By Richard Meek 

The Catholic Commentator 

Fund raising in an era when the Catholic Church has recently come under scrutiny and a historic pandemic is endangering the economy can admittedly appear daunting but Gwen Fairchild, freshly-minted director of stewardship for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, eagerly embraces those challenges.  

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Gwen Fairchild

 

Difficulties await, but Fairchild said her job is perhaps made a bit easier because of the multitude of services the diocese continues to provide, even in these uncertain times. She said spreading the word of those success stories, whether through video conference calls or webinars, is pivotal.  

Fairchild, an Oklahoma native who moved to Sunshine in 1972 and converted to Catholicism in 1975, said not being able to meet donors face to face presents the most significant obstacle.  

“You can’t sit in their homes and have a glass of tea and conversation,” said Fairchild, who spent 22 years steering the fund-raising programs for the LSU Foundation. “People are at home and that’s the difficult part, not being able to be with them.  

“It’s a sensitive time for people, and we need to be sensitive to their situation.”  

She said the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many people losing their jobs. In some cases, their children are without jobs, so what money potential donors do have is assisting their offspring.  

“While people’s investments are down, and they are worried about their finances, there are ways to continue to support the diocese, and one way is to look at an IRA,” said Fairchild, who has also served as a fund raising consultant for the Mary Bird Perkins Center Foundation and was assistant manager for WRKF radio in Baton Rouge.  

She explained that once a person reaches 72 years of age, that individual is forced to take money from the IRA, but if the money is donated, then it is not taxed.  

“If you put it in your hands, you are taxed,” she said. “Statistics show that people who make estate gifts add 10 years to their lives.”  

Fairchild acknowledges the potential of engaging in uncomfortable conversations with potential donors because of the recent developments in the church regarding sex abuse, saying “it’s an interesting challenge.”  

“First of all, the church is our family and our family can disappoint us but we love our family,” she said. “And we will do what we can to support our family.”  

Fairchild said part of her job is to listen and allow people to share their own feelings, saying those feelings are “real and deep.”  

She noted that if people are angry, they are still engaged. Her aim is to get to the heart of that person’s anger, specifically if that person is disappointed with the church but also still loves the faith in which he or she was raised.  

“They might be mad at the church but are they really angry at the local level, where works of mercy are being performed, where children are being educated, where some of the neediest members of our community are being aided?” she said. “And then we talk about the ministries and the people the church serves and where their heart is.”  

Fairchild said donations are given from the heart and to what has meaning in a donor’s life, noting the challenge is listening and tapping into what has moved that person.  

For example, people who support Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge might have at one point in their lives required the services of CCDBR. Or maybe a family member was assisted by the agency.  

Of course, many donors also attended Catholic schools.  

Fairchild said she plans to be creative in educating donors and potential donors on ways they can give in ways perhaps they had never considered.  

“When people think about giving, they think about money,” Fairchild said. “They don’t always look around that perhaps they have inherited a family member’s sterling silver candlestick. Those kinds of donations we can take; we can sell those assets and your gift will go where your heart is.”  

She also mentioned such areas as estate planning, or donating property or perhaps even big-game trophies, such as the 10-point deer hanging on the wall of a deceased relative.  

“They are worth a lot of money,” she noted.  

Along with 40 years of fundraising experience, she brings an unbridled enthusiasm to what she calls her “dream job.” She said the position has captured her attention for quite some time because of the opportunity to “serve your church and work with your family, which is the church. Church is our family; it nourishes us, consoles us, taught us how to live.”  

For now, however, her focus might be more on her GPS as she learns her way around a diocese that spans 5,513 square miles and 12 civil parishes, and proudly hails its diversity as one of many assets.  

“The depth and breadth of the service that the diocese provides is big,” she said. “I need to wrap my arms around the vastness of the ministries, church parishes and people. I need to understand that.”  

She also wants to be the person parishes reach out to when they are undertaking a fund-raising drive, adding she would be “delighted” to help strategize a successful plan.  

Bishop Michael G. Duca, who Fairchild called “warm, personable, approachable and wise and has a wonderful reputation in the community,” is the “real fundraiser,” she said.  

“People give to people they trust and they trust (Bishop Duca),” she said.  

Plans will soon be announced for the annual Bishop’s Annual Appeal, which raised more than $1 million in 2019-20, a figure she is hoping to match or surpass.  

“We would love to have everyone involved,” Fairchild said. “Fifteen dollars is a gift. It adds up.”