Voice of the Faithful, the Catholic reform group founded in Wellesley at the height of the sexual abuse crisis, is running out of money and warning that it may close its national office absent an infusion of funds. The organization has had three goals -- supporting abuse victims, supporting "priests of integrity,'' and 'to shape structural change within the Catholic Church.'' That third goal has made it the subject of criticism from some conservatives, and its affiliates have been barred from meeting on church property in some dioceses. But the organization has also been welcomed by some Catholics distraught by what they learned about their church during the abuse crisis and eager for a forum to discuss possible changes.
UPDATE: I just spoke with Bill Casey, the chairman of the VOTF board, who tells me the existence of the organization is not in doubt, but that at stake is the organization's national headquarters, which recently moved from Newton to Needham in an effort to save money. He said the organization needs $60,000 to maintain the office through the summer, at which point it plans to fundraise based on a new strategic plan; if the group can't raise the money, it will close the national office and continue as an all-volunteer network of organizational affiliates. Currently, he said, the organization has 30,000 to 35,000 names in its database, of which it has e-mail addresses for about 20,000 folks, and there are between 60 and 70 parish or diocese-based affiliates or chapters.
Here is the announcement the organization e-mailed its members today:
"With great heaviness of heart, we write to inform you that VOTF is at the crossroads of financial survival and we need your immediate help in order to keep it going.
No U.S. business or organization (from the biggest corporate entity to the smallest non-profit) has been immune from the devastating downturn in the economy over the past 1-2 years. As we know all too well from unyielding media reports, that downturn has rippled into communities and households, confirming worst expectations and fears.
During the past two years, the Board of Trustees approved substantial reductions in VOTF's operating budget as decreases in revenue reflected the emerging and now full economic downturn in our country. Between FY 08 and 09, the Board approved a budget reduction of over 30%. As the economy and our revenue stream worsened appreciably, in April 2009, the Board reduced the FY 09 budget by another 35% (nearly $235,000 more). To accomplish this huge drop, the Board made painful cuts in staff salaries and contractor support; relocated the office to a smaller facility at about half the monthly rental costs; and curtailed costly mailings intended to raise revenue. Throughout this period, staff, contractors and volunteers demonstrated remarkable resolve in doing even more with less.
At the same time, the Board continued an aggressive outreach to members, friends, and donors to raise more revenue, as you are no doubt painfully aware from a variety of appeals and fund-raisers communicated in emails and editions of In The Vineyard.
Cash reserves allowed VOTF to continue operations but only by a very thin margin. The Board's plan was to generate a substantial infusion of revenue when the Officers rolled out a comprehensive Strategic Plan in early August. Based on the enthusiastic response from dozens of VOTF members who have been bringing the Strategic Plan to life for several months, we expected that it would result in a revitalization of members' energy at regional and local levels, and with it, a level of necessary revenue as members and donors recognized the opportunity for a renewed voice and influence in achieving VOTF's mission and goals. Previews of the Strategic Plan have been included in several recent editions of In The Vineyard.
Unfortunately, our financial condition has deteriorated before the rollout the Strategic Plan. As of early July, VOTF's reserves have all but been depleted, and it faces the prospects of not being able to pay for recurring costs during July and beyond. After meeting in an emergency session on July 9, the Board foresaw two realistic options: (1) declare that VOTF could not continue to operate and begin to wind it down, or (2) appeal to members to fund operations in the short term and seek sustained funding based on an anticipated enthusiastic response to the Strategic Plan. If the latter is successful, the Board will develop a downsizing plan commensurate with sustained funding expectations, supplemented where feasible with additional volunteer help.
Many of you have labored tirelessly since 2002 and given generously of your time and treasures to sustain the dream of VOTF's mission: To provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. We can make the difference in supporting that dream, but only if collectively we raise the revenue to do so.
As a result, the Board is soliciting from its members (and any friends or supporters that you can reach) a short-term infusion of $60,000 by the end of July (our current monthly costs run about $30,000 per month). We know this is a painful choice for you, especially in a very short time, but we ask you nonetheless to go to www.votf.org, click Donate at the top of the page, and make whatever generous contribution you can make, NO LATER THAN JULY 31. Or you can mail a check to VOTF, P.O. Box 423, Newton, MA 02464 (same address as previous facility until it is changed later).
If we receive this level of funding by the end of July, we will be able to continue operations for July and August, disseminate the Strategic Plan in the first week in August, and generate what we hope will be renewed energy and revenue based on the attraction of that plan. Going forward, membership will include an annual financial commitmentóa feature common to most other similar organizations.
If reality dictates otherwise, either by July 31 or in response to the Strategic Plan, the Board will exercise its fiduciary responsibilities to begin the steps necessary to close the national office, yet seek to continue VOTF's mission and goals through volunteers, affiliates and members at the national and local levels.
In any event, the conference scheduled on Long Island in October will continue since the Long Island affiliate will administer it as it has done with annual conferences on Long Island for several years.
With great hope in the Spirit to lead us,
Dan Bartley, President
Bill Casey, Chair of the Board of Trustees"
The Catholic Key Blog, by the staff of the newspaper for the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph in Missouri, posts an item headlined, "VOTF is in the Tank - Revenue Slides,'' and blogger Jack Smith opines, "I suspect that more than the economy, decline in receipts for VOTF is reflective of the fact that most big priest sexual abuse cases are now settled. Being able to stage a protest / press photo-op on the front steps of any chancery in the U.S. whenever a settlement is close seems to be a lot more lucrative than holding conferences on church management structure."