Letter to Readers

Dear Commonweal Reader,

Over the years, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, I’ve told you something of the challenges of publishing a small magazine—skyrocketing postal rates, inexorable cost increases, even a tectonic shift of readers away from print media. Seeing a “Letter to Readers” addressed to you, you might be expecting more of the same, perhaps even an ominous message about the outlook for the Commonweal enterprise.

In fact, this letter is here to tell you just the opposite: We want to expand (in our own modest way) what Commonweal does, not hunker down. I would like to introduce you briefly to the plans we have to do this. But first, a few things you need to know about Commonweal, the organization.


A Look Behind the Scenes

Some of you may still imagine that Commonweal is bankrolled by some fabulously wealthy Catholic, or a mysterious foundation with bottomless pockets. Alas, it isn’t so.

Since 1982, we have been a nonprofit organization, led by a board of directors made up of twelve exceptionally loyal Commonweal supporters from the worlds of publishing, academia, business, and the law. (A list is at commonwealmagazine.org/board.) While extraordinarily generous with their time, advice, and resources, none of them pays the bills here. The answer to who does may surprise you.

Of our annual budget of $1.5 million, just under 55 percent comes from our subscribers, and another 12 percent from advertising. About 2,000 Commonweal Associates, most donating $75 or less each year, and some modest income from our endowment of $2.7 million do most of the rest.

Except for some extreme postal increases over the summer, our recently concluded fiscal year has been a good one. Circulation is up just a bit to 21,000, and Associates giving grew nicely. But even in a good year, all this, just barely, covers our costs, despite the tight ship we run. (“Tight” doesn’t do it justice. Delivering a magazine of exceptional quality every two weeks, with a full-time staff of nine, is something of an operational wonder.) Very little is “left over” to promote the magazine, or to raise the quality of what we do even further. Without the latitude to invest in the future, we miss too many opportunities to take necessary next steps for building a new generation of readers.


What’s Next for Commonweal?

We believe we know what Commonweal needs to ensure that its next ten years will be not only years of survival but of encouraging growth. We have made detailed plans for four areas we want to focus on.

We want to improve the magazine itself still further. We need another senior editor to help us find new contributors and edit their work into the good writing you expect from us. (We could also use more office space so that this person can have somewhere to sit.) We want to include more color in the magazine to attract both new readers and new advertisers.

The Web is where much of our next generation of readers will hear about us and explore what Commonweal is. Our Web site, which already has 30,000 readers a month, needs more editorial attention and investment: more articles, more opinions, an even better dotCommonweal blog.

Our programs directed to college students and faculty have been exceptional successes, and keep Commonweal at the center of campus conversations on theology, politics, and the church. We need to expand our college programs, to staff and promote them more effectively, and to put them on a reliable financial footing. The result will be more subscriptions for students, more Commonweal speakers and conferences on campus, and consistent support for theology and religion faculty who want Commonweal as a teaching resource.

Last, we need to increase Commonweal’s visibility as part of the larger national conversation on religion and politics. To do this, we need a slightly larger staff so our editors can be out of the office and in the public eye more frequently, as well as help building stronger relationships with the national media and to explore more speaking and conference opportunities.

We think all these projects are achievable with what by the standards of, say, Time Warner, would be very modest investments. For Commonweal, however, they are projects we can’t even start without assurances of help from the people who know and understand us best: our readers.


Why We Turn to You

It may seem counterintuitive to give money to a magazine that you’re already paying to read. But we suspect Commonweal represents more than just a magazine to you. Over and over, subscribers tell us that Commonweal helps sustain their commitment to the church; encourages their continued involvement in both parishes and politics; and connects them to a wider community that cares about the Catholic intellectual tradition and the never-ending reform of the church. These are often discouraging times for people worried about the institutional church, and about our nation. We continue to believe that a magazine like ours can help form the solutions.

If you’re an Associate, please consider increasing your gift or making a significant commitment to one of the programs we’ve mentioned above. If you’re not yet an Associate, please join us at commonwealmagazine.org/associates. If you can mention us in your will or estate plan, however modestly, please let us know. Please know that small gestures of support make a difference as well, and even those of you who tear out the Christmas gift card bound into this issue and give Commonweal to a friend will be doing your part to keep us alive and thriving.

If you have any questions or ideas about ways you can help, please drop me a note. We will keep you posted through future letters like this one. Thank you for all that you already do, and, in advance, for what you’ll do in the future.

With best wishes,

Paul Baumann

Published in the 2007-12-07 issue: 

Paul Baumann is Commonweal’s senior writer.

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