In his previous position of fund-raising for the construction of a multimillion-dollar rehearsal facility for the LSU Tiger Band, J. Steven Covington (right), the new executive director of the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said he came to understand the connection between passion and purpose.
“Everybody in Louisiana owns the football team and everybody owns the Tiger band,” Covington said, smiling. “Everybody has an opinion about the football team and about the Tiger Band. It was a terrific experience, and it’s something I’ll carry with me always.”
In succeeding Peter Quirk as executive director of the Catholic Foundation – Quirk will become full-time director of the archdiocesan Office of Stewardship and Development – Covington said the main focus of his new ministry will be to paint a clear vision of planned giving so that people can use their financial resources to support the spiritual values they have embraced during their lifetime.
“Our Catholics can perpetuate their values by making a donation to the Catholic Foundation,” Covington said. “Wherever their heart has been within the church – whether it’s been attached to their parish or their school or to St. Vincent de Paul or Second Harvest Food Bank – we can help them perpetuate what really drives them. We can help them, in essence, live out those values through their philanthropy.”
In the last 11 years, the Catholic Foundation has grown its assets from about $11 million to $72 million, Quirk said, and last year the foundation distributed $6.3 million to parishes, schools and other archdiocesan ministries.
Quirk said the growth has been fueled by two things: an increase in the number of “donor-advised” funds, which allows the donor to determine exactly where the funds or the interest on the funds should be distributed; and a growing understanding and trust on the part of pastors to work with the foundation so that parishioners can be educated in the sometimes arcane methods of making planned gifts.
“We’ve made great inroads with our parishes,” Quirk said. “I think in the past some parishes just didn’t trust the Catholic Foundation. Priests thought we just wanted to take their money and their donors and give all of that to the archdiocese. It was an education process. That money is used directly for the parish’s benefit. It took us about three or four years, but we started to build that trust. As a result, a number of parishes have started to place funds in the Catholic Foundation.”
Of the $72 million in foundation assets, about $67 million is directed to benefit a certain parish, school or ministry, Covington said.
Not all donors are rich
It’s not just millionaires or those who are independently wealthy who come to the Catholic Foundation to make donations, Quirk said. Recently, an elderly woman who was modestly dressed approached the foundation with the thought of helping Notre Dame Seminary. Upon her death, Quirk was stunned to discover that the woman had bequeathed $400,000 to the archdiocese, with two-thirds going to the seminary. All she asked in return was a small plaque in the seminary chapel.
“We’ve been very active in getting out into parish settings and providing seminars,” Covington said. “Personal references are a huge resource. Pastors have been very good in guiding potential donors to us so that we can then work with that donor based on his or her specific needs. Every single donor is different.”
Recently, a pastor referred a parishioner to the foundation, and as a result, a plan was developed that helped her with tax issues and allowed the bulk of her estate, perhaps as much as $2 million, to be used in the future to benefit the parish.
“That pastor had the wherewithal to think of us and refer her here, and it worked out quite nicely to benefit her and her parish,” Covington said. “One of the reasons I was so attracted to this opportunity was for the very reason that so many entities throughout the church and community are affected positively by the work that we do here. Your donation can be arranged to benefit you and also to perpetuate the values that have been important to you for your entire life.”
There are so many ways to do planned giving that it can be tailored to a donor’s situation, Quirk said. One elderly woman had a CD offering an interest rate of about 1 percent, and she decided to transfer that money into a gift annuity that paid 6.5 percent interest.
“A big part of that money is tax free, and at death, she can determine where she wants that money to go,” Quirk said. “It could go to tuition support for needy kids. If a person is worried about having sufficient assets for their entire life, we can talk to them about making a bequest in their will. If they’re worried about income now but they still want to benefit the parish or school, we can talk about a trust or a gift annuity.”
Sometimes people may not want to let go of a large asset, Quirk said. There’s an option to do a “lead trust” – a vehicle that allows a parish or school to benefit from the interest on the investment and then at the expiration of the trust allows the donor to get the asset back.
Future goals set
Covington, a Baton Rouge native, said his short-term goals are to meet and thank key donors, pastors, principals and the heads of archdiocesan entities to “convey to them the opportunity that is here in the Catholic Foundation to manage funds for them.”
The longer-range goal is to “align our staffing and our financial management practices so that we can get more people out into those settings to facilitate the gifts that will benefit these entities.”
“The desire is to make this organization as much of a service as possible to all of the entities that are affiliated with the archdiocese,” Covington said. “We want to be proactive. Basically, it’s taking what we’ve already done and moving it to an even more proactive level.
“One of the greatest gifts we can give to people is an understanding that the way in which you use your money is simply a reflection of your values, and that’s especially true at the end of your life when you need to start planning for the disposition of your assets. The way you do that is a reflection of the things you love most.”
Covington previously held fund-raising and executive positions with Loyola University New Orleans, the University of Alabama, Sunburst Youth Homes Foundation in Wisconsin and the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors – an organization that represents priestly vocation directors in North America and abroad.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.