Brawner’s fund-raising ministry has donut connection

Catholic Foundation director, who sold donuts for missions in high school, to receive stewardship award Oct. 24

ALLOUEZ — Cindi Brawner, director of the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Green Bay, has always loved fund raising for ministry. When she was a student at the now-closed St. Joseph Academy in Green Bay, she joined the mission club.

“They asked me to be the head,” she recalled. “I asked, ‘What does that mean?’ They said, ‘You send money to the missions.’”

Cindi Brawner, pictured at her office at Melania Hall in Allouez, is director of the Catholic Foundation. She and her colleague of 15 years, Josh Diedrich, and a staff of eight manage the Foundation, which includes annual giving of almost $8 million through the Bishop’s Appeal, Seminarian collection, World Missions and several other appeals. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

When she asked how much money the club had already, the reply was: “We don’t.”

So under her leadership, they started selling donuts. “I had a VW bug and it was when Mister Donut was brand new in Green Bay. I would stop and get 10 dozen donuts every Friday. We bought them for a nickel and sold them for a quarter and, by the end of the year, we had almost $1,000. Little did I know that I’d be managing world missions for the diocese 40 years later.”

Her efforts in stewardship for the diocese since 1993 have garnered Brawner recognition from her peers. On Oct. 24, she will receive the 2015 Bishop William G. Connare Award from the International Catholic Stewardship Conference (ICSC) at its annual meeting in Chicago. The award “recognizes for distinguished service those who have been diocesan stewardship and development officers.”

“I was very surprised and very humbled to receive it,” said Brawner, who has headed the Catholic Foundation since its inception under Bishop Robert Banks in 1997.

“Twenty-two years ago, when I was hired (as director of Stewardship and Development),” she added, “I didn’t really know what stewardship was. I have Bishop Robert Morneau to thank for helping me understand what stewardship was, in a broader way. His whole idea of an attitude of gratitude and being grateful; of everything (being) a gift from God. Using everything wisely, tending it and then sharing it. That’s the basic premise of all of it.”

For Brawner, who came to the diocese after 10 years as director of communications and development with the United Way of Brown County, the start-up of the Catholic Foundation bore some similarities to those early donut days: “No dollars and no funds.”

She credits the tutelage of the late Donald J. Long, Sr., and the support of Long’s wife, Darlene, with getting her on the right path quickly. Long worked with her “two to three days a week for two years,” she said.

Things started slowly.

“It took us 10 years to get to $10 million in assets,” she said. “In the last eight years, we’ve grown to $80 million in 214-plus funds.”

Brawner will share some of the tips she’s learned at an ICSC convention workshop she’s presenting in Chicago entitled: “Inspiring Annual Appeal Donors to Become Major Benefactors.” She said what she will speak about “will probably just combine my thinking about invitation — inviting people to be more generous — and really helping them think about what in life they are passionate about and then taking action to help fund their actions.”

People are “generally good and want to help,” she added, but sometimes are just not invited to step up, or don’t see how what they give or do has a lasting impact.

“We also talk about not ‘equal gifts,’ but ‘equal sacrifice,’” Brawner said. “We are all called to do different things at different times and we have different resources. That has to be a conversation with God. It’s amazing how much more generous people are than even they expect.”

Brawner and her husband, Dave, are members of St. Willebrord Parish in Green Bay, a parish she said knows the importance of being “welcoming and accepting.”

She said that, in her personal life, she remembers one question the late Archbishop of Seattle, Thomas Murphy, put to her when he led a summer ICSC institute she attended in 1996. “He said something to me that I’ve never forgotten: ‘The question is not about giving ten percent, it’s what you do with the other 90 percent.’ That’s one of those ‘keep you up at all night’ kind of questions.”

That 10 percent v. 90 percent question eventually led Brawner to what she now calls her life’s work: “to ask everybody I talk with to really think about ‘How do you want to be remembered? What kind of a legacy do you want to leave?’

“There’s a misconception,” she explained, “that only wealthy people can leave a legacy. That’s really not correct. Everybody has a legacy to leave. At will seminars, I talk about my grandma.” Her grandmother’s life savings were depleted because of illness and age during her final years and she had no money to bequeath. However, to Brawner, she still left riches.

“Her legacy is her chocolate chip cookie recipe and her lemon meringue pie recipe,” Brawner said, speaking of them as family heirlooms. “So everybody has something to leave, they just need to think about it. … We (at the Foundation) have to do some of the groundwork to help.”