Imagine helping the homeless regain independence and recover their lives, or feeding the hungry — not just in body but in mind and spirit. What about offering scholarships to Catholic school students, or dental care to the impoverished and poor? These are just some of the ways that supporters of The Catholic Community Foundation have made Southeast Wisconsin a better place.

The Catholic Community Foundation has awarded more than $18 million in grants since its inception. In the 2022-23 fiscal year, $2.1 million in grants were awarded to more than 100 organizations for programs and projects that support four priorities:

  • Education: For students in Catholic schools and religious programs from kindergarten to grade 12.
  • Community building: Strengthening families, parishes and people suffering from poverty, discrimination and violence.
  • Leadership development: Forming leaders for parishes, schools and agencies that advance the Church.
  • Health care: For underserved Milwaukee residents.

Overseeing the foundation is a board of directors including Catholic religious and community leaders. Mary Ellen Markowski, who has served as the President of The Catholic Community Foundation since it was established in 2001, explains that the not-for-profit corporation supports philanthropy in two primary ways.

“We establish permanent charitable funds to create long-lasting support for the causes that our donors and their families care about,” she said. “We also provide cost-effective, socially responsible investment management to keep the endowment assets of schools, parishes and other Catholic organizations growing.”

One of the goals of The Catholic Community Foundation is to make philanthropy easy and empowering, offering donors a variety of fund options. These include advised, designated, field of interest and unrestricted. Gifts are invested in a permanent endowment from which grants are awarded each year.

The most common funds for donors are the donor advised and donor designated funds, Markowski said. Through a donor advised fund, individuals can recommend charitable organizations for grants with the option to change recipients from year to year. A designated fund is created to benefit one or more specific charitable agencies or organizations. Markowski and her siblings, for example, established a donor designated fund in their parents’ name to provide tuition assistance at Holy Apostles School in New Berlin, where they were members.

Diane and Allen Spaeth, who live in West Bend, are another example of donors who, as part of their charitable giving plan, chose to establish a donor designated fund with the foundation. Their grant recipients are Holy Angels Parish School, Holy Hill and St. Peter Parish.

“Our parishes have been at the center of our life,” Allen Spaeth said. “We wanted to do something for these parishes now, and after we’ve passed away. With our donor designated fund, we are able to help, in our small way, three organizations that have significantly affected our lives.”

One of the aspects of giving to The Catholic Community Foundation that is attractive to many donors is the structure in place that ensures donor’s wishes are carried out.

“We are adamant on making sure grants are used as donors intended, and as part of the process, organizations are responsible for reporting that they used it for what was intended,” Markowski said. “We closely monitor that the receiving organization does use the money for the purpose it is awarded.”

The minimum amount for establishing a donor fund with The Catholic Community Foundation is $25,000. They receive professional investment consulting advice from Marquette Associates, a Chicago firm specializing in nonprofits. The Catholic Community Foundation operates like all community funds, starting with a donor gift of cash, securities, retirement plan assets, life income arrangements, other assets or a bequest. Gifts are then pooled with other funds in a diversified, socially responsible investment portfolio to minimize costs and maximize return potential. Investment returns add to the donor’s fund and support grants to their causes, with grants awarded annually.

The Catholic Community Foundation follows the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Socially Responsible Investment Guidelines. Specific investment strategy information about investing can be found on The Catholic Community Foundation website at

Individuals who aren’t able to set up a separate donor fund but still want to help support Catholic education and people in need can make a gift to the foundation’s Building the Faith Fund, an unrestricted general fund for charitable purposes.

Focused Approach to Make an Impact

As mailboxes fill up with donation solicitations from nonprofit organizations embarking on year-end campaigns, residents around the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are reminded of the many needs that exist in the community — and the efforts to meet them.

Helping donors home in on what is most important to them and making sure gifts have the maximum impact is Markowski’s job.

“I love meeting with people, hearing their stories and finding out what is really important to them,” she said.  “People have so many options to give, and I can provide some information about how The Catholic Community Foundation can help. We might be a fit, and we might not, but it’s a conversation worth having.”

For those who give to parishes and other Catholic organizations regularly and might take the perspective that The Catholic Community Foundation is competing for these funds, Markowski points to one distinction.

“We are an organization that can help our donors continue to make charitable contributions when they are no longer here,” she said.

Judy Keyes, a former board member and current donor, said this arrangement is a sound choice for people who want to support their favorite causes in perpetuity.

“You can direct your passion from the grave — help schools, shelters, food banks, health organizations, whatever it may be — you can do it all here, in the percentage that’s comfortable for you.” It’s a wonderful way to spread out your giving, Keyes said — and if you choose, also earmark grants for your parish.

For more information about The Catholic Community Foundation, contact Mary Ellen Markowski at 414-431-6402 or

Mary Ellen Markowski has served as president of the Catholic Community Foundation since 2001. (Submitted photo)