to give. A participant from California shared a story of a $25,000 gift from a first-time donor to help them prepare for their “Days of Giving” at the end of April. Donors truly care about our missions, and when we work to build relationships, they can sense the need and will go to extreme measures to help.

As one of our presenters said, “ministries are not looking at one single pivot; this is a new pivot point every day and sometimes every hour.” The Virtual Summit was an awesome way to hear how other organizations are pivoting and to provide guidance and peace of mind that other organizations can do the same.

The Virtual Summit sounds like a lot of great information and support for Catholic nonprofits. Are there other resources you can offer them as well?

Petrus has been serving the Catholic Church for 15 years, and we want to provide support for ministries in both good times and challenging times. All recorded Virtual Summit episodes are available online for free. Videos can be found on our YouTube channel, audio recordings are posted to The Petrus Development Show’s podcast webpage, and reflections and recaps of many of the presentations are available on the Petrus Blog.

In addition, Petrus has over 45 podcast episodes featuring interviews with industry experts such as development officers, priests, nonprofit founders, and missionaries. These episodes are a great way to hear what works from those who have been there before.

Though the live Virtual Summit has ended, people are still seeking ways to navigate this crisis and build community. In response, Petrus is launching the Petrus Virtual Community on April 14. Those interested can join us live on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday every week to hear from more great speakers and keep building our community of development professionals and ministry leaders. Details and links can be found on our website at www.petrusdevelopment.com.

If you could give just one piece of advice to Catholic parishes and nonprofits experiencing a difficult financial situation, what would it be?

Maintain your trust in God, and keep praying that God’s will be done. The Virtual Summit has been a blessing to me personally because our speakers and participants have all been witnesses of what can happen when we remain faithful. At Petrus, we are committed to continuing to serve the nonprofit community. While this may be a scary time, it does not and should not be a time of inaction. In 2 Timothy, Paul says that the Lord “has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of love, power, and self-control.” Let us continue to work together on behalf of our ministries and our benefactors to build the Kingdom of God.