Trinity Communications: How We Operate; What Must Happen.
Those who have registered on CatholicCulture.org are by now well-aware that we are in the midst of our Spring fund-raising campaign. It is very important that this fund drive be successful, because last year we fell behind. Let me set forth here how we operate and what must happen for our work to continue.
Trinity Communications is a non-profit corporation under paragraph 501(c)3 of the United States Internal Revenue Code. This means it is supported by the general public through contributions that are deductible on U.S. tax returns. To attain this sort of non-profit status, an organization must be devoted to a beneficial purpose (in our case the advancement of a particular religion, Catholicism) and it cannot be owned. If it dissolves, its assets must be given to another organization of like purpose. Non-profits cannot be sold.
Because Trinity Communications has found the Internet to be the most effective means of widely disseminating information, educational resources, commentary and arguments to support the Church and advance and defend the Catholic Faith, its chief apostolic work is this web site, CatholicCulture.org. But web-based apostolates have a very significant drawback: It is very difficult to raise funds for them. People tend to take Internet information for granted. In general, the Internet works on the model of charging for access, not paying for content.
To overcome this obstacle, major organizations with wide market appeal resort to advertising— that great engine of the American economy. An economy based on the dubious claims of those with something to gain is truly a marvel, but in any case significant benefits from Internet advertising are generally limited to those sites which have a massive and generalized appeal. Google, Amazon, eBay, MapQuest and Weather.com can presumably make advertising work. Religious organizations providing serious intellectual content do not attract those kinds of numbers.
The other two models available are subscription services, which we’ve tried in various ways in the past, and donations. The drawback of subscription services is that the content is restricted to those who pay, thereby seriously limiting the amount of good it can do. That’s not an effective model for materials that are designed to help people grow spiritually. So, like most religious organizations, we’ve found that donations are the most effective means of support.
However, recognizing the difficulties of fund-raising on the Internet, we try to cover as much of our costs as possible through subsidies from a for-profit consulting company (Trinity Consulting) which we founded specifically to ease the strain. Sometimes this strategy has earned us comment such as: “Well, you have a successful company, so why should you be asking me for help?” But most people appreciate this setup and understand exactly what it means: It means that the owners of Trinity Consulting (myself and my son Peter) are far and away the largest donors to Trinity Communications. We provide roughly half of the total support, at least a quarter million dollars per year.
Now don’t get me wrong. We both have adequate salaries. But while our consulting company has enjoyed modest success, it is a constant struggle to keep both organizations going, and we do not have sufficient revenue to support Trinity Communications by ourselves. The purpose of Trinity Consulting in this regard is limited: We hope to be able to keep the need for donor support within a range that at least has the chance to be successful online. (Incidently, this model also means that my personal economic well-being does not depend on my ability to convince you we're indispensable. For anyone in apostolic work, this is a tremendous aid to objectivity. It is the work that is at stake, not anyone's ability to eat.)
Requirements for Moving Forward
Last year, through a combination of circumstances, our support from donors dropped by 30 percent. This left us seriously under-financed by the end of 2008, and we cannot afford to repeat that dismal financial performance. To remain solvent this year, some significant combination of the following three things must happen:
- The percentage of visitors who register on CatholicCulture.org must increase. That’s why we require registration for continued use of our resources. We cannot effectively solicit support except from those who are willing to give us contact information. Registrations are slowly increasing.
- The percentage of registered users who become donors must increase. Under present conditions, about 10 percent of registered users are active donors each year. This needs to climb to 20 percent. My goal is that every registered user will read this explanation of how we operate and what must happen.
- Active donors need to stick with us, preferably contributing more than once a year, and certainly continuing to remain active over the years. Of the 5,200 people who have ever contributed to the work of CatholicCulture.org or Catholic World News, only 40% are currently active. (We define “active donor” as someone who has donated any amount during the past 365 days.)
One of the marvelous things about an apostolate like ours is that the support we receive is a fairly clear indication of the importance people attach to the work. But there remains this reflexive feeling to overcome, the feeling on the part of many people that if something is on the Internet, it should be free—as if it all happens by magic.
There Is No Magic
Catholics above all should recognize that there is no magic. Our Lord generally operates through instrumental causes. More often than not, that means you or me. So if Our Lord is working through Trinity Communications as an instrumental cause for the support of the Church and the Faith—and if we’re responding properly in that role—then I assume he is also working through our users as instrumental causes for our support.
This means we have no choice but to rely on our users to respond well in that role. Necessarily, our work is in your hands. I happen to believe that it could not be in better hands, since users are in by far the best position to determine the worth of what we do. But because this is true, if the required support is not forthcoming, I will logically conclude that I am wrong about how much our work is worth.
In other words, certain things must happen if an organization is to move from point A to point B. This is the way life works. There is nothing particularly frightening or dramatic about it. It is simply reality. But it is a reality I hope all who value our work will take into account as we continue with our fund-raising campaign.
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