After an intense emergency fundraising campaign exceeded its $200,000 goal in February, the board of directors of Inspirio Youth Ministries voted March 12 to keep the Nashotah-based retreat center open. The facility annually hosts several thousand youth from the area, including about 1,800 confirmation candidates from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.Inspirio Youth Ministries will remain open thanks to an intense emergency fundraising campaign.

In a phone interview with the Catholic Herald, Inspirio director Joe Nettesheim expressed relief at the news and gratitude to donors and supporters.

“It’s not only affirming for us, but I think it’s affirming for youth and the commitment that folks are making to young people,” he said. “I think it’s also a recognition that young people have a lot of needs right now. They need to have an understanding of who they are, they need to have an opportunity to develop their character and develop their faith, and it’s really been wonderful and quite a blessing to have so many people respond.”

The fundraising campaign was coordinated in February 2016 in response to a financial crisis that Inspirio staff said was a long time in the making, after years of deficits and a shrinking donor base.

Inspirio, formerly known as the TYME OUT Youth Ministry and Retreat Center, is a sponsored ministry of the School Sisters of Notre Dame and was founded in 1980 by Srs. Kieran Sawyer and Lucy Nigh.
In an email to the Catholic Herald, Sr. Kieran called the success of the fundraising efforts “amazing.”

“It tells me that the pastors, youth directors and parents of the archdiocese really value this important ministry,” she wrote. “Now comes the hard part – putting together a system of support that will keep Inspirio alive for generations to come.

 The young people we served when we started TYME OUT 35 years ago are now parents and even grandparents. Joe (Nettesheim) and Paul (Baures), the current director and board president, both made their confirmation retreats at TYME OUT, and both credit that experience with their faith commitment today. Our young people need the in-depth faith experiences offered at Inspirio to help form the Catholic leadership of tomorrow.”

In addition to the fundraising campaign, Nettesheim and Inspirio staffers overhauled the ministry’s business model, planning a 30 to 38 percent increase in fees and implementing a policy that would enable Inspirio to capitalize on the earning potential of its retreat space.

Previously, said Nettesheim, the ministry had allowed just one parish group at a time to rent out its retreat space. Additionally, the center was underwriting about 53 percent of retreat costs in an effort to reach as many youth as possible.
Personnel woes also plagued the organization, which cycled through five development officers over the past four years. After Sr. Kieran retired in 2006, it proved difficult for Inspirio to connect with the donor base of its foundress, which is why Nettesheim described it as particularly significant that in last month’s fundraising campaign, 40 percent of donors were new donors within the last three years.

“It’s a sign that new people are getting involved, the donor base is growing, and it’s just really hopeful for the future,” said Nettesheim, who called the response of pastors and youth ministers throughout the archdiocese “equally affirming.”

“A number of parishes have stepped up and made pledges,” he said, estimating that about 20 parishes have pledged support.

If the campaign would have fallen short of its goal, or if the ministry would not have been able to demonstrate it was ready to implement a more effective business plan, it was likely that the board of directors would have voted to close Inspirio at the end of its current fiscal year, May 31, 2016. Nettesheim declined to share the final amount raised in the fundraising campaign until pledges are collected in early April.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee also provided a boon to the fundraising efforts with a $25,000 challenge grant to launch the campaign, said Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, in an email to the Catholic Herald.

“Archbishop Listecki met with leaders of Inspirio and its board and expressed his support of the high school and confirmation retreats and other ministries provided by Inspirio,” wrote Topczewski. “He also highly encouraged parishes to consider Inspirio when they are looking for a place to hold a retreat or would like a team to conduct a high school or confirmation retreat.”

Nettesheim said there is still “a lot of work to do yet … the rubber will meet the road as we go forward with our ministry this next year.”

Inspirio will host more informational meetings on its business changes in the archdiocese’s districts.

“We’ve done a few of those already and some new business has been coming out of those,” said Nettesheim. “That’s really a key – not only do we want to retain those who’ve been so loyal to us, but we want to promote Inspirio and the wonderful ministry to those who haven’t taken advantage of us.”

The ministry has added some retreats to its menu of services, including a leadership camp in August and separate leadership conferences for youth ministers and parents this fall.
“We were actually putting lots of plans in place to do that, but when this (financial crisis) all came up we knew we had to pause, and now that we’ve gotten over the financial hurdle, we’re going to move forward with that,” said Nettesheim.
“The response has been so positive. The new plan is going to be really helpful for us financially but I think it’s also going to offer better ministry, and that’s what I think youth ministers are excited about.”