By: Maria Wiering, Catholic Spirit

In the early 1990s, Archbishop John Roach called a meeting of a dozen leaders in the archdiocese to discuss an idea: a foundation to support the local Catholic Church, with an initial goal of $45 million. Fundraising was to begin immediately.

Sitting at the table was Larry McGough, who had founded McGough Construction with his father and brothers. He remembers hesitancy from the others being consulted — they said that $45 million was too much to ask. But McGough thought differently.

“Finally I had a chance [to speak] and I said, ‘Archbishop, I think it’s a great idea, and [I] think we should do it,” he recalled.

A day or two later, the archbishop asked him to work on the foundation. McGough didn’t hesitate to say yes. A parishioner of St. Rose of Lima in Roseville, McGough had worked on 20 to 30 previous fund drives, he said, but never one with such a high goal.

For a year, McGough co-chaired the campaign, often teaming up with Archbishop Roach to meet potential donors. The archbishop’s main concerns were Catholic schools and the poor, McGough said. Everyone they approached gave something. Some gave less than expected, and some gave much more. In a matter of months, they had $78 million to launch the Catholic Community Foundation in 1993. Jim Mullin was its founding president.

In the 25 years since, the foundation has grown from 27 donors in 1994 to managing 1,100 funds with $350 million in assets. In the 2017 fiscal year, it distributed $14 million in grants, a tenth of its total grants since its inception.

Mullin led CCF until 2005, when Marilou Eldred took the helm. Anne Cullen Miller assumed the role upon Eldred’s 2013 retirement.

Now the nation’s largest Catholic community foundation, CCF works to build “a vibrant Catholic community” through their donors’ charity and its own grant-making to Catholic and non-Catholic causes.

“We talk about this innate need we have to give, not [just about] giving to needs,” Miller said. “Catholics have always known that through our formation, through the Gospel teaching. So we try to tap into that. Everyone has a need to give. It doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or not.”

CCF helps to fund parishes, Catholic schools — including the seminaries — and charitable work within the local community, but people who work with it say it’s still not well-known.

And they’re working to make that change.

Solid footing

Sitting in CCF’s boardroom, Miller pointed to portraits that line the wall commemorating the foundation’s early leaders. McGough is there, as are founding board president Tom Gainor, founding board vice chair Mary Frey and founding board member Gerry Rauenhorst.

“Just incredible people,” Miller said. “I get emotional thinking about it because … [many of them] are still around, and I say to them, ‘Could you have imagined?’ It hasn’t been that long … . What they did — the leadership, the wisdom, the vision, the dedication, the faith.”

Ten years ago, Miller joined what is now the Catholic Community Foundation of Minnesota after working for Fortune 200 insurance companies. She was CCF’s vice president of finance and investments before taking on her current role.

Even 25 years after CCF’s founding, Miller attributes the foundation’s growth to “that early trust and faith that some lay leaders had in this basic good idea.”

“You don’t manage money perpetually if you don’t believe in compounding growth,” she added, “so that initial investment and support and faith and trust has compounded over the years. It hasn’t been easy. There have been fits and starts. We weren’t sustainable for a number of years, and that was a big headwind for us. And that’s what’s changed for us in the past six years, is [that] sustainability has become a tailwind.”

That pivot, as well as several years of encouraging investment markets, has been helpful for CCF’s healthy financial position, but Miller also credits CCF’s dedicated, vocation-minded staff and “a steady stream of new development growth.”

“We’ve averaged $20 [million] to $30 million in new money every year,” she said. “That, I think, is all about the word getting out about us…. We grow through networks, whether it be a trusted adviser, a trusted friend, a trusted pastor, where they’ve been watching us, and I think we’ve proved ourselves.”

Miller said that CCF differs from Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis — which people often confuse — in that Catholic Charities does the direct work of helping men, women and children in poverty through various programs. CCF supports that work in perpetuity. It has a staff position dedicated to learning about needs in the Catholic community — “what keeps [leaders] up at night.”

“It is our great honor and great duty to make sure that people who want to help and support have an opportunity to know about that,” she said. “We can bring people together.”

Archbishop Roach’s initial two main concerns — poverty and Catholic education — remain the crux of CCF’s giving. In the past several years, CCF has been examining how it can make a bigger impact through its own Legacy Fund. Unlike its donor-advised funds, in which donors determine where funds go and how much to give, the CCF board has complete discretion over the Legacy Fund.

