Your Finances, and Ours
If you’re wondering why I never talk about money, you’ve been living in a cocoon. Still, we do receive many emails each year from people who wonder why a web site needs money at all. Perhaps it is time to shed a little light.
One of the reasons I moved into online communications in 1993, a year before the World Wide Web was invented, was because I recognized the power of this emerging form of communication. The other reason is because my efforts to run Trinity Communications as a print publishing company had not prospered, and I needed a low overhead alternative—a way to communicate without the cost of large print runs and high shipping fees. It is quite true that providing information and ideas online is cheaper than doing the same thing in print. We make available more Catholic information and Catholic ideas now (by several orders of magnitude) with just a third of the budget we had as a book publisher.
Very Real Costs
At the same time, people are far more prone to pay for books than for digital information. Yet most of the expenses remain in some form. An online operation still needs office space, utilities, phone service, and supplies. There are some additional expenses for servers and bandwidth. We still have to provide for the delivery of information and ideas, in this case through server and database management, computer networking, programming and interface design. We must still respond to customer needs, correct problems, answer emails, manage accounts. There is overhead associated with multiple staff and hundreds of thousands of visitors. And even online services must pay for editorial work. This includes the collection, selection, editing, writing and effective visual packaging of the Catholic news, information and ideas it is our daily task to communicate.
If one really cares about the Church and the Faith, these jobs need to be performed by highly talented professionals, who are especially well-educated, broadly read, emotionally balanced, and deeply committed to the Catholic life. That commitment typically includes families. Trinity Communications takes considerable pride in the competence—no, the extraordinary wisdom, knowledge and ability—of its staff. You cannot put a price tag on that when it comes to a reliable Catholic Internet service. But here’s the big news: Even deeply committed Catholics have to eat. And so do their kids. They also need excellent health insurance, and effective mechanisms to prepare for retirement. Someone once said the laborer is worth his hire.
By the end of 2008, Trinity Communications’ staff will have invested 8,700 hours in all the tasks enumerated above. That’s the equivalent of nearly five full time employees, although the work is actually divided among ten different highly-skilled professionals with expertise in a wide variety of areas. The bottom line is that the total annual cost of keeping Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org going is well over $500,000. Of that amount, roughly $140,000 is projected to come from user contributions this year.
Making Up the Difference
Most of the rest will come in the form of generous subsidies from Trinity Consulting, my for-profit consulting firm, which directly or indirectly employs all Trinity Communications staff and absorbs as much of the staff and office costs as it can. How much Trinity Consulting can absorb depends on the availability of for-profit work from clients who need our networking, programming, design and writing skills. The total staff of Trinity Consulting numbers sixteen, some of whom do nothing for Trinity Communications except work on the for-profit projects necessary to subsidize the Catholic work. This has been an effective model for funding the apostolate, though it has problems and tensions of its own, especially in a “down” economy.
One way to look at all this is to note that either our staff would be far better paid or I would be a multi-millionaire if we weren’t using the consulting business to subsidize CatholicCulture.org. A more realistic way to look at the situation is to recognize that we’ve been incomparably blessed to be able to do this apostolic work—and a large part of that blessing takes the form of a profitable business that can subsidize it. Who knows? Perhaps without the Catholic work, the blessing of a strong for-profit business would be withheld. So the real point of what I am saying is not to consider what might have been, but to consider present reality and future service: In order to do everything that our users want us to do, we need collaborators in funding the work. That is, we need a certain amount of direct user support in the form of tax-deductible donations.
If we could raise half of what the work costs us—and currently that would fall between $250,000 and $300,000 per year—Trinity Communications would be able to accomplish its mission without the constant shortfalls, delays and half-measures which restrict the quality and quantity of the Catholic information and services we provide. These funds would also eliminate staffing uncertainty and potential financial hardship. On the other hand, if we raise too little, we face the prospect of cutting some services, cutting staff, or even shutting Trinity Communications down altogether.
That’s why we try so hard to encourage or even require registration by those who frequent our web site. This is how we get email addresses. And email addresses are the staple of effective online fund-raising. As you know, we use those email addresses to solicit pledges and single donations. Many people find these solicitations annoying, especially when they are too frequent or too strident. Others try to avoid them altogether by providing bogus email addresses. But some are willing to support our work financially because they see that work as beneficial, either to themselves or to others. They see our work as an effective effort to strengthen personal faith, defend the Church, counter error, and form culture. They want to be part of that effort, and they want that effort to succeed and grow.
Meeting the Need
In 2007, we raised $182,000 in donations. As I mentioned above, we’ll raise about $140,000 in 2008 at our current pace. The drop-off was caused by major changes we made in our web sites this year, which put us through a long period of relative donor inactivity, and also by the declining economy. Our financial target for the year was $260,000, so we are currently projecting a $120,000 shortfall. This will have a substantial impact on all our business operations, our staff, and our plans for CatholicCulture.org. Since we are gradually improving our registration system, the pool of potential supporters should grow substantially throughout 2009. That should significantly improve our fundraising outlook. But December of 2008 remains critical.
Let me repeat that point. December of 2008—in other words, this month—remains critical. What we need to ask and hope for now is major end-of-year contributions from our users. Many users examine their charitable giving at the end of each calendar year. They want to make sure they have met their tithing goals and/or they wish to consider the impact of additional giving on their tax situation. We need to urge our users to consider both of these things in the light of the importance they place on our work. And we need a good number of them to participate in the apostolic work of CatholicCulture.org by making special “Christmas gifts” to Trinity Communications.
We can’t run another high-intensity campaign based on frequent email messages, because we just did that in October, and many registered users have reached their limit of tolerance for unsolicited email, dunning, or whining (depending on their viewpoint). For this reason, I am using this space to make the general situation crystal clear to everyone. This discussion answers many questions users have raised over the past year, and I very much hope it also clearly demonstrates the nature, extent and legitimacy of our need. I ask you to consider that need, and to generously support our effort to plant the seeds of an authentically Catholic culture throughout the world, beginning with each person’s heart, mind and immortal soul.
An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:
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Our Fall Campaign
Progress toward our year-end goal ($26,341 to go):
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