Raising money via the internet

By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Fundraising in the traditional sense has been challenging for church parishes as well as other religious organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. 


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Virtual fundraising has proven to be a viable alternative for churches and schools during the coronavirus pandemic. St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge recently live streamed its silent and live auction, with bids coming in via computer. Photo courtesy of Sara Landreneau Kleinpeter | St. Thomas More Church


Parishes have been buffeted with the double whammy of smaller collections because of fewer people in the pews and the shelving of annual fundraisers such as festivals and extravaganzas featuring live and silent auctions. 

Forced to improvise, several parishes and schools, including Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge, have found innovative ways to engage modern technology to bridge the financial shortfall 

Welcome to virtual auctions, 2020. 

“I think it worked out great,” said Father Michael Alello, pastor at St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge, which held a virtual auction Aug. 22. 

“I think those people that tuned in from their homes (estimated about 100 but likely much more since some groups of friends staged fundraising ‘parties’ in their homes) enjoyed it,” he added. “It was definitely different as everything else has been. 

“We had a good time, a great response and able to raise some money.” 

STM traditionally has a May festival and in August a silent and live auction. But pandemic restrictions would not allow those to be held in person so the virtual auction was staged with Father Alello and his brother, Baton Rouge businessman David Alello, serving as co-emcees. 

Taking advantage of the new technology the church has purchased for its live streaming of Masses enabled the auction to come off with barely a hitch. People were able to bid on silent and live auctions in real time, with Father Alello and David serving as auctioneers and providing the entertainment, which has drawn rave reviews. </span id=”9″>

“Basically we created a show out of it,” Father Alello said. “They chose my brother to be my co-emcee so the two of us could have our normal banter back and forth. It gave people a chance to see that other side of me and my family life and that was fun for me and for the folks.” 

Similar results were reported from Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs as well as FranU. Immaculate Conception pastor Father Matthew Graham said the online auction raised $43,000, noting the funds “stay with the parish and goes towards </span id=”11″>maintaining and improving our facilities so that we can continue the mission to serve the needs of our area and spread the Gospel message.” 

FranU hosted Fête des Fidèles Goes Virtual on Oct. 1 and raised $37,722 in support of student scholarships while also honoring two Healthcare Heroes who made an impact during the pandemic. 

Proceeds support student scholarships. 

During the event, a raffle was drawn to win one of three prizes: $5,000 cash, a four-day, three-night trip to a resort on Portofino Island Resort in Pensacola, Florida or a wine cache valued at $1,200. 

Healthcare Award recipients Kristen Gradney and Dr. Catharine O’Neal were also recognized.  

“I wasn’t quite sure how we were going to launch our annual fundraising event during a pandemic, but with calm assurance and creative resourcefulness from our Institutional Advancement team, together with great collaboration with local media professionals, the Fête des Fidèles Goes Virtual was just as fruitful as our previous in-person celebrations,” said FranU president Dr. Tina Holland. “Beyond the success in terms of the amount of funds raised, the virtual event was crucial in terms of maintaining philanthropic momentum, engaging the community, and most importantly, recognizing two remarkable healthcare heroes who represent the values and traditions of our founders.”  

Father Alello did not minimize the fundraising component but shared Holland’s sentiments regarding connecting parishioners who have missed out on so many communal events, such as the festivals, or even donuts following Sunday Mass. 

“It was important to do it even virtually so that we could have that time together,” he said. 

The event did present daunting and unfamiliar challenges, including communicating to the general public that the event was going to be livestreamed and negotiating the unique machinations associated with producing a live virtual event, said Sara Landreneau Kleinpeter, co-chair for the STM auction. 

“We had to make sure the staging, lighting and sounds were correct, and we would be able to come in with video during the live broadcast,” Kleinpeter said. “There were different things we never realized of what it would take and a process with which we were not familiar.” 

STM enlisted the aid of a local gentlemen who donated his time to assist with the video production and also engaged a professional auction company. 

Silent and live auction items also needed to be solicited, never an easy undertaking but one even more difficult during a pandemic when so many jobs have been affected and businesses shuttered. 

“We focused our effort on business who we knew had direct or indirect ties to St. Thomas More and who would have an interest in our mission of raising money for the church,” Kleinpeter said. 

Perhaps with a sprinkle of apprehension and a pinch of anxiety, emails were sent, phone calls placed.

“We thought it would be difficult but I was really pleased with the amount of donations we received,” Kleinpeter said, adding that ultimately there were more than 150 silent auction items. “It was really humbling and very exciting to know people were willing to give to a parish that they love.” 

As expected, proceeds were down but certainly far exceeded the committee’s expectations, as the auction netted nearly $60,000, decreases from $75,000 in 2018 and $90,000 a year ago.

“When we talked to Father Michael his idea of doing this auction was to be respectful of people’s situations and a way to bring our parish together virtually even if it was for just one night,” Kleinpeter said. “He said even if we only had a profit of $15,000 that would be a success.” 

One of the more successful of the six live auction items was a dinner with Father Michael, where he cooks a full course meal for couples. 

“Contrary to popular belief I am a decent cook,” he laughed. “They think the priest has no other talents outside of churchy.” 

Although a hit, Kleinpeter and Father Alello, along with so many others, hope 2021 will find the music playing and the food flowing.


Virtual fundraising has proven to be a viable alternative for churches and schools during the coronavirus pandemic. St. Thomas More Church in Baton Rouge recently live streamed its silent and live auction, with bids coming in via computer. </span id=”0″>Photo courtesy of Sara Landreneau Kleinpeter | St. Thomas More Church </span id=”1″>