Fundraising Question: What Do We Owe Each Other?

October 6, 2014       Patrick Sullivan      

What do Catholic fundraisers have in common with high school football players? According to Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, quite a bit.

Lehmuth, president and CEO of the National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC), kicked off the Hempstead, N.Y. association’s 46th annual conference in Chicago with a talk about courage, conviction and authenticity. She drew parallels between the work of NCDC members and the De La Salle High School football team, the subject of the recently released film “When The Game Stands Tall.”

“Why this movie?” she asked. “Because it’s about a Catholic school in California. We have significant number of schools from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.Why this movie? Because the school sponsored by an order that is a NCDC member. Why? Because the football coach is religion teacher who practices on field what he preaches in classroom. Also, I like high school football and was a high school teacher. It was at that high school that I learned the importance of development.”

“When The Game Stands Tall” is about, in part, De La Salle’s 151-game, 12-year winning streak. “As the author of the book states, the victories are a byproduct of a larger vision that begins with the question, how much do we owe each other?” said Lehmuth.

“Those kids got it,” she said. De La Salle’s success was about camaraderie, passion, sacrifice and honesty as it was about skills on the football field. Especially resonant, said Lehmuth, was the players’ habit of setting weekly goals and checking in with their teammates on their progress. “How many of us think for five minutes about what we can do better next week? How many of us think about how to grow?” said Lehmuth. “We’ve come together to learn from, share with and support one another, but what will we do with what we learn? What new idea are we willing to try or learn more about?”

Lehmuth said that sometimes attendees complain to her that there are not enough sessions for smaller organizations. She said to look to the bigger organizations. “I ask, how do you think big shop got that far? They were once small too, but grew by learning from success of others,” she said. “Learning is a transferable skill. Small organizations learn from large, large from small. We cannot afford to sell ourselves or our mission short.”

While NCDC estimates its members collectively raise more than $2 billion and serve more than 10 million people per year, they cannot carry out their missions alone. It is imperative to both rely upon and teach service providers to work with your nonprofit.

“As fundraisers, we must continue to challenge (our partners) to offer wise consul and strategies that keep us focused on the future,” said Lehmuth. “We want you (service providers) to challenge us to think differently, more creatively and more analytically. We challenge you to help us dream new dreams.”

It is only in dreaming new dreams and understanding that philanthropy is not about raising money but about expanding mission that the nonprofit sector will continue to play a vital part in modern society, said Lehmuth. “You either change or you die. It’s that simple and that profound,” she said. “There is no future for same, old same old or so so. That’s true for each of us individually and collectively. Either we as a community grow or we die. Either we as Catholic fundraisers stand together or we drop out of running the good race ourselves. We must believe we are capable of great things even if we lose a game once in a while.”