In this article, experts in working with primarily Hispanic parishes offer stewardship guidance, including: donor-driven decision making, volunteer engagement, digital connection, and proactive communication from pastors. Help parishioners grow in generosity and deepen in faith with these simple insights!

Woven into CCS’s mission is our commitment to foster transformational change. We strive to ensure that our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is reflected in the organizations and communities with which we partner. Most importantly, we are devoted to ensuring our approach and work is grounded in the realities and unique capacities of our partners. We therefore aim to share our learnings from primarily Hispanic parishes across the U.S. to elevate fundraising and operations as it pertains to sustaining the faith across these communities.

Hispanics make up a growing portion of practicing Catholics in the United States. Scott Whitaker, Director of Stewardship & Development at the Diocese of Austin, shared that in the Diocese of Austin, more and more young brothers and sisters of Hispanic origin are involved in the church and make up the vast majority of Catholics under 18 years old. As Scott expressed: “Hispanic families believe in community, gathering, and being with each other. They love their faith and have rich traditions and cultures that they bring to the church.” There are several ways parish and diocesan leaders can strive to ensure stability and growth in fundraising and stewardship at Hispanic parishes.

Recognize the deep and diverse history within each parish.

Beyond recognizing the need to engage Hispanic communities and tailor our approach to these parishes, CCS Executive Director José Rodriguez notes the diversity within the Hispanic community itself: “Hispanic parishes are very diverse. Hispanics come from a variety of countries with distinct histories and cultures. In addition, within a certain national cultural identity, communities from distinct regions can differ greatly in their ways of living, speaking, and approaching their environment.” Catherine V. Fraser, Interim Chief Development Officer at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, also calls out the diversity of experiences in Hispanic communities: “Parishioners may have distinct cultural experiences depending on their country of origin and their immigration experience. They may have arrived in the United States fleeing civil war and genocide, or they may have come for more economic opportunity. They may have deep ties to their former homes, or they may have lost those connections. What unites the Hispanic communities is their commitment to the parish and their devotion to their faith.”

Importantly, the distribution of immigration is often community-driven, creating different Hispanic communities in different places. As Catherine highlights, “Some parishes have people from South America, others from Central American countries, like Honduras or El Salvador. Many are from Mexico, but even within Mexico, we see deep diversity of experience.” Thus, it is important to take into consideration the varied cultural and language traditions of different Hispanic communities when developing programs and communications.

Let donors guide their own giving decisions.

According to a study done at Stanford, Hispanic Americans are experiencing greater income development than their previous generations. However, when first approaching a Hispanic parish, a phrase that José heard many times is “everyone here is poor.” In fact, through her many years of experience fundraising for the Catholic Church, Gaby Nuñez, Vice President at CCS, learned that it is detrimental to a church’s own financial wellness to make such assumptions, because it reduces the likelihood to ask for charitable support.

Engage volunteers and community knowledge to ensure families are stewarded at the right level.

Among predominantly Hispanic parishes, there is a significant amount of cash giving. This means that fundraisers cannot necessarily rely on giving records. As Gaby puts it: “It’s important to take the time to review and engage leading parishioners and pastors about who should be approached and what giving request levels are appropriate. On more than one occasion, after assigning a request level based on limited previous giving history for a donor, a volunteer leader advised the team to put forth a larger request, which turned out to be successful.”

Stay digitally connected, regardless of location, demographic, and circumstance.

Likewise, with 24 years of experience working with the Catholic Church, Martin Camacho, Corporate Vice President at CCS, highlights the importance of staying digitally connected even at small community parishes. In his experience in rural Texas during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was first thought that the parishioners would not have easy access to the internet and that the parish would not be able to complete its campaign using virtual methods. However, these assumptions were quickly dismantled, as Martin shares, “It was remarkable how parishioners invested in fundraising. I don’t recall a single person not being able to join online meetings. One woman was helped by her young grandchildren to get her on Zoom; we could see the children peeking from over her shoulder. In the same way that Hispanic communities can gather three or more generations at Mass, parishioners made fundraising a family affair, and it was successful — they reached 300% of their goal.”

Establish deep relationships between pastor and parishioner.

While Hispanic parishes developed innovative ways to use technology and stay connected through online gatherings, drive-through events, and more, it is important to acknowledge that these communities, along with other communities of color, were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Scott Whitaker observed that Hispanic communities in the Diocese of Austin experienced higher rates of virus transmission and loss of employment. Parishes also saw a greater decline in offertory and longer, sometimes still ongoing, recovery of the financial loss. In these contexts, Martin and Gaby both observe that parishes where pastors knew churchgoers on a personal level were able to reach out to parishioners and express pastoral care, thus enriching a sense of community.  “This is not new, we’ve known about this for years, but the pastor is absolutely critical. If you have a pastor that embraces the Hispanic culture and is able to inspire them, all we can do to work with these pastors directly and help them grow is absolutely key,” said Scott.

Looking forward, as the Hispanic Catholic community continues to grow, it will be important for pastoral leaders, staff, and volunteers to recognize the particular context of each community, focus on gathering data to optimize communications, and adjust fundraising and programmatic strategies to the needs of the parish. Given the growing Hispanic population coupled with the threat of disengaged participation, “We need to understand the needs better and ensure that our parishes are engaging Hispanic communities with effective ministerial outreach,” concludes Catherine, “We also must recognize this need is urgent.”