FOR Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The organization, which operates international relief, development and social justice programs in the developing world on behalf of Canadian Roman Catholics, launched its major annual fundraising program two weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown began.
"That’s our most important fundraiser," said Romain Duguay, deputy executive director for the organization of Share Lent, which finds people contributing funds at church services during the period of Lent each year.
With Catholics unable to meet in person for worship services, the organization — known as D&P — moved the Share Lent fundraiser online, but it failed to generate the needed funds.
"The loss has had a direct impact on our programming," said Duguay, noting last year’s fundraiser brought in $6.7 million. "This year, the money just didn’t come."
As a result, D&P has made $1.5 million in spending cuts to programs and will save an additional $1 million when it lays off its 70 staff for two months in the summer. Managers at the organization, which is headquartered in Montreal, will take unpaid leaves of absence.
The layoff will affect one staff person in Manitoba.
At the same time, D&P, which has 138 partners and 149 projects in the developing world, will slow down spending overseas and not start any new programs.
Although the cutbacks and layoffs due to the pandemic are difficult, Duguay is optimistic about the future of the organization.
Buoying this feeling is a new working relationship with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), which had previously expressed concern D&P was supporting partners in the developing world that didn’t operate according to Catholic teaching.
Criticism by some bishops at the CCCB led to a fall-off in donations over the past few years, and also resulted in some temporarily withholding funds raised through churches for the organization.
"The good news is the disagreements are being resolved," Duguay said, noting the CCCB has been invited to place four bishops on D&P’s national council and participate in decision-making about which partners to support. Previously, the CCCB had no official representation on the council.
"Now they will be more involved in what we are doing," he said. "That will help with fundraising in the future."
Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, president of the CCCB, agrees it is a positive move.
"I’m glad for the new working relationship between D&P and the bishops," he said. "It is pointing us in the right direction. The bishops feel positive about this."
He also agrees having bishops more involved in setting direction for the organization will help with fundraising.
"It will be impactful for people’s support in the future," Gagnon said, at the same time, he realizes it is a challenging time for D&P, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.
"Financially, it will be hard," he said, noting all Catholic parishes across Canada are struggling with the impact of the pandemic.
"It is hard to fundraise when we can’t be together physically... It’s not a super positive fundraising environment for anyone."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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