Combining skills, passion, and faith, two women leave the corporate world to serve the Church
FORT WORTH — Looking to use their passion and skills in serving God, two women left busy corporate careers that helped prepare them for new roles in the Advancement Foundation for the Diocese of Fort Worth.
Renée Underwood, the new Chief Development Officer, came to the diocese in 2017 to serve as the associate director of the Advancement Foundation. She had worked in a similar capacity for the Lubbock diocese.
Before going to work for the Church, she had a lengthy career in advertising and marketing, working her way up to vice president of marketing for two large companies.
Her career was thriving, but she and her family experienced a long-term crisis. In 1998 at the age of 38, Underwood’s husband, David, was diagnosed with a rare, incurable degenerative neurological disorder. Their two sons missed out on a lot of the usual father-son activities as David’s condition deteriorated over the years. He passed away in 2014.
“There is nothing like the devastation of a diagnosis. We knew what was lying ahead,” she said. “When you face something like that — and a lot of people have something like that in their lives — you get to the point where you know, ‘I have nothing left in my life except for my faith.’”
Underwood said she would have spared her family that ordeal if she could have, but it had the unexpected blessing of drawing her closer to God and growing her compassion for others.
As her husband’s disease advanced, she found herself wanting to serve God in ministry. Although she was involved in many parish and diocesan volunteer opportunities and served on nonprofit boards, she craved something more.
Lubbock Bishop Plácido Rodriguez, now retired, asked her to come work in stewardship and development for the diocese.
At first, she thought that fundraising didn’t sound like ministry, but Bishop Rodriguez assured her it was “very much ministry to people,” she said.
Now she helps the Catholic faithful “combine their faith and their philanthropy.” A common misconception is that her job is all about asking people for money.
“I rarely ask people for money,” Underwood said. “I listen to people to find what they care about.”
Then she helps them plan their legacies to do the most good in those areas.
Now the diocese is coming off a record year in their annual giving campaign, but there is more to be done.
Underwood said that Advancement Foundation President Clint Weber, who took on the role in March 2020, brought “new vision and clarity.” He asked her what the foundation needed. She suggested that they increase their staffing to help in development and to assist schools in raising funds and enrollment. After a national search, Weber made Underwood the chief development officer.
For the school role, Underwood knew the perfect person.
After leaving a busy corporate career to stay home with her twin sons, Kristy Webb wasn’t looking for a full-time job in the Diocese of Fort Worth. The job, however, came looking for her.
Webb spent 22 years traveling around the country to help childcare and early learning facilities improve their operations and marketing. In March of 2018, she gave that up and was excited to have time to volunteer at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Grapevine, where son Luke is now a sixth grader. Her son Philip has Down syndrome and attends Colleyville Middle School.
“I was the mom who was gone all the time and would ask for take-home projects for volunteering,” Webb said. “Now I had a great opportunity to volunteer in the school.”
Father Richard Eldredge, TOR, who passed away in December of 2019, Good Shepherd Deacon Pat Lavery, and Holy Trinity Principal Deacon Jeff Heiple encouraged her to use her extensive experience to help the school, both on the enrollment committee and for teacher appreciation. In August 2018, she was hired as development director for the school and she started developing new school fundraising events and increasing donations received during North Texas Giving Day. She was getting to know Underwood from the diocese’s Advancement Foundation and invited her to Holy Trinity to see what they were doing in fundraising and marketing.
In the fall of 2020, Underwood and Weber asked Webb to take on a new position: Director of Catholic Schools Development for the diocese. In her new role, Webb will help the superintendent, principals, and presidents with needs assessments, strategic planning and fund development, alumni relations, and enrollment management.
“There are a lot of great things happening in the diocese and in our schools,” she said. “I want to help provide more avenues of funding, and also entice more families to participate in an outstanding Catholic education.”
With her work experience and her volunteer work at Holy Trinity, she can see how God prepared her for her current role.
“My husband said, ‘The good Lord had a plan for you in all you’ve done,’” she said.
Webb hit the ground running — she loves the fast pace — when she began her job in the New Year, meeting with administrators, staff, and families from schools across the diocese. She’s beginning to understand what schools need and formulating unique game plans for each campus.
“My hope is that I can use my passion for education and also my faith to inspire others to learn more about the great things happening in Catholic schools and advance our mission,” she said.