So the Pope emailed me asking for help raising money
Last month I received a very flattering email from a Vatican fundraiser inviting me out to lunch. Said he was being relocated from Rome to San Francisco. Wondered if I could provide him “fundraising advice for seeking major gift donors and capacity building for several agencies in the Bay Area and West Coast,” as well as “explore mutual areas of opportunity.”
Wow, talk about the power of online branding. First, I received a call from a Noble Prize nominee and now the Pope! Who could be next? Bono?
To say I was surprised is a huge understatement! Most groups I work with have budgets of a few million dollars, not the billions under the purview of his Italian employers.
I consider myself a spiritual person, and am grateful to have worked with groups of different faiths in the past, and hope to do so again in the future. However, as someone who identifies as queer and a feminist, I make a distinction between working with organizations that are supportive or neutral on issues of LGBT equality and women’s rights, and those that oppose them. Therefore, I thought there might be others who might be a better match with his needs and values. So rather than meet with him in person, I provided him referrals to several other skilled Bay Area professionals.
In retrospect, I wish I had responded differently. For it was not like he was asking to “get married,” it was only a request for a “first date.” Rather than immediately declining his invitation, I wish I had simply disclosed my identity and beliefs, and let him decide if he would still like to share a meal. Because while I might not ultimately be the best person to provide him advice, I would like to hope that we could still be colleagues. More importantly, I missed the opportunity to learn more about him and the Catholic Church -- and myself as well.
When practiced mindfully, fundraising can teach us to move through the world with more grace. Points of resistance can often be our greatest teacher. For example, exploring why volunteer solicitors often do not follow through on their commitments can begin to help release them from their own internal fears of money, power and privilege.
In this case, after some reflection I realized two important points. One, I still have some lingering fears about being judged by others. I’m not Catholic, but there was something about a prospective meeting with the Pope’s proxy that I found intimidating. Simply stating this without judgment is the first step toward removing this barrier.
Secondly, my values are important guideposts. However, they become roadblocks when they become inflexible and absolute. If the role of a development professional is to cultivate relationships between individuals and institutions based on shared values, than we must be the first to seek common ground with others.
I have no illusions that if I had acted differently my efforts would have changed the Church’s positions on important issues that I value. However, is not breaking bread together the first step toward creating peaceful change in the world? If we are to ask others to change on our behalf, must we also be willing to do so ourselves?