‘Habemus Papam’: how religious fundraisers get it right!

Published by Patrice Simonnet on

A post fully inspired by one of the major events of the last weeks. Just because this could influence you as a fundraiser: the newly elected Pope Francis is everywhere in the news. Why is that? His election was a major surprise but already “Pope Francis books proliferate”. News are all about the first non-European Pope and his great Charisma (defined by Wikipedia as a “theological term for the extraordinary graces given to individual Christians for the good of others”). Can we think this interest come from the idea he could bring a lot of change? That he is different? How is it interesting for your organization to comunicate the change that can happen due to a better work or a new leader?

Being a religious matter, I will not share with you any belief of mine, but just give you some interesting facts. Just facts. But my purpose is clear: I’d like to suggest that there is so much to learn from religious fundraisers! In a way, they are showing the path from centuries, aren’t they? Let’s recognize that they are “among the best in inspiring donors to give generously and loyally”.

Here are some thoughts about how you could get inspired in your work by the recent change in leadership in the Roman Catholic Church:

HopeRealize the best way to reach your audience
: “you really worked, didn’t you?” was one of the most spotted sentences from Pope Francis on March 16th, few days after his election. But he also told the representatives of the communications media: “The role of the mass media has expanded immensely in these years, so much so that they are an essential means of informing the world (…)”. First the opening of a Twitter account by his predecessor, now a new approach to communication!? This is the proof of how an organization, even the most consertative, recognizes it is time to adapt to its audience!

Even the Vatican Radio  speaks openly about it: recently “ the head of Vatican’s Council for Social Communications (…) travelled to Santiago del Chile for a conference that brings together some 400 communications specialists from across the continent”. Archbishop Celli said: “Pope Francis, he’s using images (…) not only touching the intellectual aspect, but touching the heart and the imagination”. Not a bad example of adaptation for one of the oldest institutions in the world. Especially if it comes from its leader, its father figure. So, let’s realize that, sometimes, it could take only one person to bring the changes that your organization needs! Right? But…could the opposite also be true? Keep reading.

Pope Francis riding the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Pope Francis riding the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina

In time of crisis, send a clear message of change: what if, an organization living difficult moments realized it simply needs to show the change by chosing a new leader? The truth is that the result is the same! So it doesn’t matter which came first, the chicken or the egg… but the true question is (sometimes) how to influence the governance of our organization  for us fundraisers. My point is that it is harder to drive the change than to just watch and criticize. It can take years. So, begin right now and identify a possible area of crisis for the future and act!

Now some example of magnificent Italian religious fundraising:

Lobby the government: “Eight per thousand, or otto per mille, is an Italian law under which Italian taxpayers can choose to whom devolve a compulsory 8 ‰ from their annual income tax return between an organized religion recognised by Italy”. Not only Roman Church benefits from it but it has been established in 1984 by an agreement between the Italian government and the Holy See. Funds raised only in 2011 were 1,1 BILLION euro! Not bad hey? Remember, these are facts, only facts! In 2005, a similar mechanism was introduced for non profit organizations, the 5 per thousand. Right, try to replicate the best fundraising mecanism even if they seems not reachable by your organization. Lobby is the key.

The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete

The “Duomo” took nearly six centuries to complete and thousand of small offerings.

Launch wide capital campaigns: last November, Gargoyles in the largest cathedral in the world, the Duomo of Milan, are being put up for “adoption” to raise funds for needed renovations to the building. Donors who contribute €100,000 will have their name engraved under one of the grotesque figures perched on the cathedral’s rooftop. Who says that oldest technics…are too old to be use again and again?

Not only major donors: Still about the Duomo, a book from Martina Saltamacchia from University of Nebraska reveals that the construction, which took over 6 centuries, came from donatiosn made of “thousands of small offerings from poor people – an egg, a piece of cheese, a little coin. Buried in the long lists of donations are moving stories about the donors’ charity: the prostitute Marta who, converted, abandoned the brothel; Marco, the rich merchant who bequeathed everything and then lived as a poor man until his death; the commander Alessio, only to name a few”. A few by many is very often THE solution!

There are many other examples. And many other thoughts. But let change happens first…

Patrice Simonnet

Patrice is a French fundraiser lost and happy in Italy since 11 years... There, everyday, he discovers what cross-cultural means! After experiences as DM officer for Unicef and Head of Fundraising for ActionAid Italy, he is currently Head of Fundraising of a foundation taking care of Italian cultural and environmental heritage (FAI-Fondo Ambiente Italiano). There he manages a team of 30 dedicated and passionate staff. In a past life, he lived in Africa and South America, graduated both in "international business studies" and "development studies".


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