“I was a big believer in [starting] the Legacy Fund,” said McGough, 88, who continues to serve on CCF’s board.

Marjorie Mathison Hance, a CCF board member and retired vice president of external relations at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, said that she’s witnessed CCF evolve from resource managing to exploring how philanthropy can truly make an impact on local needs.

“CCF has really stepped into a new role that’s about transforming our Catholic community,” said Hance, 69.

The foundation learns about community needs from its organization grantees, as well as “thought leaders” who have proverbial fingers on the local pulse. They’re “helping to shape a vision about how needs can be met differently,” she said.

In Catholic education, that includes CCF’s partnership with the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence and Aim Higher Foundation, she noted.

How it works

As a community foundation, CCF serves the charitable needs in a certain area — in its case, Minnesota. In the fiscal year 2017, 81 percent of its grants went to charities in the 12-county area served by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A nonprofit, CCF sustains itself with revenue fees from the funds it stewards.

Donors invest money through CCF by establishing endowments for perpetual giving, donor-advised funds for grant-making, charitable trusts and gift annuities, and other planned giving. Many of the beneficiaries of these funds are Catholic institutions, including parishes, schools and nonprofits such as Catholic Charities. Some families — members of CCF’s Legacy Society — have entrusted their charitable legacy in perpetuity to CCF’s stewardship. CCF honors the society’s members — living and dead — at an annual Mass.

CCF also partners with parishes, schools and other Catholic organizations to help them grow their assets and meet financial goals in a manner consistent with Catholic social teaching.

CCF donors have the option to contribute to CCF’s own Legacy Fund, which distributes grants to meet “urgent and emerging” community needs, according to its website. With that fund and other “field of interest funds,” which are designated for a certain cause and administered by CCF, the foundation makes annual “impact grants” to organizations serving particular spiritual, educational or social needs in the community. Grantees are invited to apply; in FY 2017, CCF focused on Catholic elementary school tuition and “capacity building,” organizations that serve young mothers facing homelessness, and a variety of other causes.

CCF first offered donor-advised funds two years after it was founded. Miller called them “a tool to teach the joy of philanthropy.”

“You don’t have to be wealthy to set up a donor-advised fund,” she said, noting that the minimum to set up a donor-advised fund is $10,000. … Meanwhile, anyone can contribute to an existing fund.

CCF donors include school teachers, rank-and-file 3M employees and construction workers. “It’s the same profile as who’s in the pews,” Miller said. “But I do think there’s a misconception that to set up a charitable fund you have to be wealthy. You really don’t.”

She said the donor-advised funds often feel like a “loaves and fishes” scenario — that people grant from them, but the value always seems to remain the same.

She said that holding a donor-advised fund seems to “re-frame” the decision-making for people, and they give differently from how they would if they were writing checks out of their general account, because it separates it from bill paying. She called donor-advised funds “a charitable checkbook” that users find liberating.

“From my own experience and what I seem to witness is that people who have donor-advised funds tend to give more to their parish or their school or the causes that they care about, not less,” she added, “because it’s efficient, it’s tax efficient, it’s an investment … so it does grow.”

‘It makes us hopeful’

As a member of CCF’s grant committee, Kate Wenger has a hand in deciding where CCF routes its impact grants. Since joining the committee two years ago, Wenger said she’s had “a firsthand look at where the community is, and what the needs are, and how we can respond to it.” Some of those grants are already targeted for certain causes, but for other grants, the committee identifies a “community priority” which directs their giving. This year the focus is school-aged children and after-school programming.

CCF invites organizations to apply for the grants. As part of the application process, committee members visit program sites before making recommendations on grant recipients. Wenger has visited three sites in her tenure on the committee, and she was most struck by her first visit, which was to Neighbors Inc., a nonprofit serving low-income people in northern Dakota County. That year, the committee was focusing on helping elderly men and women live independently in their homes, and Neighbors was doing that by helping the elderly find transportation to doctors appointments with its Dial-a-Ride program.

“And so they have a huge volunteer staff, and they would sign up to go drive these people. They got to know each other, and they just made it possible for them [to get to their appointments],” she said.

