A young woman seeking to join the Norbertine order needs money to pay off her student debt first.
A historic urban church is trying to fund repairs after an arson attack.
A missionary priest wants to build a hospital in Tanzania.
These are just a few of the Catholic ministries benefiting from the “Funding Friday” initiative, begun by Matt and Colleen Swaim.
Matt Swaim is the author of “The Eucharist and the Rosary: Mystery, Meditation, Power, Prayer” (Liguori, $12.99) and “Prayer in the Digital Age” (Liguori, $16.99) and producer of the “Son Rise Morning Show” on EWTN Radio. Colleen Swaim teaches high school and is author of “Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints” (Liguori, $12.99).
Together, they thought of a way to harness two social technologies to further the mission of the Church. Social media allows people to build and communicate with a large, dispersed population of the faithful. Crowd-funding sites enable individuals and small groups to raise money through microdonations. Put them together, and what follows is a whole new way of matching people who like to give to people with active and creative ministries.
The result is the #FundingFriday hashtag, which shines a spotlight on people in need of both donations and prayers.
“It was born out of this desire that I think I share with a lot of people,” Matt Swaim told Our Sunday Visitor. “There are so many causes you want to help, but you feel kind of inadequate throwing $5 at one or $10 at another. You often don’t see a result from those little donations. It got me thinking that if those people with $5 to donate did it all together, we’d really be able to see some kind of impact from it.”
Small donation, big impact
The Swaims saw the need to focus on the smaller causes that often got lost in the shadows of big missions such as Catholic Charities. These “little” causes tend to fly under the radar of most Catholics. Sometimes it’s individuals looking to make a difference, a family in need or tiny parishes that are lucky to see $800 a month in the collection basket. Whereas a $5 donation to a huge charity is like a drop in the ocean, smaller groups really feel the impact of a few dollars.
At first, the Swaims didn’t let the various causes know they had been chosen. They look for groups with some kind of crowd-funding presence on sites such as Indiegogo, GoFundMe and Kickstarter. They write a brief blog post about the cause on their website (mattandcolleenswaim.com), and then promote it on social media with the Twitter hashtag #FundingFriday. It’s also mentioned throughout the “Son Rise Morning Show.”
They only seek small donations: $5, $10. (Although one day someone donated $1,000.)While the payment is processing, they ask donors to say an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for that cause, and then share what they did on all their social media services.
The Swaims partnered with author and blogger Lisa Hendey, founder of CatholicMom.com, to get the word out via her various social media networks.
“It is such a brilliant example of the best of Catholic social media,” Hendey told OSV. “Materially, Funding Friday has tremendous potential to crowdsource funds for deserving projects that might otherwise go unnoticed. When we band together to share the good news about deserving microfunding opportunities, we broaden the potential reach of these campaigns exponentially. Spiritually, it reminded me on a weekly basis to share my many blessings with those in need and to support stewardship efforts.”
Variety of causes
Thus far, the causes have included saving a failing school in southwest Indiana, clean water projects in Latin America, paying hospital bills for a Catholic family whose child was injured, youth missions, medical needs, food initiatives, creative projects and more.
|Lisa Hendey, founder of CatholicMom.com
Not all the #FundingFriday links involved cash donations. One time, they directed followers to the site for the Game Show Network’s “American Bible Challenge” to vote for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist as “fan favorite” contestants on the popular game show.
Others are more unusual. Jenn Garza feels called to join Norbertine Canonesses of the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph in Tehachapi, Calif., but religious communities cannot accept aspirants with debt. Most aspirants, however, discern their vocation during college, just when they’re beginning to accrue vast student loan debts. Garza decided to run a marathon to raise the funds to pay off her student loan debt. Dubbed the Litany Run, she prayed for the intentions of all her donors during the course of the race last spring. #FundingFriday helped bring attention to her goal and placed her a long way toward meeting it. She is scheduled to enter the Norbertine community Aug. 28, but not before she runs a half-marathon on Aug. 11 to raise more funds.
St. Ann Catholic Mission in Eastern Kentucky is in one of the poorest counties in America. It has only 20 families and a tiny collection each month.
Despite these limitations, it maintains a strong community outreach, with active pregnancy, hospice and prison ministries.
St. Ann’s pastoral associate, Congregation of Divine Providence Sister Alice Marie Schmersal said it wasn’t just the financial support that helped:
“It made more people aware of us as we journey with the few Catholics, and non-Catholics, in the area. People continue to pray for us and let others know of our ministry.”
Works of mercy
CatholicMom.com and #FundingFriday collaborated to raise almost $6,000 to get copies of Sarah A. Reinhard’s book “A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy” into crisis pregnancy centers.
|Matt and Colleen Swaim with their son. Courtesy of the Swaims
“It is so easy to give money and not think about it,” Reinhard said. “#FundingFriday gives power to an amount that is almost throw-away to a lot of people in our country. You give your 5 bucks but you can see the difference it makes, to real people, to real projects. I guess that’s gratification, but it’s also an important aspect of the humanity of the works of mercy, of what I’m sure God intends the rich (for we are all surely rich) to do for the poor.”
The Swaims try to highlight a new project each Friday. The success of each initiative varies based on the “week and the cause and news cycle,” Matt Swaim told OSV. “Sometimes a cause resonates with a particular person and their social networks, and it takes off. Other times it’s something people don’t connect with on an emotional level.”
The traffic and success — and what actually drives it — is hard to quantify. Some things just “click.” One day, they saw only a few hundred dollars. Another, they raised $10,000.
The key to its success has been the ability to make small donations. Social network users tend to be young on average, and often they don’t believe they have enough spare money to make any difference.
Small donations to large enterprises get “lost in the shuffle,” Swaim said. “With #FundingFriday, they can give a little but still feel like they’re doing something good.”
Thomas L. McDonald writes about Catholicism and technology at