Keefe is using the Internet to build stronger church
Keefe '99 brings that old-time religion to the Web
Keefe is discovering that doing the Lord's work pays.
Kellogg alum hasn't embarked on a career as a televangelist,
but as founder and president of ThinkChurch.com. He has combined
his religious background with his Kellogg education to produce
a venture that he says gives religious institutions a powerful
online marketing tool.
Church offers Catholic churches a way to expand their mission
beyond their Sunday services by distributing parish news,
Bible readings, pastoral care and other spiritual resources
to their congregations. For an average of $6,000 per year,
a church can enjoy its own personalized Web site which Keefe's
company will create and maintain. Customers can defray this
cost by seeking outside sponsors, and after meeting ThinkChurch's
fee, 85 percent of all sponsorship funds are returned to the
can actually serve as a revenue-generator for our customers,"
says Keefe, a 1994 graduate of Notre Dame who was attracted
to Kellogg because of its strong Public/Nonprofit program.
Once enrolled at the business school, he realized that he
was also drawn to Kellogg's cutting edge high-tech curriculum
-- so he found a way to combine his passions.
for the atypical dot-com venture, based in Chicago, came to
Keefe in 1999 as he recognized just how few religious organizations
had tapped the Internet as a channel to broadcast their message.
"The majority of churches either don't have a Web site
or they have a site that's static," says Keefe. "Most
churches only use the Web as a placeholder, not a tool for
where Keefe says he can help. In about two days, says the
former Kellogg Kauffman Entrepreneurial Recipient, ThinkChurch
can have a client's Web site up and running. While the back-end
of the site remains consistent for all clients, each church
can choose individualized features.
a lot of pounding the pavement and many face-to-face meetings,
because we don't fit the model of the typical Internet company
where you're going to have a million visitors per day,"
says Keefe, "but what we are creating is the church Web
site. We're going after large, flagship parishes. Since creating
the Old St. Pat's site, for instance, there will not be another
Old St. Pat's site to compete against us."
St. Patrick's in Chicago, ThinkChurch has developed relationships
with several other large church communities, including Baltimore's
St. Ambrose and Tampa's Most Holy Redeemer. Within two months
of its November 2000 launch, St. Pat's site recorded 60,000
visits by 3,000 individuals, a third of whom visit the site
daily, notes Keefe.
than supplanting the bricks-and-mortar church, Keefe's company
strives to enhance the parish community. "We take existing
strong communities and create a dynamic Web presence for them."
hasn't always been an easy sell, though. Keefe has had to
address a number of misconceptions held by clients. In particular,
he's had to combat the biases of some older priests (Keefe
says there are now more priests over the age of 80 than under
the age of 50) who view the Internet with suspicion. He's
also had to convince them that he wasn't trying to steal their
parishioners. Some priests feared that if they put their church
on the Internet, fewer people would show up Sunday morning.
a big concern and something we have to address every time
we talk with a potential client," admits Keefe. "At
first, I didn't realize how much churches are like small businesses
with different layers. You don't see that when you're sitting
in the pew on Sunday."
Chiapas, Mexico, where his parents served as Catholic Volunteers,
Keefe grew up in a family that valued its religious tradition.
After graduating from Notre Dame with a BBA in finance, he
spent three years as a volunteer in a Franciscan order, being
paid $100 a month and "really trying to live a simple
life." It was after this experience that Keefe pursued
his love of nonprofit work by enrolling at Kellogg. He says
he knew coming in that he didn't want to be an investment
banker or consultant.
was pretty strong with my career commitment," he says.
He was so confident that he didn't interview during his second
year at Kellogg.
convictions stem from his belief that the church represents
one of the most important social structures in a person's
life. Weddings, funerals, baptisms and anniversaries, he notes,
are major life events that many people elect to celebrate
within their religious communities, and have done so for millennia.
"It is a satisfying feeling realizing that I'm giving
a facelift to the oldest organization in the world."