Wenger was captivated by a story about a woman who could only be treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, but that was farther than Neighbors’ volunteers were willing to drive regularly. They discovered, however, that the airport had a shuttle to Mayo, so they arranged for volunteers to pick up the woman from her home and bring her to the shuttle, and to reverse the trip later in the day. In six months, the woman recovered her health, and a year later she was living independently and had returned to work.

“That to me is a very concrete example of how they made a difference in this organization,” she said. CCF granted Neighbors $12,000 that year.

Wenger and her husband, Brian, also have a CCF donor-advised fund, which has simplified their giving, they said. They had been supporting several organizations separately, but the Wengers, both 56, were attracted to CCF’s centralized giving options, clear record-keeping and accessible online platform.

“For instance,” Kate said, “when there was Hurricane Harvey, I think a number of donors were calling CCF saying, ‘How can we help?’ So [CCF] sent out a blast email saying you can use your donor-advised fund, or these are other reputable organizations you can donate through. So that’s helpful.”

Brian Wenger is impressed with CCF’s efficiency. “There are lots of foundations that don’t do as well as Catholic Community Foundation. There are few, few that do,” he said. “We’re drawn to the Catholic Community Foundation because of the faith part and [the] efficiency and ease.”

Both Brian and Kate recognize the way philanthropy has increased their generosity, and that’s something they hope to pass on to their six children. Responding financially to community needs also provides a sense of agency, they said.

“We get to see the concrete benefits of our giving, whether it be in Catholic education, or the multiple projects done by the archdiocese, or in historical preservation, and so we value that, and we see that we — as part of many, many, many — can effect change in areas that we think are important, [that are] faith-based, and that feels great,” Brian said. “We can see humans who are having a better life because of it. … We can see institutions that are preserved and enhanced because of it.”

Kate added: “I think it makes us hopeful.”

Impacting innovation

In 2014, Father Leonard Jenniges died, leaving part of his estate to St. John the Baptist in Savage, where he had served as pastor for nearly 18 years. The unexpected bequest prompted its then-pastor, Father Michael Tix, to call CCF.

The parish had already been talking about creating an endowment to fund its future needs, and parish leadership agreed that this gift was what it needed to get started.

The parish established three endowments: one for the parish, one for St. John the Baptist Catholic School and one for the parish cemetery. It keeps the endowments at front-of-mind with an annual collection envelope slated for adding to the funds.

The parish has also hosted CCF presentations to better help parishioners understand the services the foundation offers. For example, he said, Catholics may want to include their parish in their will, but they want to talk to a financial expert about how best to do that.

Long before funding the endowments, St. John the Baptist had already established a relationship with CCF through agency accounts for potential major building or capital work, which began to “set the stage” for endowments, said Father Tix, the parish’s pastor from 2004 to 2017.

CCF helps parishes plan for long-term financial stability by connecting them with financial resources and experts that understand and support their mission as Church, he said.

“Their funding is based on Catholic teaching, too, and often in a parish setting, you wouldn’t always readily have the people to be able to do that [kind of faith-consistent investing],” said Father Tix, now the archdiocese’s episcopal vicar for Clergy and Parish Services. “It’s a great service to parishes.”

In Richfield, Blessed Trinity Catholic School, like schools across the archdiocese, has a longtime relationship with CCF, as many of its students received financial aid grants through CCF-administered grants. In 2016 and 2017, that relationship deepened when the preK-to-eighth-grade school received two impact grants from CCF to help it meet technology and marketing goals.

Now each student in grades five to eight has a Chromebook for research and projects, funded in part with the $25,000 total funds the school received from CCF.

That kind of technology is costly but important, said Blessed Trinity Principal Patrick O’Keefe. “They are moving into an environment where that is increasingly a part of how they work and operate as a student,” he said.

The students use the Chomebooks in the classroom and at home. For some students, the Chromebook might be the only education-focused technological device they can access. And, giving the middle-school students Chromebooks means that their previous school computers and devices have been made available to lower grades, improving students’ technology access across the board.

O’Keefe noted that many of its graduates go on to Academy of Holy Angels, which is adjacent to one of Blessed Trinity’s two campuses, and which has had a one-to-one laptop program for more than a decade.

Blessed Trinity’s Chromebook program makes it more competitive as it seeks new students, O’Keefe said, and it’s also using CCF grant funds to “tell its story” by improving its strategic marketing efforts and donor database.

