Philadelphia Catholic philanthropy

It’s Giving Tuesday, the newish annual day of giving to your favorite charities. I’m sharing my perspective on one of Philadelphia’s newest and most interesting charities.

Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia made its debut in 2013 as a new, independent charitable vehicle for Catholics looking to sustain long-term charitable endeavors and support their communities.

This is a great development for Catholics and a great example of “getting money out of the Church” and letting the Church itself better focus on Christian witness. It follows the long-successful secular model of community foundations begun with The Cleveland Foundation a century ago, as well as the national model adopted across more than a dozen other Catholic administrative regions.

The Catholic Church has been suffering through an institutional crisis relating to a failure to foresee the present demographic dearth of families and children. The closures of many churches and schools have been precipitated by many factors—fewer priests and sisters to teach, strong competition from charter schools, smaller Catholic families, and poor management. I think the slim-down of Catholicism’s physical plant was both demographically inevitable and worth celebrating as a path toward renewal of the real work of Christianity which is to be found in hearts rather than struggling to maintain empty buildings.

But for those Catholic communities that survive, and those yet to be, smarter and more sustainable models are required to insulate their institutions from future financial shocks.

The old model was essentially predicated on the idea that enormous numbers of middle-class Catholics would forever support the growing practical and charitable goals of their communities. The new model, of which the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia is a part, looks much more like the model of universities and community foundations that has long done well for those communities.

It looks like this: Catholic church communities establishing their own permanent endowments and building them over time. A $10 million dollar endowment at five percent interest generates $500,000 in annual revenue—enough not only to maintain a beautiful church’s physical plant and practical needs, but also enough to provide consistent support for families in need, tuition shortfalls, and things like choirs and arts programs to bring beauty to the wider culture. It doesn’t need to start at $10 million to matter—a principal of as little as $10,000 will start to cover utilities.

It also looks like this: Catholic families establishing smaller donor-advised funds to support missions, causes, and people important to them whether within the faith community or the wider culture. As more families institutionalize philanthropy across generations, it’s likely those families themselves will become stronger as they come to share a common vision.

There are many other ways that the Catholic Foundation might positively impact Greater Philadelphia.

It’s worth supporting.

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