The school is one of six schools in the archdiocese partnering with the New Jersey-based Healey Education Foundation, which aims to apply sound business principles to Catholic school operations. CCF’s grant makes it possible for Blessed Trinity to apply some of the Healey Foundation’s ideas, O’Keefe said. Last year, the Healey Education Foundation recognized Blessed Trinity for having the largest percentage K-8 growth of any of its partner schools across the country.

The CCF grant made it possible for the school to take a long-range plan and make it reality much sooner, O’Keefe said. The success it’s seen because of what it was able to do with the CCF grants has also under-girded other fundraising efforts, O’Keefe said.

“We’re very blessed [to be] where we are,” he added. “It’s because of people who do the incredible work like what the Catholic Community Foundation does. … It allows us to be so much more successful in the ways we know we have to work as an individual school, because we have a partner like that [CCF], and the others who stand with them.”

New horizons

While the CCF continues to grow, its leaders have big dreams for what it would look like for it to meet its full potential. McGough said he’d love to see the foundation have $1 billion in assets.

“I’ve always thought that ultimately we’d be able to support all the Catholic schools lock, stock and barrel, and … I know that’s a long way off,” McGough said. “I’m not naive, but I think that day will come.”

He envisions the same for efforts helping the poor, he said. “I think we’re a strong Catholic community, and I think that the people recognize that we’ve got to give to the poor,” McGough said. Decades ago, he was sitting on the board of the local chapter of a non-Catholic nonprofit that serves children. He and two others who also happened to be Catholic were combing the donor list for names they recognized, and between them realized they knew 90 percent of the people listed — because they went to Catholic schools.

“I realized what a strong Catholic community [we have] here, because all the leaders we were talking about are Catholic,” he said.

As they continue to support the work of the Catholic community, most CCF donors prefer to stay out of the limelight, Miller said.

“Dust to dust,” she said she hears CCF’s donors frequently say about their philosophy of giving, referring to the belief that they can’t take money with them when they die. They say nothing they’re doing matters for their own glory, and they don’t want people to know where — or how much — they give.

“That’s a typical CCF donor,” she said. “I think it’s typical of Catholic donors. There are some things in the Gospels that tell us not to draw attention to ourselves, and I think they take that very seriously. [CCF has] a lot of tithers, a lot of people that believe their lives have been blessed, and they’ve been so fortunate because they’ve been tithers. They’ll point to tithing: ‘I had nothing, and I tithed, my wife and I, or my husband and I, from the very beginning,’ and they believe that is why they’ve had good fortune.”

While CCF isn’t the oldest Catholic community fund in the U.S., its role as the largest has caught the attention of Catholic leaders from across the U.S. interested in starting — or growing — their own community foundations. Bishop Richard Pates, also a former auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, did the same after he was appointed to lead the Des Moines diocese in 2008.

CCF’s strategic plan for its future is simple, Miller said. “Grow awareness of our work so that we can grow funds, so that we can ultimately grow impact,” she said. “The more impact we have, the more awareness we have. … and it’s a self-fulfilling cycle.”

“Ultimately, our vision is that we will be a $50 million a year grant-maker in the year 2027,” she said. She expects $30 million of that growth to come from the momentum it’s already built, “but the $20 [million] means we have to do some things differently.”

Over the past few years, CCF has highlighted the “convening aspect” of its work, Miller said. “We’re not a fund warehouser. We’re not trying to accumulate funds. We don’t measure our success by that $350 million marker. We measure our success by the growth in the sacramental life of the Church.”

To that end, Miller is working with archdiocesan leaders to identify the markers that would indicate the Catholic community’s growth. “We’re serious about that,” she said, and she expects the information to influence how it focuses its funds and marketing.

CCF is holding a banquet April 26, “Come to the Table,” to mark its 25th anniversary. The evening’s keynote speaker is Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, whom Forbes called “the entrepreneurial bishop” in 2016 for his efforts to leverage the wealth in his Catholic community to meet Church and community needs.

Miller said the event will be a “friend-raiser,” not a fundraiser.

“We have a front-row seat to people doing amazing things and inspiring so much hope, and we want to celebrate that,” she said. “Many won’t celebrate themselves; they’re incredibly humble people.”

Go to the Catholic Spirit website

Go to the 25th Anniversary page

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